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Most research on the consumer adoption of radically new technology has viewed the decision as rational, based on weighing the cost versus the benefit of having that new piece of technology.

But Tripat Gill, associate professor of marketing at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics and Canada Research Chair in Market Insight and Innovation, thinks that often something else is at play when it comes to consumer adoption of innovative technologies.

In some instances, the existing rational process model of consumer adoption holds true. But sometimes, even when the benefits versus costs are favourable, consumers still don’t adopt a new product.

Gill is looking to study the role of emotions in the adoption of technological innovations that are radical and disruptive. Specifically, he will be researching why electric cars haven’t taken off and what are the barriers to adopting self-driving cars.

“A rational argument would be in favour of electric cars,” said Gill. “They are cheaper to run, better for the environment and the government offers subsidies for them, but we’re not seeing that massive shift in consumer adoption.”

Surveys have also shown that people are largely in favour of electric cars and would consider buying one, but their behaviour reflects differently.

“People just aren’t getting excited about the electric car, and they don’t feel an emotional affinity for the car,” said Gill. “Most car manufacturers have been offering electric cars to consumers for the past decade based on the assumption that ‘rationally’ speaking people would want to buy them, but that’s not happening.”

Gill plans on developing a model that accounts for this intangible “emotional” drive that influences consumer adoption, and will test it with real examples of disruptive technologies and why they are or aren’t adopted. He is planning to investigate how emotions and the rational model of “cost versus benefit” work together to influence consumer adoption of innovations.

“When it comes to embracing change, there are people on both sides of the spectrum, but overall, people don’t like change,” said Gill. “There’s a sense of risk and uncertainty around new things, but people also like novelty. We need a model of consumer adoption that accounts for these conflicting emotions and the role they play in how society adopts innovative products.”

Gill’s research is supported through a recent Canada Research Chair Tier II renewal.

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