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by Tuck Communications   Dec 22, 2010

No one can blame a company for wanting to put an unhappy incident behind it.

But a new study by Tuck assistant professor Ellie Kyung suggests that the way consumers remember negative events, such as a product recall, can affect how distant they feel from them and how likely they are to assign blame to those involved.

Kyung and her co-authors attribute this to the underlying mindsets people can bring to bear when recalling the past. Those with a concrete mindset seek more specific and detailed information, which leads to a more complex reconstruction of the memory. This not only makes the event feel as though it occurred more recently, it also leads consumers to take mitigating circumstances for these negative events into account more and blame involved parties less. People with an abstract mindset, on the other hand, recall things in a more generalized way. Such memories feel as though they occurred in the more distant past, one consequence of which is a greater tendency to hold parties more accountable for negative events.

E. Kyung, G. Menon, Y. Trope, “Reconstruction of Things Past: Why do some memories feel so close and others so far away,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(1), 2010.