Why we accept automated products less out of nostalgia

Artificial intelligence again increases the workload of automated products. The resources freed up are valuable for consumers – at least in theory. Because they are often sceptical. Researchers at the Institute for Marketing & Global Management at BFH Wirtschaft, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main and Vanderbilt University (USA) are investigating why this is so and what nostalgic feelings have to do with it.

Automated products are not new – almost everyone uses coffee machines and dishwashers in everyday life – but thanks to technological development (e.g. artificial intelligence), the automation of very complex activities is increasingly possible (cooking, driving, mowing the lawn). Car manufacturers, for example, are investing billions in the development of self-driving cars. In theory, automated products should create a quantum leap in value for customers, because taking over the activity of “driving” allows them to devote their time and attention to other things – finalising the presentation for the boss, reading a book, or catching up on an hour’s sleep on the way to work. Surprisingly, many people are still sceptical when it comes to automated products, for various reasons and under the assumption that the technology works perfectly. The researchers looked specifically at the role of nostalgia as one of these reasons.

Past experiences influence interests

The term nostalgia goes back to Johannes Hofer, author of a medical dissertation at the University of Basel in 1688, who diagnosed “nostalgia or homesickness” in Swiss soldiers far from home. Through later research, however, the synonymous use of these terms was no longer tenable. Today, nostalgia can be described as the warm but wistful feeling that comes when memories of past experiences make you wish you could turn back time. Nostalgic feelings are often triggered by external stimuli, for example by a certain song on the radio, a certain smell or even a product. In a series of experiments, researchers led by Sven Feurer at BFH have now shown that customers often associate the activity of “driving” with nostalgic memories – the road trip with friends or the first drive after passing the driving test. If this activity is now fully automated, nostalgic memories are evoked from memory to a lesser extent. As a result, nostalgic (as opposed to future-oriented) people’s product evaluation and ultimately their interest in the automated product decreases.

Linking to positive experiences

If one wants to increase the acceptance of automated products, this can be achieved by directing the attention of such customers to aspects of nostalgic memories that have nothing to do with the activity of driving itself. Memories of the road trip, for example, revolve around the activity of “driving a car”, but this activity becomes a nostalgic memory less through the memory of steering, braking or changing gears, but rather through the good conversations with the passenger, the feeling of the wind in the hair with the top down, the Beach Boys from the car radio. Such aspects are just as conceivable in a self-driving car and can perhaps be enjoyed even more undisturbed. By setting the focus in this way, for example in the context of communication, the authors were able to increase the product evaluation to the level of the control group (the non-autonomously driving car) in their experiments.

The paper

The research paper entitled “Overcoming the negative role of nostalgia in consumer reactions to automated products” was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Product Innovation Management.


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  3. Kremer, Patrick, Sven Feurer, Ju-Young Kim & Steve Hoeffler (in press), Overcoming the negative role of nostalgia in consumer reactions to automated products, Journal of Product Innovation Management.
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AUTHOR: Sven Feurer

Prof. Dr. Sven Feurer is a research professor at the Institute of Marketing & Global Management at BFH Wirtschaft. He researches and teaches in the areas of customer behaviour, pricing and innovation management. His research has appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Product Innovation Management and the International Journal of Research in Marketing, among others.

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