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Sep 16, 2021 2021-09 Business Administration Faculty Research in Education

Finding motivation in a material world

Does your watch tell you the time? Or does it tell you it’s time to get going? According to Gies assistant professor Sarah Lim, it literally depends on how you look at it.

We all buy devices to help us reach certain goals, whether it’s enhancing our fitness or becoming a better cook. However, we don’t always achieve those goals. As a psychologist, Lim theorized that the reason might have less to do with the gadgets themselves and more with the way we perceive them.

Take the ubiquitous smart watch for example, says Lim. “I can perceive my Apple Watch more as a material purchase by focusing on the design and features, or I could focus on the experiential components of wearing this Apple Watch and how it makes me feel.”

According to Lim, those who do the latter are more likely to achieve their goals. The reason is simple — if wearing a smart watch makes you feel like an athletic person who cares about your fitness, you’re more motivated to make that perception a reality.

Lim’s interest in psychology began during her undergraduate years at Seoul National University in Korea, but it was during her PhD studies at Cornell that it took on more of a marketing bent. She found herself wanting to know why companies did things the way they did, and how those decisions impacted the way consumers perceived them.

One study in that vein focused on computer algorithms, which are increasingly being used by companies to handle tasks like loan applications reviews. Few consumers know that the fate of their home loan could rest with a machine. And Lim wanted to know if it would change consumers’ perceptions of a company if knew that reality. So, she set up an experiment to find out.

It turns out the answer is yes and no. According to Lim, those who were rejected were indifferent if that rejection came from a human or machine. Those whose loans were accepted, however, had a more favorable view of the company if their approval came from a human, because they felt that a human was more capable of judging the things that make them unique. These are the kinds of insights that Lim will be bringing to BADM 325 — Consumer Behavior, when she starts teaching at Gies this fall.

Lim says she enjoys teaching for two reasons. One is the immediate payoff that comes from helping students learn. “I enjoy research, but sometimes it’s very challenging because it’s a really long journey. You need to work on a project for several years before you see results.” With teaching, however, Lim says there’s an immediate reward that comes from interacting with students and seeing them grasp a concept. “I also learn a lot from students when they share their own experience,” said Lim, “which is very unique. I never expected that.”

As she’s learning from them, she hopes there’s one important thing her students are learning from her — and that’s the ability to think for themselves. “I want to teach them to solve problems rather than just memorize facts.” If they can do that, said Lim, they’ll have everything they need to succeed in life, no matter where their interests take them.