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Journal of Applied Psychology

1977,

Vol.

62, No.

4, 480-486

Effect

of Expectation and

Product Evaluations:

Disconfirmation on Postexposure

An Alternative

Interpretation

Richard L. Oliver

Department of Business Administration

University

of

Kentucky

Interpretations of the effect of expectation and disconfirmation on perceived product performance are reviewed. At issue is the relative effect of the initial expectation level and the degree of positive or negative disconfirmation on affective judgments following product exposure. Although the results of prior studies suggest a dominant expectation effect, it is argued that detection of the disconfirmation phenomenon may have been clouded by a conceptual and meth- odological overdetermination problem. To test this notion, 243 subjects re- sponded to expectation and disconfirmation measures in a three-stage field study of reactions to a recently introduced automobile model. These measures were later related to postexposure affect and intention variables in a hierarchical analysis of variance design. Although the results support earlier conclusions that level of expectation is related to postexposure judgments, it is also shown that the disconfirmation experience may have an independent and equally significant impact. Implications of the findings are discussed.

The effect of confirmation and disconfirma- tion of expectations on perceived product per- formance has received scant attention in the literature, despite an apparent relationship between expectancy disconfirmation and pro- duct satisfaction (Anderson, 1973). This is evidenced by the fact that only five studies in the last decade exist to provide a founda- tion for a research tradition of the effects of expectation and disconfirmation on postex- posure product reactions. This article reviews these investigations and suggests a new con- ceptual and empirical perspective to discon- firmation effects.

Theories oj Reaction to Discrepancy

A number of competing explanations have been proposed by Anderson (1973) to de- scribe the effect of expectation and confirma- tion-disconfirmation on perceptions of pro- duct performance. All include the implicit as- sumption that consumers acquire cognitive expectations of the most probable level of

Requests for reprints should be sent to Richard L,

Oliver, who

is

now

at

the

College of Business Ad-

ministration, University

of Iowa,

Iowa

City, Iowa

52242.

product performance. The extent to which these expectations are met determines the per- ceived disconfirmation experience. Note that one's expectations will be negatively discon- firmed if the product performs more poorly than expected, confirmed if the product per- forms as expected, and positively discon- firrned if performance is better than antici- pated. Thus, confirmation is more properly the midpoint on a disconfirmation continuum

ranging

from

unfavorable

to favorable dis-

confirmation.

 

The product performance predictions made by the competing theories differ in terms of magnitude of effect placed on expectation and disconfirmation (Anderson, 1973). For exam- ple, assimilation theory (Sherif & Hovland, 1961) and dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) would predict that postexposure rat- ings are primarily a function of the expecta-

tion level because the task

of recognizing

disconfirmation is believed to be psychologi- cally uncomfortable. Thus, consumers are posited to perceptually distort expectation- discrepant performance so as to coincide with their prior expectation level. In comparison, contrast theory (Sherif & Hovland, 1961)

would predict that outcomes deviating from

expectations will cause the subject to favor-

480

EFFECT OF EXPECTATION AND DISCONFIRMATION

481

ably or unfavorably react to the disconfirma- tion experience in that a negative disconfirma- tion is believed to result in a poor product evaluation whereas a positive disconfirmation should cause the product to be highly ap- praised. In short, an assimilation model would predict that product performance perceptions are a function of the expectation level, where- as a contrast model would predict that per- formance ratings are primarily a function of the disconfirmation experience.

The Evidence

Five marketing studies have investigated the effects of expectation and/or disconfirma- tion on product evaluations. In two early in- vestigations, Cardozo (196S) found that sub- jects who received a pen of expected quality rated the product significantly higher than a group expecting a higher quality writing in- strument, whereas Cohen and Goldberg (1970) showed that subjects who received an unaltered cup of a new coffee brand rated it higher than subjects tasting the same brand with a poor-tasting additive. Thus, the latter study confirmed Cardozo's findings that a negative disconfirmation of performance ex- pectations resulted in lower product ratings than were obtained under accurate expecta- tion conditions in accord with the contrast model. The effect of positive disconfirmation was introduced by Olshavsky and Miller (1972)

in a 2x 2 design featuring high

and low

levels of subject expectations and the per- formance of a reel-type tape recorder. Unlike the results of the two prior studies, high ex-

pectation subjects in the low performance condition rated the product higher than sub- jects in the low expectation-low performance group, while the low expectation-high per- formance subjects evaluated the recorder lower than subjects whose expectations of a high quality recording were confirmed. Ol- shavsky and Miller concluded that perform- ance evaluations "tended to be assimilated toward manipulated expectations whether positively or negatively disconfirmed (p. 21)."

In

a thorough analysis of the

expectation

effect, Anderson

(1973) investigated the im-

pact of varying levels of expectation on rat- ings of a ballpoint pen and found that with the exception of a high expectancy extreme, subjects assimilated their postexposure judg- ments in the direction of the expectation treatment. Specifically, the ratings of a group receiving accurate expectations were higher than those of two lower expectation groups and lower than a moderately high expecta- tion group. Mean evaluations of the highest expectancy group were equivalent to those in the accurate treatment. Finally, Olson and Dover (197S) manipu- lated subject expectations that an unfamiliar coffee brand would be free of bitterness and then permitted both the experimental group and a control group receiving no information to taste a very bitter coffee blend. When com- pared to their own pretrial expectations and the control group ratings, the experimental group evaluated the coffee as more bitter than expected but less bitter than indicated by the control group. In summary, the three most recent studies

provide consistent evidence in favor

of

the

predictive superiority of the assimilation model. In these investigations, the effects of positive and/or negative disconfirmation were compared to evaluations under conditions of accurate expectations. The results showed that the contrast effect is elusive. Rather than responding favorably to an unanticipated superior performance or unfavorably to an unexpected inferior product experience, sub- jects appeared to distort performance to co- incide with their expectations. Although the two earliest studies found evidence for a con- trast effect, the findings of the first study have been questioned by Olshavsky and Mil- ler (1972, pp. 20-21) while Cohen and Gold- berg (1970) did not provide for differing ex- pectation levels. Accordingly, the weight of the evidence would appear to support the assimilation model. In response, it is argued that the assimila- tion and contrast predictions derived from

communication theory may not be meaning- ful within the context of product exposure. Consider the implications of the findings to date in light of the relation between discon- firmation and perceived performance. The

  • 482 RICHARD L. OLIVER

conclusions of the most recent studies indicate that a positive disconfirmation results in lower ratings and a negative disconfirmation in higher ratings than would be obtained under accurate expectations—a counterintui- tive proposal. Rather,, the position taken in this article is that both expectation and dis- confirmation explanations are needed to fully specify the level of postexposure evaluations in much the same way that any revised atti- tude can be explained in terms of initial posi- tion plus degree and direction of change. Con- sequently, it may be inappropriate to force an assimilation or contrast interpretation on any set of findings. This line of thought is pur- sued in the following discussion.

The

Case jor Independent,

Postexposure

Evaluations

Effects

in

As noted by Weaver and Brickman (1974), research on the disconfirmation of expecta- tions is confounded by conceptual overdeter- rnination. Specifically, one's reaction to a dis- confirmation experience is believed to be a function of three constructs (expectation, outcome, and disconfirmation), although only two can be manipulated independently as a practical matter. The nature of the third variable has been assumed from the following postulates:

1. An outcome given high expectations re- sults in perceived negative disconfirmation. 2. An outcome given low expectations re- sults in perceived positive disconfirmation.

Note that an axiomatic negative correlation between expectation and disconfirmation is implied, in that high expectations are as- sumed to result in an unfavorable disconfirma-

tion and low expectations in positive discon- firmation. Weaver and Brickman took issue with this interpretation and argued that a separate disconfirmation effect may exist inde- pendent of the outcome and expectation treatments and that studies manipulating only expectation and performance may have ob- scured this possibility.

In

the five studies cited

in

the

preceding

discussion, three varied expectation only (Anderson, 1973; Cardozo, 1965; Olson &

Dover, 1975), one manipulated performance (Cohen & Goldberg, 1970), and one examined expectation and performance (Olshavsky & Miller, 1972). In no study was disconfirma- tion measured per se; rather, the magnitude and direction of the disconfirmation experi- ence were assumed from Postulates 1 and 2. To independently test the effect of disconfir- mation, a design such as the following would be required:

Expectation

Negative

disconfirmation

Confirmation

Positive

disconfirmation

Low

High

Because no such design has been tested, the studies to date can be said to have only shown that (a) expectations influence postexposure product ratings and (b) that actual product performance influences product ratings. Strictly speaking, the inferences drawn in these studies regarding the predictive superi- ority of an assimilation over a contrast model or of the greater effect of expectation over disconfirmation may be due to the confound- ing inherent in Assumptions 1 and 2.

Conditions facilitating independent effects.

A defense of the notion of expectation- disconfirmation independence would require that the likelihood of either a positive, zero, or negative disconfirmation be the same at all expectation levels. It is argued here that the context of many overall product perform- ance evaluations is sufficiently subjective so that this condition is satisfied from a per- ceptual standpoint. Although performance perception ratings may, in part, be based on objective criteria, one's overall assessment of many products usually involves a number of subjective attributes including those that are objective but are judged subjectively as a practical matter (e.g., the quietness of an automobile). Consequently, postexposure evaluations are likely to be highly subjective as well. Second, because expectation formation and disconfirmation occur at separate points in time, the assumed relation between the two variables may be attenuated for two reasons. First, the product usage experience itself may serve to interfere with the retention of expec-

EFFECT OF EXPECTATION AND DISCONFIRMATION

483

tation levels and, if usage takes place over a

consisted of 243 undergraduates 57% of whom were male.

period of time, the time interval may enhance forgetting. Second, because aroused discon- firmation is in closer temporal proximity to the postexposure evaluation, its effect may be

Design

greater than that of expectation. In

fact, it

In an effort to adapt the traditional laboratory investigation of the effect of expectancy disconfir-

Measures

may be instructive to note that the relation- ship between expectation and evaluation over time has not been explored in a usage context.

mation to the field, a three-stage cross-sectional design was employed whereby expectation and dis- confirmation data were collected without treatment

Finally, it is also suggested that one experi- ences feelings as opposed to mental calcula- tions of overall disconfirmation based on sub- jective perceptions of disconfirmation on the individual attributes. Thus, in the event that one had very high expectations, he could still "feel" as if the product performed better than expected (e.g., "whiter than white"), whether these feelings were, in fact, accurate or not. In summary, the position taken here

manipulations. Specifically, a quasi-realistic shopping experience was used in which subjects were asked first to complete a preexposure questionnaire, then examine the car in a test drive or stationary situ- ation, and finally make a number of postexposure judgments. The data were later collapsed into a 2X3X 2 unequal « factorial design consisting of expectation (low, high), disconfirmation (negative, zero, positive), and nature of exposure (drive and inspection, inspection only).

assumes that when expectations, performance, and disconfirmation are largely subjective, no necessary relation between expectation and disconfirmation would be expected even though one's expectation level may provide a baseline for disconfirmation in an objective

Expectation and disconfirmation. As all prior studies have manipulated expectation and discon-

firmation experimentally, the literature provides little precedent for measuring these constructs on a self- report instrument. Consequently, expectation was measured on the preexposure questionnaire in two ways. First, subjects indicated their perceptions of

you expect it to be

.?" on a 7-point scale ranging

performance

situation. As a result, the sep-

the car's overall quality by responding to the item

arate disconfirmation effect posited by Weaver and Brickman (1974) may serve to mitigate the strong expectation effect pre-

"Before you inspect (test drive) the , do

dicted by the assimilation model.

Second, expectation was

also viewed

as

the

mean

rating

on

fifteen

7-point

bipolar

scales

measuring

To

address

the

issues

a

subject perceptions of the car's position on attribute;,

methodology

is needed that

raised above, tests for the

dis-

selected from research summaries provided by the

confirmation effect

independent

of

expecta-

manufacturer. Examples include cramped-roomy, noisy-quiet, and uncomfortable-comfortable. The

tion. Because

a laboratory

solution

to

this

degree of commitment to these beliefs was believed

problem is not easily executed

(Weaver &

to be similar to that obtained in prior studies.

Brickman, 1974) and because the

external

The first measure of disconfirmation was obtained

validity of the

prior findings has

not

been

in a straightforward manner on the postexposure

assessed, a field investigation

was conducted

questionnaire. Subjects were asked to rate the car in

in a manner that would allow both expecta-

terms of their expectations on the following scale:

tion and disconfirmation to be related

to

My expectations were:

 

postexposure evaluations.

Too high:

Accurate:

Too low:

 

It was poorer than 1 thought

It was just as I had expected

It was better than I thought

 

Method

 

888888

 

8

8

Sample

Students at a Midwestern university voluntarily participated in a study of reactions to a recently introduced automobile model. Subjects were recruited both from campus housing units and from various locations around campus. After deleting the responses of seven subjects for incompleteness, the final sample

In accord with the second measure of expectation, disconfirmation was also viewed as the average change in the attribute ratings between the pre- and postexposure questionnaires where positive and neg- ative net changes were interpreted as favorable and unfavorable disconfirmation, respectively. To create distinct categories of the independent variables, the measures were collapsed to provide

484

 

RICHARD

Table 1

 

Correlations Between Expectation,

 

Disconfirmation, Affect.,

and Intention

 

Measures

 
 

Variable

1

2

345

6

1,

Affect

2,

Intention

 

.62*

3.

Overall expectation

.39*

.38*

4.

Pretest ratings

.28*

.37*

.51*

5.

Overall

 

disconfirmation

.61*

.41*

.01

.01

6.

Net ratings change

.53*

.35*

.10

-.22*

.54*

Note. N

=

243.

* p

g

.01.

two

levels of

expectation and

three

levels

of

dis-

confirmation. A median split was used to divide the

sample into high and low expectation groups, but no effort was made to equally partition the dis- confirmation measures as the natural categories of negative, zero, and positive disconfirmation were theoretically denned. Consequently, subjects were divided into those who selected the three negative disconfirmation scale points, those who indicated that their perceptions were accurate, and those who chose the the rightmost positive disconfirmation cate-

gories. This same procedure was

used to partition

the attribute ratings change continuum, although

a

margin

of

±

.25 scale

points

around

zero net

change was allowed to provide the same percentage

of

accurate

subjects

that

was

obtained

with

the

overall disconfirmation scale.

 
 

Attitudinal

criteria.

Two

attitudinal

dimensions,

overall affect

and intention to buy, were selected to

assess the effect of expectation and disconfirmation. To obtain a postexposure evaluation of overall affect, subjects were asked to check their perceptions

of

the

car

on

a

7-point

scale ranging from

 

very

unappealing (1) to very appealing (1). In

a similar

manner, subjects indicated their

purchase intention

by responding

to the question

"If

you were

'in

the

market'

for

a

car, what

are

the

chances that

you

would buy a ?" on an 11-point scale ranging from zero, through SO-SO, to certain.

Analysis

Because of the unavoidable necessity of unequal cell sizes in the design, a nonorthogonal analysis of variance (Overall & Spiegel, 1969) was required. The

hierarchical

technique was

selected

in

the present

case because a logical a priori ordering of main

effects

was

considered defensible on grounds of

temporal precedence and research tradition. Because expectations are antecedent to product trial and consequently to the disconfirmation experience, the expectation variable was given priority in the sum of squares partitioning. Moreover, the evidence to date suggests that the expectation effect is more potent than that of disconfirmation, a condition re- flected in the hierarchical positioning. Because both

L.

OLIVER

expectation and disconfirmation were assumed to operate to the same degree in the drive and inspec- tion groups, however, the exposure effect was given the lowest priority.

Results

Correlations between the raw scale scores

are reported in Table 1, which shows that

postexposure affect and intention were posi-

tively related to both the overall and summed attribute expectation variables as well as both the overall and attribute change disconfirma- tion variables. Moreover, the expectation measures were uncorrelated with the discon- firmation variables except when the summed attribute pretest scores were used to represent expectation and the attribute change scores were used as a proxy variable for disconfirma- tion. This observed negative correlation, how- ever, is more likely due to the common re- gression effect obtained when change scores are correlated with pretest scores (Lord, 1962). Note that even with the negatively correlated ratings scales, the dependent vari- ables were positively correlated with both the expectation and disconfirmation measures. To show that the correlational findings generalize across disconfirmation categories and exposure conditions, the results of the hierarchical analyses of variance on post- exposure affect and intention to buy using categories derived from the overall as well as

the ratings scales are shown in Table

2. Be-

cause no main effect attributable to the nature

of the product experience was significant in any analysis, the two exposure groups were combined for purposes of presenting the cell means in Table 2. Table 2 shows that both the expectation and the disconfirmation effects were signifi- cant. As measured by the partial F statistics, disconfirmation had a greater impact on affect regardless of how the independent variables were measured, whereas the effects on inten- tion were more equally attributable to both independent variables. In all cases, higher mean evaluations were obtained in high

1

1 The complete hierarchical analyses

of

variance

tables and

cell sizes are available from

the

author.

EFFECT OF EXPECTATION AND

DISCONFIRMAT.ION

Table 2

Design Cell Mean Scores and Main Effect

F Levels

485

 

Disconfirmation level

 

Main effect F ratios

expectation level

Negative

Zero

Positive

Expectation Disconfirmation Exposure

Affect

Low

  • 2.97 3.88

5.06

27.66**

64.22**

.11

  • 3.21 4.24

5.19

9.97*

54.22**

.02

High

  • 3.87 5.06

5.93

  • 3.91 4.94

6.03

Intention

Low

  • 1.82 1.71

3.76

32.06**

28.89**

1.33

  • 1.84 2.05

3.83

32.24**

28.97**

.83

High

  • 2.69 4.64

5.47

  • 3.00 4.47

6.03

Note. The upper mean scores and F ratios were obtained using the overall expectation and disconfirmation

scales to form design cells, whereas the lower figures were determined struct cells.

*p

**p

< .05.

< .01.

using the attribute ratings to con-

expectation groups at all disconfirmation levels. Similarly, higher mean scores on affect were obtained in the successively higher dis- confirmation groups at both expectation levels. This latter finding was nearly true for the intention measure with the exception of one aberrant cell. Mean intention evaluations in the low expectation-confirmation group were slightly lower than those obtained in the low expectation-negative disconfirmation group when the overall scales were used to categorize subjects. To conserve space, no interaction F ratios are shown, and, in fact, none were significant in the analysis of the affect criterion. The analysis of intention did yield a marginally significant Expectation X Disconfirmation effect, which was attributed to the one aber- rant cell mean noted above. Although signifi- cant, this would appear to be of minor consequence in the overall interpretation of the findings.

Discussion

The

results have

shown that the discon-

firmation effect implicit in the expectation theories of consumer satisfaction can be a significant predictor of postexposure affect and intention to buy and may be viewed

independently of product performance expec-

tations. Moreover, these findings generally support those of the four most recent studies in that the expectation effect was also signifi- cant. As the reader may recall, when expecta- tion was manipulated while holding perform- ance constant, product ratings were a positive function of expectation (Anderson, 1973; Olshavsky & Miller, 1972; Olson & Dover, 197S). Conversely, when expectation was held constant and a performance manipu- lation was used to create disconfirmation, ratings were inversely related to negative di;>- confirmation and positively related to a posi- tive disconfirmation (Cohen & Goldberg, 1970; Olshavsky & Miller, 1972, p. 20).

Thus,

all results show that perceived per-

formance is a positive function of expecta- tion and disconfirmation when other factors

are held constant. Confusion in interpretation

of the findings appears to be linked to a

reliance on Postulates 1 and 2 to infer

dis-

confirmation. In fact, in no prior study was

disconfirmation measured directly even though the various measures of performance were subjective in nature. Rather, the dis- confirmation experience was assumed from the treatments applied. As noted, prior inter- pretations would suggest a negative correla- tion between expectation and disconfirmation, an assumption that was not supported by the data reported here. Consequently, it is sug-

  • 486 RICHARD L. OLIVER

gested

that

other

avenues

of

thought

be

ity of a perceived negative disconfirmation

is

pursued in future studies.

 

high.

 

References

Implications

 

From a managerial standpoint, this re- search suggests that two stages of marketing effort may be required to affect postusage evaluations and satisfaction maximally. In addition to a proper positioning of the level of advertising claims (Anderson, 1973), the marketing manager may also wish to provide postpurchase information affecting consumer perceptions of positive disconfirmation. This concept is implicit in many dissonance-reduc- ing messages aimed at current and potential users of the manufacturer's product and would include claims similar to "I never expected my Maytag washer to last so long." The author views these findings with mixed feelings, however, as they do not refute the previous observation that higher expectations beget higher postexposure judgments when product performance is held constant. An inspection of Table 2 shows this quite clearly:

High expectations yielded higher ratings at every disconfirmation level. However, when the independent disconfirmation effect is considered, the benefits accruing to the user of inflated appeals may be diminished, par- ticularly when the disconfirmation experience is negative. This possibility has been obscured in previous investigations and suggests that a high expectation promotional strategy may not be strategically sound when the probabil-

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J.

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M.

E.

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dissonance

model in post-decision product evaluation. Journal

of

Marketing Research, 1970, 7, 315-321.

 

Festinger, L. A theory

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F.

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C. W. Harris

(Ed.), Problems of

mea-

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C., & Dover,

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cre-

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K.

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in communication

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Received August 13, 1976

H