Land O’Lakes Chair in Marketing, Kathleen Vohs, shares a whirlwind year of research

Monday, September 16, 2019 - 10:00am

A prolific researcher and one of the most highly cited scholars in her field, U of M professor and Land O’Lakes Chair in Marketing, Kathleen Vohs, works to understand and communicate the basics of how people think, feel, and make choices in order to make sense of consumer behavior. She recently shared more on her latest research and teaching endeavors.

Exploring the nature of time

One project that was particularly fun this past year concerns the nature of time in people’s thoughts; meaning, we wanted to know whether individuals were mainly thinking about the present, past, future, or some combination. To do so, we gave study participants an app for their smartphones, beeped them six times a day for three days, and asked them about the last thought they had just before we signaled them.

We found that most thoughts were about the present and many were about the future. Thoughts about the past were few. Thinking about the present was associated with the most positive feelings, whereas thinking about the future was associated with planning and goals. We’re pumped about the findings because they give us a window into how people’s everyday thoughts make use of time. Knowing that presents new avenues for helping people align their thoughts with the most suitable time orientation, enabling them to meet their psychological needs.

The intersection of art and consumer science

This year, I’m excited to be working on a project on the psychological value of complex art. Along with my co-author Henrik Haugvedt, who is both a marketing professor at Boston College and a professional visual artist, we figured out that viewing complicated art makes people feel like their lives have more meaning, whereas when they view artwork that’s clearer and simpler, they feel life is happy. These findings broaden our understanding of what draws people toward different kinds of art.

I find it fascinating to try and understand why people consume art. The reasons that people choose to make art seems more straightforward—to express their creativity, etc.—but the act of viewing art that someone else made has always struck me as a bit of a puzzle. Our work helps to make sense of it, and for me that’s very exciting. 

Stepping into a new semester

This fall, I’m looking forward to submitting our latest research papers for peer review and, hopefully publication. I’m also teaching my M.B.A. and undergraduate behavioral economics course, which is super fun, and I’ll be going to Norway and Israel for work. So a little bit of research, teaching, and travel. 


"The Land O’Lakes Chair in Marketing is very important to me because it provides more resources for my research so I can take on bigger projects. Additionally, I can attend conferences to get the word out about my work, which helps me share our science with other researchers in the field—part of my professional mission.”


Photo courtesy of Kathleen Vohs, Carlson School of Management