ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (2): 216-226.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00216

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The shape-gender implicit association and its impact on consumer preference for product shapes

DING Ying,PANG Jun(),WANG Yansu   

  1. School of Business, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
  • Received:2017-11-27 Published:2019-02-25 Online:2018-12-24
  • Contact: Jun PANG


Prior research on psychology and aesthetics has documented a general preference of human beings for rounded rather than angular shapes. However, recent research examining the symbolic meanings of shape suggests that individual’s shape preference is context-dependent. Our research extends the existing literature by proposing a new contextual factor that influences shape preference. We propose that shape is implicitly associated with gender, such that roundness is more associated with femininity whereas angularity is more associated with masculine. This association is applied to brand perceptions, leading consumer to more prefer rounded-shaped products when confronting a feminine brand but more prefer angular-shaped products when confronting a masculine brand.
Four studies were conducted to test our hypotheses. Study 1 used an Implicit Association Test to examine the implicit association between shape and gender. In Study 2, we examined the shape-gender association by asking participants to choose between a rounded-shaped product and an angular-shaped product for themselves. Study 3 retested the shape-gender association in the context of purchasing for others, and examined whether this association was implicit or not by asking the participants to write down the reasons for their choices. Study 4 demonstrated the implications of the shape-gender association by testing congruency effect of brand gender image and product shape on consumer preference. Participants were presented with either a feminine brand—Chanel or a masculine brand—Hugo Boss, and asked to choose the more preferred flash drive between a rounded-shaped option and an angular-shaped option. Following that, they evaluated perceived congruency between the product shape and the brand’s gender identity.
As predicted, results of Study 1 showed that participants classified male names faster when they were presented in an angular frame than in a rounded frame (t(92) = -2.10, p = 0.038), and this effect was reversed for female names (t(92) = 2.53, p = 0.013). Study 2 indicated that compared to male participants, female participants were more likely to choose the rounded-shaped products (sunglasses: χ 2(1) = 26.66, p < 0.001; perfume: χ 2(1) = 4.48, p = 0.03). Study 3 found similar effects when the participants chose products as a gift for others: they were more likely to choose the rounded-shaped product for a female friend than for a male friend (χ 2(1) = 3.71, p = 0.05). In addition, only 5 out of 97 participants mentioned recipients’ gender as the influencing factor of their choices, suggesting that the gender-shape association is implicit and beyond individuals’ awareness. Finally, Study 4 showed that compared to a masculine brand, a feminine brand led to a higher likelihood of choosing the rounded-shaped (vs. angular-shaped) product (χ 2(1) = 5.29, p = 0.02), and that this effect was mediated by perceived congruency between product shape and brand gender identity (95% CI = 0.01 ~ 1.82).
Our research is the first to formally test the implicit association between shape and gender. In addition, we demonstrate the implications of this association by showing that brand gender identity affects consumer preference for products with different shapes. These findings advance our knowledge of the contextual effect on consumers’ shape preference, and provide important implications on how to enhance a product’s market success by choosing the right shape design.

Key words: shape, gender, implicit association, product shape, brand gender identity

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