Do Advertisements Suppress Objective Decision Making?

Advertisements are everywhere, can they change how we make purchasing decisions?


In the digital age, we are under constant bombardment by advertising. As of 2014, the average American experiences an estimated 362 “advertisement only exposures” and up to 5,000 “brand exposures” per day (SJ Insights 2020). Our daily lives include interactions with hundreds of products, branded and unbranded. Every choice we make is the result of a complex web of objective analysis, emotional states, biases, habits, environments, and social and cultural influences. Advertisements endeavor to take advantage of that web and seek to alter our decision making process. Consumers seek differing amounts of information when choosing a product and conduct a highly variable amount of research when making purchase decisions. Similarly, a consumer’s self-perceived level of objectivity varies widely. Though the existing literature on advertising is rich, most approaches aim to understand advertising in broad decision making contexts (e.g., [Kumar and Raju 2013[( or look at specific advertising modalities such as affective conditioning or mere exposure (e.g., Baker 1999).

I performed an experiment to investigate the causal effect of advertising on objective decision making by answering the following research question: Does direct exposure to advertising with forced engagement reduce objectivity in making purchase decisions?


  • Causal Inference
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Linear Regression
  • Surveys


  • R
  • Python
  • Quatrics


We conducted an experiment that isolates and controls for these variables to measure the effect of direct exposure to advertising on objective purchase decision making. The average treatment effect was measured by analyzing product rankings assigned by subjects compared to an empirical truth state. Treatment subjects were exposed to advertisements to test whether or not there is a causal effect between such exposure and a subject’s objectivity. Unfortunately we were unable to recruit enough subjects to detect an effect. Subject attrition prevented nearly 50% of subjects assigned to the treatment group from contributing to our analysis. Future experiments examining this topic should be carefully designed to reduce attrition through improved questions and enlarging the number of surveying subjects. In an evermore ad-laden future, understanding the basic effects of advertising on objectivity, a key human trait, will be critical for creating tomorrow’s informed citizens.

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