Pet owners want to be masters, not servants – which is why we value dogs more than cats

Colleen P. Kirk, New York Institute of Technology

Cat videos may rule the internet, but dogs possess mastery of their owners’ hearts – at least if spending is any guide.

A survey of pet owners found that they spent an average of US$2,883 in 2016 on 22 “common expenses” for their dogs, compared with $1,926 for cats, based on an analysis of the data collected for the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey. The extra money went primarily toward vet visits and kennel boarding, but dog owners also spent more on treats, grooming and toys.

My new paper, “Dogs Have Masters, Cats Have Staff,” shines some light on why.

A growing market

Americans are spending more on pet care as an increasing share of U.S. households own an animal.

A little over two-thirds of all U.S. households own at least one pet, up from 56% in 1988, the first year of the National Pet Owners Survey.

And almost half of households own a dog, while just 38 percent have a cat. Generational trends suggest this divergence is likely to grow, as millennials are more likely to adopt a canine, while baby boomers tend to be cat lovers.

This is resulting in a growing market for pet-related products and services, which hit an estimated $72 billion in 2018, up from $46 billion a decade earlier.

A willingness to pay

My study builds on earlier research showing that dog owners are willing to spend more on their pets than cat owners – including to save their lives.

One reason suggested was that dog owners had stronger bonds to their pets, which prompted them to spend more on things like veterinary care.

My research uncovered a key factor indicating why dog owners feel more attached to their pets: Dogs are famously more compliant than cats. When owners feel in control of their pets, strong feelings of psychological ownership and emotional attachment develop. And pet owners want to be masters – not servants.

Like other marketing researchers, my work uses “willingness to pay” as an indicator of the economic, rather than emotional, value owners place on their pets. It shows – and compares – how much pet owners would pay to save their animal’s life.

Dog owners are willing to pay twice as much as cat owners for a life-saving surgery.
AP Photo/Angie Wang

Who’s in control?

So I carried out three online experiments to explore the role of psychological ownership in these valuations.

In the first experiment, I asked dog or cat owners to write about their pet’s behavior so I could measure their feelings of control and psychological ownership. Participants then imagined their pet became ill and indicated the most they would be willing to pay for a life-saving surgery.

Dog owners, on average, said they would pay $10,689 to save the life of their pet, whereas cat owners offered less than half that. At the same time, dog owners tended to perceive more control and psychological ownership over their pets, suggesting this might be the reason for the difference in spending.

Of course, correlation is not causation. So in a second experiment, I asked participants how much they would be willing to pay to save their animal’s life after I had disturbed their sense of ownership. I did this by asking participants to imagine their pet’s behavior was a result of training it received from a previous owner.

As expected, disrupting their feelings of ownership eliminated the difference in valuation between dogs and cats.

Since pet owners like to control their animals, and since cats are less controllable than dogs, the third experiment went straight to the point: Does the owner value the dog or cat for its own sake or for its compliant behavior?

To find out, I again asked survey respondents to describe how much they’d be willing to pay to save their pet’s life, but this time I randomly assigned one of four scenarios: Participants were told they either own a dog, a cat, a dog that behaves like a cat, or a cat that behaves like a dog.

Participants reported they would pay $4,270 to save the life of their dog, but only $2,462 for their cat. However, this pattern was reversed when the pet’s behavior changed, with dog-behaving cats valued at $3,636, but cat-behaving dogs only $2,372.

These results clearly show that the animal’s behavior is what makes people willing to pay.

When cats act more like dogs, people say they’d spend more money on them.
pixfix/shutterstock.com

Master or servant

These findings establish that psychological ownership is a driving factor in dog owners’ higher valuations.

People feel ownership because they perceive that they can control their pets’ behavior. This research even distinguishes the type of control that probably most stimulates ownership feelings: It’s not just physical control, such as being able to pick up an animal or drag it by a leash. Rather, it’s the animal’s voluntary compliance with its owner’s wishes.

No matter how cute and cuddly your kitties may be, they can’t compete with dogs when it comes to giving pet owners the sense of mastery they seek.

This article has been updated to correct how much pet owners say they spend on their cats and explain the data more completely.The Conversation

Colleen P. Kirk, Assistant Professor of Marketing, New York Institute of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“I found this bar on my own!” Here is what happens next…

Have you ever found a bar or a café on your own, without any prior information or recommendations from others? If yes, have you ever wondered what consequences the sense that this venue is ‘your’ discovery might have on your subsequent relationship with the venue? A new research by two contributors of this blog, Michail Kokkoris and Bernadette Kamleitner (WU Vienna University of Economics and Business), together with Erik Hoelzl (University of Cologne), examines this question and provides novel insights into service marketing. A series of studies including various methodologies (field study, representative survey, online and lab experiments) and various service domains (cafés, bars, restaurants) provides evidence that the way a venue is first found has an impact on customers’ attitudes and behaviors towards this venue. Specifically, when customers have the sense that they discovered a venue on their own (rather than assisted by some information or others’ recommendations), they report stronger bonds with the venue in terms of self-connection, emotional attachment, and psychological ownership. In turn, stronger customer bonds translate into higher customer loyalty. For example, a survey with a presentative sample of Viennese coffee-goers showed that customers who have discovered a venue on their own spend more money in the specific venue compared to other venues, plan to come back more often and are willing to pay more even in the case of price increases. However, this seems to hold only for discoveries with a positive outcome, that is, when the overall experience with the venue is outstanding in the first place. In short, the sense of own discovery may have some previously unacknowledged benefits for businesses – an idea that is perhaps ‘heretical’ in the era of social media, where most businesses strive for attention and visibility. Letting customers discover venues on their own and have this ‘eureka’ experience can have beneficial managerial implications. Next time you accidentally stumble on a bar that no one has talked to you about, be prepared: A long-lasting, intimate relationship between you and the bar might be just beginning!

You can read more about this research here.

“Mine” helps remind – also in toddlers

People tend to recall new pieces of information that are classified as “mine” better than information that is classified as “others’”. This effect has been called self-referencing. Why is that happening? Knowledge of oneself is vast and rich in detail. Therefore, anything that is directly associated with the self is encoded in greater detail and better linked to existing categories of knowledge. This increased elaboration and organization of information that is associated with the self subsequently results in higher recall. This well-established effect has been repeatedly demonstrated in adults, but research in kids is sparse. Moreover, it remains unclear at what age the self-referencing effect first appears. This is the research gap that Emma L. Axelsson (Australian National University, Australia; Uppsala University, Sweden), Rachelle L. Dawson, Sharon Y. Yim and Tashfia Quddus (Australian National University, Australia) tried to fill with their recent research. In their study, they used the self-reference ownership paradigm with 3-year-old children and examined their retention of novel words. Specifically, children were presented with novel word-object pairings. For some of the objects they were told that they belonged to them, whereas for others they were told that they belonged to others. Immediately after this task, it was found that children recalled much better the self-referenced words than the other-referenced words. However, the difference between self-referenced and other-referenced words dissipated when children were tested 4 hours later or the next morning. The importance of these findings is that they show for the first time that toddlers already at the age of 3 have an improved memory of words classified as “mine”, although this seems to diminish over time. Apparently, the self-referencing effect is rooted in early developmental stages of humans. Take advantage of this finding and next time you want a toddler to memorize a word, make sure you pair it with “their” toy!

You can read more about this research here.

Listening to my music – and wanting more of it

A recent study shows the relevance of psychological ownership theory in the domain of music streaming. Music streaming services have become the most popular way of consuming music nowadays. What characterizes the use of these services is a lack of legal ownership of the music that consumers listen to. But can consumers nevertheless develop feelings of psychological ownership? And what effects can that practically have? Sebastian Danckwerts and Peter Kenning (Heinrich‐Heine‐Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany) conducted a study to address these questions. The results show that consumers can indeed develop feelings of psychological ownership both of the service and the music featured. More importantly, this research also shows that music‐based psychological ownership is a predictor of users’ intention to switch from free to premium. Therefore, helping consumers develop a sense of psychological ownership may be profitable for providers of music streaming services.

You can read more about this research here.

Whose creation is it anyways? Valuation of ideas versus labor in adults

Have you ever wondered what people value more in a creation, the idea behind it or the labor needed for its implementation – and who do they think owns the creation after all? Prior research has shown that children by the age of six begin to value ideas over labor. However, it is not clear whether the same applies also to adults. This is the question addressed by Pascal Burgmer (University of Cologne), Matthias Forstmann (Yale University) and Olga Stavrova (Tilburg University) in a paper recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. In their research, they presented participants with products that were the outcome of a collaboration between two people: the one had the idea and the other one worked in order to make this idea come true. Then, the researchers asked participants to indicate which one of the two persons, the idea giver or the laborer, contributed more to the creation of the product as well as who deserves ownership of it. Results showed that, contrary to children, adults valued labor more than ideas. This effect was replicated across different contexts, such as books, movies, recipes or business plans for start-ups. These findings provide novel insights into beliefs about ownership and the role that the distinction between ideas and labor plays in shaping these beliefs.

You can read more about this research here.

Traces left by previous owners and evaluation of used goods

How do visible traces of previous owners on products in secondary markets affect buyers’ evaluations? This is an interesting question for secondary markets like eBay, where thousands of used goods are sold and products start a second life after having being disposed by their initial owners. However, as many consumers tend to customize or personalize their products, this may leave on the products visible traces of the previous owners. How does that affect potential buyers’ evaluations of these goods? Jungkeun Kim (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand) examined this question in several studies. He found that buyers evaluate used goods with salient traces of previous owners less positively because the salience of these traces makes it harder for potential buyers to psychologically appropriate the product and develop feelings of psychological ownership. Analyses of actual transactions from eBay.com also confirmed this effect. Apparently, making used goods ours presupposes forgetting that they used to be someone else’s; and erasing previous owners’ traces – even literally, e.g. with a cleaning service, as these studies show – may help overcome these psychological barriers that may prevent us from buying used goods.

You can read more about this research here.

It’s the best time of the year to say thank you – to all of you and to Floyd Rudmin, in particular!

This time of the year is always a good chance to step back from our busy schedules and take some time to express our gratitude toward significant people in our lives. We have very good reasons to do so this year! Besides thanking you all for your interest in and support of this blog, we want to express our deepest gratitude to Floyd Rudmin (University of Tromsø). He has made us and by extension all of you a truly unique pre-Christmas gift.

Floyd, a prominent pioneer and incomparable maverick in the field of ownership, has generously donated his invaluable and truly interdisciplinary collection of books on ownership and possession to m.core (Institute for Marketing and Consumer Research) at WU Vienna. We see ourselves as stewards of this treasure and are doing our best to preserve and extend this resource and to make it accessible to as many as possible. Floyd’s collections consists of over 130 books and numerous copies of book chapters and journal articles. Throughout his decades-spanning career he has meticulously gathered titles across a variety of disciplines ranging from anthropology over psychology, sociology, and history to law and political sciences.

We are very happy and thankful that this true treasure of literature on ownership has now found a new home at WU. The collection can now be found at a separate location in the WU library. We are sure that this will be a great opportunity for the entire community to visit our university in Vienna and have a look for yourselves at this marvelous collection – which we are continuously growing (further suggestions are more than welcome!). In addition we are trying to digitize everything where the rights allow doing so and we will host a link to the full collection as soon as this is searchable.

In the spirit of the days, we could not stress enough how great it is when “mine” becomes “ours” and eventually “everyone’s”. Thank you so much Floyd for your generous gesture and this intellectually rewarding transfer of ownership! We would like to invite all blog readers to freely spread the word about it and help us grow this collection.

We wish you all a Merry Holiday Season and a joyful, inspiring and fulfilling New Year 2018!