Research on shopping haul videos a challenge

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The amateur videos aren't hard to find online -- images of young women, usually, surrounded by shopping bags or merchandise that they've picked up at the store and are eager to show to friends or whomever else might be interested.

But doing research on the phenomenon of so-called shopping haul videos is proving challenging for a social psychology team from Penn State New Kensington.

So far, almost 90 volunteers have filled out an online survey exploring the personalities of people who post haul videos and those who watch them. "We need about 300," said Richard J. Harnish, associate professor of psychology, noting that would make the results more statistically reliable.

The survey is only part of an ongoing series of research projects that Mr. Harnish, his colleagues and students have been running as they put the societal trend under the behavioral microscope.

Mr. Harnish said his interest was triggered in part by news reports about those really successful makers of beauty and fashion videos who have drawn hundreds of thousands of followers; turned the idea into an income stream; and even gotten book deals.

The vast majority of haul-video makers aren't likely to have that level of impact, but many still enjoy giving it a shot. Search engine company Google has reported that while there were about 150,000 such videos on YouTube in 2010, by this year that number had grown to nearly 600,000.

The Penn State New Ken researchers started with a previously established concept known as self-monitoring in trying to determine whom people would go to for fashion advice.

The concept identifies two personality types: high self-monitors are the kind of people who have the motivation and ability to adapt themselves to various social situations; low self-monitors, on the other hand, aren't that interested in adapting to fit the situation. The first might sparkle at that New Year's Eve party, while the second will wear what's comfortable and easy, Mr. Harnish said.

In a lab, the researchers brought in more than 60 Penn State New Ken undergrads taking a course in introductory psychology. A few had seen haul videos before and were excluded from the study, but the rest were shown one of three videos created for the experiment.

A 17-year-old recruit had recorded three versions of the video (www.youtube.com/embed/_bV1doExpeA), showing the same products but changing the name of the retailer. In one, she said the merchandise came from Walmart; the second cited J.C. Penney; and the third Nordstrom. "Everything was on sale," Mr. Harnish said with a laugh. "It was a great deal."

Those subjects identified as high self-monitoring personalities responded best to the Nordstrom video.

"They want to appear socially desirable, socially appropriate," he said. The low self-monitoring types were drawn more to Walmart. "Our thinking here is it's a value issue."

The next project, the survey, involves recruiting subjects who aren't taking classes, and that's proven harder.

Mr. Harnish and a student made a YouTube video explaining the research and asking people to take the survey -- although at more than four minutes long and using rather technical language, it might test the patience of the average viewer looking for fashion inspiration: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yUnsFMwIRc&feature=relmfu.

Graduate student Laura Sciamanna sent more than 100 Facebook messages to people who had made shopping haul videos. She received only a few responses, including two from people who agreed to take the survey, one who asked not to be contacted again and one who said she didn't know what a haul video was.

"It hasn't really panned out," Mr. Harnish said.

The researchers plan to present their work at a meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in New York in March.

In the meantime, they'd love to convince a few more people to spend 25 minutes or so on online rating comments such as, "I can make impromptu speeches even on topics about which I have almost no information," and, "I try to keep my life simple, as far as possessions are concerned."

No shopping haul video experience is required, Mr. Harnish said. Generally, they'd just like to attract those who are interested in fashion.

To find the survey, go to this Web address: http://nk.psu.edu/mallhaulstudy.

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Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018.


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