Article: Friday, 5 April 2024

Restaurant reviews are more positive from a psychological distance, either further away in time or in distance according to existing research. However, the correlation between negative words and rating grows stronger as geographical distance increases, and weaker as temporal distance increases. Recently, researchers investigated that phenomenon, and found the correlation between negative words and numerical rating gets stronger the further away reviewers are.

Assistant Professor Dr Dominik Gutt from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), and Prof. Dennis Kundisch and Dr Juergen Neumann from Paderborn University wrote the study Reviewing from a Distance: Uncovering Asymmetric Moderations of Spatial and Temporal Distance between Sentiment Negativity and Rating, published in MIS Quarterly.

“I’m fascinated by the behaviour of online reviewers,” says Dominik Gutt. “Sometimes, they show very interesting patterns. What especially caught my interest was that sometimes, what people write and how they rate can be quite different.”

When future diners make their restaurant choices based on online reviews, it’s important that they’re relatively unbiased. The less biased they are, the better customers’ decisions, and the more trusted those reviews become – and then perhaps more reviews are written, a virtuous cycle. 

 

De-biasing the reviews

For any brick-and-mortar business, there is spatial and temporal distance when reviews are generated. Now, if time passed and distance from the restaurant were to bring a bias into reviews, there is a need to de-bias them. On one hand, it seems spatial distance does introduce a positive bias to ratings when the sentiment of the review is average. On the other hand, the further away the reviewers are, the stronger the correlation between what they write in the review and how they rate. Based on this knowledge, the weight of such a rating in the average of a restaurant’s rating score could be adapted.

It turns out that what reviewers write in words does not always align with how they give a numerical rating, and spatial and temporal distance are always a factor in online reviews – so they should be accounted for. The researchers were looking for gaps in the theories that state spatial and temporal distance are uniform ‘currencies’ of psychological distance. “We provided evidence for situations in which they aren’t,” said Dr Gutt.


Self-distancing reviewers are like observers

Dominik Gutt and his fellow researchers were looking at the known psychological effect of self-distancing theory, which describes how someone can ‘step back’ to view their own experience like an outside observer. People reflect more genuinely on psychologically distant negative experiences – so a bad restaurant experience would be reviewed in a less emotional or more balanced way if it’s done some time after the visit to, or some distance away from, the restaurant. 

The researchers wanted to know if the positivity bias in ratings from psychological distance when the experience was average persists for negative experiences too.

A million TripAdvisor reviews

The researchers used more than a million online restaurant reviews from TripAdvisor. “For each of these reviews, we knew how far away the restaurant was from the reviewer’s home location and how much time had passed between dining there and writing the review.” 

The researchers noted how negative the review text was, and how many stars (from 1 to 5) the reviewer gave, as well as the distance from the reviewer’s home to the restaurant, and how long after the dining experience the reviewer left their review.
 

Distance. And time.

“Using the self-distancing theory that people leave less emotional reviews if there’s some distance between them and the restaurant, we hypothesized that the further away the restaurant from home, the more correlation between negative feelings in the words they use, and numerical ratings. 

“Then we looked at the effect of time passing. We used construal level theory – a more recent framework that links social or psychological distance to the way that someone understands the world or a particular situation – to hypothesize that the more time between dining and reviewing, the weaker the relationship between a negative sentiment and numerical rating.”

The further away people live from the restaurant, the stronger the correlation between negative sentiments and numerical ratings. But the correlation gets weaker as time passes between dining and reviewing.

The real effects of time and distance

“We found exactly what we hypothesised. The further away people live from the restaurant, the stronger the correlation between negative sentiments and numerical ratings. But the correlation gets weaker as time passes between dining and reviewing. 

“The language used by the reviewers also substantiates our hypothesis. Reviewers show tendencies of self-distancing when reviewing in spatial distance, which makes the correlation between negativity and rating stronger. But they show tendencies of higher construal level when reviewing in temporal distance (after time has passed), which makes the correlation between negativity and rating weaker.”

Dr. D. (Dominik) Gutt
Assistant Professor
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Photo
Dominik Gutt
Pile of books with vibrant bookmarks protruding from various pages, symbolizing in-depth research.

Related articles

RSM Discovery

Want to elevate your business to the next level using the latest research? RSM Discovery is your online research platform. Read the latest insights from the best researchers in the field of business. You can also subscribe to the newsletter to receive a bimonthly highlight with the most popular articles.

Do you want to learn more about this subject?

Check out these RSM education programmes

MSc Strategic Management

MSc Strategic Management

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc International Management / CEMS

MSc International Management / CEMS

  • 18 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc Finance & Investments

MSc Finance & Investments

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc Management of Innovation

MSc Management of Innovation

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc MI Medical Business & Innovation

MSc MI Medical Business & Innovation

MSc Business Information Management

MSc Business Information Management

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
Diploma Programme in Advanced Business Valuation

Diploma Programme in Advanced Business Valuation

  • 16 Sept 2024
  • 4 - 6 months
    • €15,500 | €23,000 *
    • * see details on page
MScBA Accounting & Financial Management

MScBA Accounting & Financial Management

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc People, Organisations & Change

MSc People, Organisations & Change

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
BSc International Business Administration (IBA)

BSc International Business Administration (IBA)

  • 3 years
    • € 2,530 (EEA)*|
    • € 11,600 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
Diploma Programme in General Management

Diploma Programme in General Management

  • 24 Jun 2024
  • 1 year
    • €14,825 -
    • €15,425 depending on modules chosen *
    • * see details on the page
MScBA Master in Management

MScBA Master in Management

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc Global Business & Sustainability

MSc Global Business & Sustainability

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc Strategic Entrepreneurship

MSc Strategic Entrepreneurship

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc Supply Chain Management

MSc Supply Chain Management

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MScBA Business Analytics & Management

MScBA Business Analytics & Management

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page
MSc Marketing Management

MSc Marketing Management

  • 12 months
    • €2,530 (EEA)*|
    • €22,500 (Non-EEA)
    • *see details on page

Your contact for more information:

Danielle Baan

Science Communication and Media Officer

Portrait of Erika Harriford-McLaren

Erika Harriford-McLaren

Corporate Communications & PR Manager

Erasmus University campus in autumn, showcasing its iconic red trees, viewed from across the campus pool.