The Journal-ist: Matters of Perception

In this month's look at journals and academic reviews, studies on optimism in business, lucky execs, aesthetics in e-commerce, and smells and flavors online.

Want to succeed in business? Manju Puri and David Robinson, writing in the Journal of Financial Economics, suggest looking for half-full glasses: "The fact that optimists work more, save more, are less pre-disposed toward retirement, are more likely to remarry and to buy individual stocks suggests that optimism may well be a critical component of economic decision making." The bright side can be too bright: "Optimism in moderation is associated with more prudent decisions ... while the opposite is true for extreme optimism."

If many young optimists do grow up to be accomplished businesspeople, perhaps it's because, as Kurt Matzler writes in the MIT Sloan Management Review, "successful senior executives appear to possess the ability to be lucky." Wait, isn't luck just luck? "Luck," to Matzler, actually means the ability "to exploit chance situations... They detect weak signals that others don't see and recognize patterns before others can."

Speaking of patterns, have you noticed how ugly e-tail sites can be? If so, you're likely shopping for good stuff. Shoppers surfing for specialty items look for original, creative site design, say Noam Tractinsky and Oded Lowengart in the Academy of Marketing Science Review: "Aesthetics is likely to serve an important role." Those buying life's basics (toothpaste, toilet paper) care less and even find eye-catching layouts distracting. Knowing "when and how to emphasize aesthetic design should result in luring new customers and in higher retention rates of repeat customers."

Relying only on visual appeal is so 20th century. Web retailers might soon provide more interactive features, according to Danny Weathers in the Journal of Retailing: "Research is being directed to invent methods of sensory-information transmission over computer-mediated channels such as computer mouses that 'feel' textures and printers that 'print' tastes." The clear beneficiary: online shoppers who need more than a picture to click buy.

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