APS Convention Report

This post is part of a series of reports on research presented last weekend at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science.

This very simple study has the potential to tremendously improve the effectiveness of the advertisements used to find missing children.

Most of you remember that dingy bulletin board placed on the way out of your local grocery stores. Sometimes they are full of used car ads, one or two missing dog and cat pics, and then the “Have you seen these children poster”. We all remember seeing it, but how many times do we stop to actually look at the pictures? How effective are these ads in getting large masses of people to consider the pictures? But most importantly, can we improve this?

We don’t really have to look far to find the answer. Retailers have studied shoppers’ behaviors for decades in order to learn how to position their products so that we are more likely to see them and buy them. This research has shown that “point of sale” is one of the most effective locations for product placements. Point of sale is that area near the cash machine. The area we pick up magazines and candy as we wait for our turn to pay. So what would happen if supermarkets put the posters of missing children at the point of sale instead than in the dingy exit board that so few actually see? Would people be more likely to see and remember the faces?

This is the question explored by researchers at the University of Arkansas. They placed posters of missing children at the point of sale at local supermarket and interviewed 157 shopper as they left the store. They then compared the results with previous data on shoppers’ views of posters placed at the exit of the store (Lampien et al., 2008 – see below).

The results:

  1. 67% of the shoppers reported looking at the pictures on the point of sale. This compared to less than 30% when the posters are placed at the store exist.
  2. But most importantly: previous studies have shown that when posters are placed at the store’s exist, shoppers are unable to correctly remember the faces any better than “chance”.  Specifically, once shoppers leave the store, they are shown a series of pictures and asked to select the picture of children who were included in the poster that they saw inside the store. When the poster is located at the exist, people select an equal number of correct and incorrect faces, reflecting “guessing”. Instead, when the posters were located at the cash register, the shoppers were much more likely to correctly identify faces that were actually on the poster.

This study shows that by moving the poster of missing children from the store’s exit to the point of sale, people are significantly more likely to actually look at the pictures and they are also more likely to accurately remember the faces included in the posters. This has the potential to significantly increase public awareness of missing children- possibly leading to an increase in successful searches. Although the general results are not necessarily “surprising”, they provide local and national organizations with needed empirical data that can be used to ask local and national supermarket stores to donate point of sale space for posters of missing children.

Please visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The reference: Peters, Sweeney, Lampinen (2009). Improving our chances of finding missing children: The point of purchase effect. Poster presented at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science. San Francisco, CA. 2009.

Also read: Lampinen, J., Arnal, J., & Hicks, J. (2008). The Effectiveness of Supermarket Posters in Helping to Find Missing Children Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24 (3), 406-423 DOI: 10.1177/0886260508317184

Dr. James Lampien is the principal investigator of research program. His research laboratory can be reached here: Lampinen Lab Memories in the Making

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