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Texas Border Business

By Maria Elena Hernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Familiarity may breed contempt for some, but not in the marketing world.

Dr. Dan King, assistant professor of marketing at UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

“The mind is always looking for patterns that feel comfortable or familiar,” said Dr. Dan King, an assistant professor of marketing at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

A paper he co-authored in the Journal of Consumer Psychology focused on a particular pattern – the alphabet – and how it influences perceived truthfulness.

“I’m trying to understand the fundamental basis of how people think that a sentence is true or not true,” he said.


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He started with perceptions of causation. If an action followed another action, the first action is believed to have caused the second.

King applied this to sentences, identifying the first part of a sentence as the cause and the second part as the effect.

In a series of experiments, participants were asked to evaluate the truthfulness of claims by fictional brands. Fake brands Decontrin and Recontrin claimed to cure headaches.

Truth ratings were higher for “Decontrin cures Headaches” than “Recontrin cures Headaches.” King and his co-author Dr. Sumitra Auschaitrakul, believe this is because Decontrin starts with the letter “d” which precedes the “h” in headache in the alphabet.

According to King, when the first part of a brand’s claim in a sentence (the cause) appears in alphabetical order before the second part of the sentence (the effect), people perceive the statement to be more truthful. This is because the mind unconsciously processes that the sentence follows a pattern it already knows – in this case, the alphabet.

“That is a pattern that I’m comfortable with. It feels safe. And therefore, it feels true, even though that’s not necessarily the case,” King said.

Z-Y-X-W-V …

The assistant marketing professor also had people listen to the alphabet song in reverse order before judging the truthfulness of the sentences. That group rated sentences with cause and effect in reverse alphabetical order as more truthful.

“It’s amazing how the mind is very malleable,” King said. “It’s very easily influenced by sort of temporary feelings of familiarity.”

His paper says these sequence fluency effects might have a stronger influence “because the lack of awareness means that people cannot adjust against its influence.”


“It is very important that people understand that a lot of these very random influences can have a large impact on the way that something feels true or feels untrue,” he said.

“And what they should do is that they should look at facts, look at real information, look at data before deciding to believe or not believe whether something that’s told to them is true or not true.”

To learn more about the UTRGV Department of Marketing, visit utrgv.edu/marketing.

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