The Consumer's Mood: an Important Situational Variable

Meryl P. Gardner, New York University
Marion Vandersteel, New York University
ABSTRACT - This paper discusses the effects of buyers' moods on consumer behavior. First, the nature and importance of these effects are discussed. Then, relevant findings from other disciplines are summarized. Finally, methodological issues related to the manipulation and assessment of mood in laboratory settings are examined.
[ to cite ]:
Meryl P. Gardner and Marion Vandersteel (1984) ,"The Consumer's Mood: an Important Situational Variable", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 525-529.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 525-529


Meryl P. Gardner, New York University

Marion Vandersteel, New York University


This paper discusses the effects of buyers' moods on consumer behavior. First, the nature and importance of these effects are discussed. Then, relevant findings from other disciplines are summarized. Finally, methodological issues related to the manipulation and assessment of mood in laboratory settings are examined.


Work in marketing has often overlooked the effects of consumers' moods on their behavior. Textbooks rarely mention moods, or refer to them fleetingly under such broad terms as "antecedent states" or "environmental and situational factors." Recently, several researchers have suggested that feeling states may play an important role in consumer information processing (e.g., Park, Gardner and Thukral 1982) and in other aspects of consumer behavior (e.g., Hirschman and Holbrook 1982).

Research in psychology indicates that feeling states need not be extremely intense to be potent. In fact, one's mild, transient, pervasive feeling states or "moods" may influence one's ongoing behavior. (For a review, see Clark and Isen 1982). It seems likely, then, that moods may color consumer reactions to marketing stimuli.

The effects of mood on consumer behavior may be important under three sets of circumstances:

1) A respondent's mood may be a nuisance factor inducing bias in a survey or experiment. Peterson and Sauber (1983) present evidence for such effects and a measurement instrument to take them into account.

2) In some cases, consumers' moods upon exposure to marketing stimuli may be determined by factors beyond the marketers' control. In such cases, marketers need to understand the effects of these moods in order to develop appropriate strategies. For example, mood may influence product satisfaction and dissatisfaction (Isen, Shalker, Clark and Karp 1978; Westbrook 1980) and should be considered in the development of customer service programs. In addition, sellers and service providers may benefit by modifying their approaches for clients in different moods. Media buyers may well consider the mood-evoking content of the program or editorial material in which their messages are embedded (Axelrod 1963; Gardner and Raj 1983). Manufacturers of "treats" may benefit by considering the emotional states which may trigger purchase (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Langer 1982).

3) In other cases, marketing stimuli may be used to influence consumers' moods. Under such circumstances, marketers may benefit by developing appropriate strategies and tactic The effect of affect on attitude change induced by persuasive messages has been noted by researchers in communication (Janis, Kaye, and Kirschner 1965; Dabbs and Janis 1965; Galizio and Hendrick 1972; Dribben and Brabender 1979) and in marketing (Ray and Batra 1983; Kroeber-Riel 1979, 1984; Srull 1983). The use of atmospherics to induce mood and affect buyer behavior has been discussed by marketers (Kotler 1974; Belk 1974, 1975, 1976; Donovan and Rossiter 1982) and by environmental psychologists (Russell and Mehrabian 1976).

In addition to their potential pragmatic applications, moods may be useful conceptually. They affect behavior, judgment, and the accessibility of-information from memory, and may help unravel the interconnections among the three areas (Isen, Shalker, Clark and Karp 1978).


One's mood may significantly affect one's behavior in a given situation. Positive moods have been found to increase the likelihood of helping (Isen and Levin 1979), taking free general interest information (Batson et al. 1979), participating in an interview (Cunningham 1979), leaving a generous tip in a restaurant (Cunningham 1979), and using cooperative strategies (rather than competitive ones) in a game (Hornstein 1975). (For a more comprehensive review, see Clark and Isen 1982). It has been postulated that mood may facilitate those behaviors which can conceivably be construed as positive (Isen and Simmonds 1978). Thus, although being in a good mood has been found to enhance subjects' tendency to help in a host of different contexts, it was found to lessen their tendency to help when performance of the helpful act was certain to be depressing (Isen and Simmonds 1978). To gain insight into the effects of mood on behavior, Isen and Levin (1972) suggested examining its effects on the decision-making process which may underlie the performance of behaviors and more generally. on the formation of evaluations.

Mood may play an important role in such judgmental and evaluative processes. Positive moods have been found to enhance judgements about the quality of one's life (Schwarz and Clore 1983) and perceptions of the enjoyableness of activities (Carson and Adams 1980). Positive moods have also been found to enhance evaluations including those involving anonymous others (Veitch and Griffitt 1976), novel stimuli (Isen and Shalker 1982), and familiar stimuli (Isen, Shalker, Clark, and Karp 1978). The latter study suggested that the role of mood in judgmental and evaluative processes may be mediated by its influence on the accessibility of information stored in memory.

Mood upon exposure to a stimulus may be stored with information about that stimulus in memory and so, may facilitate recall (Isen, Shalker, Clark and Karp 1978; Bower 1981). For a blackboard model utilizing a network conceptualization of memory, see Bower (1982).

Mood appears to play an important role in information encoding and retrieval. Its effects may include:

1) State dependent effects: Free recall appears to be enhanced when mood at time of retrieval matches that at time of encoding. This finding is consistent with the use of encoding mood as a retrieval cue. If such a cue is unnecessary due to properties of the task or of the stimulus, recall does not appear to be enhanced by a match between encoding and retrieval moods (Bartlett and Santrock 1979; Bower, Monteiro and Gilligan 1978). Mood may be considered to have intensity and type. Work done by Clark, Milberg and Ross (1983) indicates that arousal, corresponding to the intensity component, may play a key role in state dependent recall.

2) Intensity effects: Intensity of mood upon exposure to stimuli may enhance recall. Dutta and Kanungo (1975, p. 126) have suggested that intensity at encoding may provide additional cues for retrieval.

3) Exposure Effects: Mood upon exposure appears to facilitate free recall of mood congruent items. This finding is consistent with the use of encoding mood as a retrieval cue. If such a cue is unnecessary due to properties of the task or of the stimulus, recall for mood congruent items does not appear to be enhanced. Bower and his associates (Bower 1981; Bower, Gilligan and Monteiro 1981) have suggested several possible explanations including a) subjects in a positive mood may direct their attention to mood congruent items and so, intensify their positive feeling states, and b) subjects in positive moods may generate more associations (including autobiographical ones) to positive items, because such associations are more readily accessible to subjects in positive moods. 4) Retrieval Effects: Positive moods appear to facilitate recall of mood congruent items in memory. It seems likely that such thoughts were originally encoded with associated positive affect which may act as a retrieval cue (Teasdale and Fogarty 1979; Natale and Hantas 1982; Isen, Shalker, Clark and Karp 1982; Laird, Wagener, Halal, and Szegda 1989; Clark and Waddell 1983). Additional cues may be needed to retrieve and identify specific positive items from memory. In the absence of such distinguishing characteristics, retrieval of mood congruent items may be diffused and incongruent items may be more accessible because they are more distinctive (Srull 1983).


Further investigations are needed to develop a deeper understanding of the effects of moods and their role in consumer behavior. Such studies must be rooted in firm methodological ground, but procedures to manipulate and assess mood are error crone and difficult.

Note that the findings reported above appear to be fairly robust. Many have been replicated (to varying extents) and some have received convergent support from experiments involving different manipulations (e.g., Isen, Means, Patrick and Nowicki 1982) or different types of manipulations (e.g., Schwarz and Clore 1983). Such programmatic approaches may be critical to off-setting the limitations of particular methodological implementations.


Flood induction procedures may be classified by whether subjects merely receive the experimental treatment or are required to play active roles in the manipulation. Procedures in the former category will be referred to as "Passive Subject Manipulations"; those in the latter category as "Active Subject Manipulation."

Passive Subject Manipulations: Quasi-experimental designs may rely upon natural events to induce mood states. For example, Cunningham (1979) counted the tips left for waitresses in one restaurant over a period during which the weather varied. Pleasant whether was associated with positive moods and larger tips. Due to the nature of the study, however, potential confounds and selection problems may threaten internal validity.

Random assignment of subjects to cells and true experimental designs become possible if one controls the weather. Griffitt (1970) in a laboratory study of interpersonal attraction, manipulated effective temperature and found that it was negatively related to several measures of mood and to interpersonal attraction. Note that alternative explanations for the observed relationship between mood and interpersonal attraction may still be problematical.

To minimize alternative explanations, Isen and her associates have used a variety of experimenter-controlled mood inductions to produce their major findings. Their manipulations of positive mood involve things that make people happy such as positive test feedback (Isen 1970; Isen and Shalker 1982; Clark and Waddell 1983; Clark, Milberg, and Ross 1983), finding a dime in a phone booth (Isen and Levin 1972; Batson et al. 1979), winning a computer game (Isen et al. 1978), receiving cookies (Isen and Levin 1972), and getting a free small gift (Isen et al. 1978). In addition to the use of multiple manipulations to provide convergent validity, these studies often include measures to assess discriminant validity, i.e., include attempts to assess things that may covary along with mood and rule them out as causes of the experimental findings. Work in this research program triangulates on the manipulation of positive mood. However, the exact nature of the mood created is unclear. In addition, it is possible that various experimenter-controlled events create different moods, such as feelings of self-satisfaction, thankfulness, and being lucky.

The presentation of affectively valenced information may be used to manipulate moods. Veitch and Griffitt (1976) provide empirical support for the intuitively appealing notion that good news can make people happy and bad news can make them depressed. In that study, good news and bad news in simulated newscasts induced differences in self-reports of feeling states and in evaluations of anonymous others. Hornstein et al. (1975) used similar manipulation to investigate cooperative and competitive strategies. Johnson and Tversky (1982) used newspaper-style reports of events to induce mood states in their study of risk perception. Mood induction procedures which involve the provision of valenced information and those which involve the use of valenced events have several common aspects. Both involve realistic but experimenter-controlled manipulations. In both cases, the exact nature of the induced mood is difficult to determine. In addition, manipulations which involve the presentation of information may encourage active cognitive processing of all available information.

Active Subject Manipulations: Subjects in studies using the mood induction procedures discussed above have been passive recipients of experimental treatments. They were probably unaware of the experimenters' interest in mood, thus minimizing demand characteristics. It is difficult, however, to determine the particular mood created by a given manipulation. To induce specific moods, subjects may be directed to participate in set induction procedures. These manipulations may increase subject's awareness of the experimenter's interest in mood and so may increase the possibility of demand characteristics if subjects are likely to form hypotheses which may affect the study's findings. In many cases, this may be unlikely and active participation manipulations may be warranted. We will return to this issue as we discuss induction procedures which require subjects' active participation.

Laird (1974) found that subjects induced to smile or frown without awareness of the nature of their expressions reported feeling more happy and angry respectively. In one study, subjects found cartoons funnier when smiling than when frowning. Laird et al. (1982), using refined procedures, found that the reported effects were mediated by mood and were mood-specific (rather than common across moods of the same valence). Laird's procedure involved classifying subjects based on the impact of their facial expressions on their moods and comparing responses between groups. If individuals in these groups differ systematically along critical dimensions, then selection problems may be serious. In addition, subjects may have wondered about instructions to move their faces into specified positions and may have guessed the experimenters' intent.

A more common procedure for the induction of mood states involves reading sets of cards developed by Velten (1968). Each card in the set expresses a more extreme form of elation or depression. Instructions to subjects may direct them to merely concentrate on the cards, to try to feel the sentiments written, or to read the statements aloud. Each set contains 60 cards which are typically presented at a rate of 3 cards/minute. A sample depression statement reads: "Every now and then I feel so tired and gloomy that I'd rather just sit than do anything." A sample elation statement reads: "If your attitude is good, then things are good, and my attitude is good." Although this procedure has been used successfully in several studies (e.g., Natale and Hantas 1982; Teasdale and Fogarty 1979; Carson and Adams 1980) three potential limitations should be noted: First, the possibility of demand characteristics with such a transparent manipulation is always controversial. Teasdale and Taylor (1981) report findings which indicate that the effects on memory accessibility obtained using the Velten procedure do not appear to be due to demand characteristics. Buchwald, Strack, and Coyne (1981) report findings which indicate that the apparent effects may be due to demand characteristics. This controversy remains unresolved and argues for cautious attention to potential problems. Second, the statements in the induction sets are not homogeneous. Some involve self-devaluation while others suggest depressive somatic states. There is some evidence that the two types of statements may differ in their effects on mood and recall (Frost, Graf and Becker 1979). (For a contrasting view see Riskind, Rholes, and Eggers 1982). Third, mood may be confounded with the semantic content of the statements read (Srull 1983).

To minimize these problems, some mood induction procedures require subjects to recall or imagine emotional experiences. Bower and his associates (Bower et al. 1978; Bower et al. 1981; Bower 1981) have used hypnotic suggestions to induce specific mood states quickly and for sustained periods. Unfortunately, as only 20-25% of the population is readily hypnotizable, there may be subject selection problems. In addition, although the induced moods appear to be "real" to all observable indicators, subtle differences may exist.

Some mood induction procedures involve guided recall/imagination of emotionally-valenced experiences without hypnosis (Srull 1983; Fry 1975; Masters and Furman 1976). Such manipulations may yield problems with demand characteristics in some experiments. In addition, such procedures are highly cognitive and may encourage verbal processing.


Methodologies to assess mood states accurately are important for the further exploration of the role of moods in consumer behavior. The most common approach involves self-reports. This approach has several limitations. First, the existence of such assessment procedures implies the dubious presumption that respondents are aware of their own moods. Second, assessment may direct subjects' attention to their moods which may, in turn, induce demand characteristics and compensatory behavior. Third, subjects may not admit to moods which seem socially undesirable under a given set of circumstances.

In addition, Polivy (1981) has found that manipulations designed to induce one affect seem to induce a cluster of related but different affects and that real-world affects seem to appear in clusters. These findings may be due to actual co-occurrence, measurement bias or subjects' inability to accurately self-report mood states.


Mood is an important variable for consideration in consumer behavior. To date, there has been much speculation about its potential effects, but few rigorous studies of its role in marketing. Part of the problem lies in the methodological difficulty of manipulating and assessing the construct. As we grow increasingly willing to accept the challenge of grappling with feelings and the emotional side of consumer behavior, our methodological sophistication must keep pace.


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