Product Type: a Neglected Moderator of the Effects of Mood

Meryl P. Gardner, University of Delaware
John Scott, Pennsylvania State University
ABSTRACT - The role of product type as a moderator of the effects of mood on product salience, evaluation and use is examined from two conceptual perspectives: accessibility and mood management. The implications of these perspectives are discussed for a typology of product types based on the relationship of products in each classification to consumers' feeling states. Postulates regarding the effects of mood on product salience, evaluation and use are developed for four product types. The paper concludes with a discussion of conceptual and methodological issues associated with the proposed research agenda.
[ to cite ]:
Meryl P. Gardner and John Scott (1990) ,"Product Type: a Neglected Moderator of the Effects of Mood", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 585-589.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 585-589

PRODUCT TYPE: A NEGLECTED MODERATOR OF THE EFFECTS OF MOOD

Meryl P. Gardner, University of Delaware

John Scott, Pennsylvania State University

ABSTRACT -

The role of product type as a moderator of the effects of mood on product salience, evaluation and use is examined from two conceptual perspectives: accessibility and mood management. The implications of these perspectives are discussed for a typology of product types based on the relationship of products in each classification to consumers' feeling states. Postulates regarding the effects of mood on product salience, evaluation and use are developed for four product types. The paper concludes with a discussion of conceptual and methodological issues associated with the proposed research agenda.

INTRODUCTION

Although the effects of mood states on consumer behavior have received much attention (e.g. Gardner 1985, Goldberg and Gorn, 1987), the role of product type as a moderator of these effects has been neglected. The general purpose of this manuscript is to explore the moderating role of product type on the effects of mood, and develop a set of postulates for future research in this area. By encouraging a richer understanding of the impact of product type on mood effects, we hope to provide useful insights for researchers trying to understand how mood works and practitioners trying to determine how mood affects consumers' evaluations of their products.

The manuscript has three major sections. First, the role of product type as a moderator of the effects of mood on product salience, evaluation and use is examined from two conceptual perspectives: accessibility and mood management. Then, the implications of these perspectives are discussed for a typology of product types based on the relationship of products in each classification to consumers' feeling states. Postulates are developed for four product types. The paper concludes with a discussion of conceptual and methodological issues associated with the proposed research agenda.

CONCEPTUAL UNDERPINNINGS

The moderating role of product type is viewed from two perspectives, accessibility and mood management, to provide depth and breadth of discussion. Accessibility focuses on largely automatic, memory-based, micro-level processes. Mood management emphasizes motivationally-based, learned behavior. The approaches are complementary: Accessibility involves the information which comes to mind; mood management involves the use of this information to manage one's moods.

Accessibility Perspective

Research in psychology indicates that mood states exert an important influence on behavior, judgement and recall (Isen 1984). For example, when a memory associated with positive feelings is activated, others of the same affective tone may become more accessible (Isen et al. 1978). Such information may affect decision making and may make associated behaviors more likely (Isen et al., 1982).

This suggests that the affective tone associated with product experiences may moderate the impact of mood state on product salience. The memory trace for an affect-laden product experience may include both product-specific information and the accompanying mood state. Upon future experiences of that mood, product memories may become more readily accessible. This suggests that product types associated with affect-laden experiences will be more salient upon future experiences of the accompanying mood state. [Note, however, that there is some controversy regarding this point: Bower and Mayer (1988) failed to replicate earlier findings of mood dependent recall (Bower 1981).]

Mood Management Perspective

Just as an accessibility perspective provides insights into the effects of mood on product salience, a mood management approach can be used to enhance our understanding of the effects of mood on the evaluation and use of products of different types. Studies have shown that most adults have learned to maintain positive moods and avoid the persistence of negative ones (Mischel, Ebbesen and Zeiss, 1973). Mischel (1973) suggests that individuals develop expectations for the outcomes of various behaviors which, in turn, direct their own behavior. If an outcome is seen as positive, then the behaviors that elicit this outcome are likely to be initiated; if an outcome is negative, then behaviors which lead to this outcome are likely to be held in check. For example, in a motivational analysis, elation was believed to increase the likelihood of leisure behaviors such as enjoying one's records (Cunningham, 1988).

Products may be used to bring about positive outcomes or to alleviate negative outcomes. For example, Rook and Gardner(1989) found that adult subjects in a study designed to examine impulse buying behavior, reported that they often used the purchase of material goods to perpetuate a desired mood or to alleviate a negative one. Axelrod (1963) suggests that current mood state may affect one's assessment of the desirability of future mood states. Desired mood states may, in turn, function as "mood goals" and enhance evaluations of products leading to such moods.

DEVELOPMENT OF POSTULATES

Taken together, the accessibility and mood management approaches suggest that a product's relationship to consumers' feeling states will affect the impact of mood on the product's salience, evaluation and use. This suggests that it might be useful to develop a product typology based on the relationship of products in each classification to consumers' feeling states. In this section, four product types are discussed and postulates are developed for each. Two product types involve consumers' feelings associated with product experiences -- i.e., past experiences (feel-good products) and expected experiences (feel-bad products). Two product types involve products associated with decreased levels of feelings -- i.e., feelings consumers try to control or ignore (try-not-to-feel products) and feelings which have worn away or never existed (no-feel products). This typology is obviously idiosyncratic and highly dependent upon the phenomenological experiences of each individual consumer. Equally obviously, it is not exhaustive -i.e., for any given consumer some products may not fit into any of the four categories.

Feel-Good Products

We will use the term "feel-good" to refer to those products which are consumed for self satisfaction or as life's little pleasures. They may be used to alleviate negative moods or to accentuate positive ones. Informal observation suggests that we learn from childhood that some products can make us feel better when we are down or help us enjoy the good times in life. For example, parents sometimes use cookies to cheer up sad children and cake to celebrate the happiness of children's birthdays. The ability of some products to improve moods is given inductive support by research involving mood and helping: Subjects in positive mood states are more willing to help (Isen and Levin 1972; Aderman and Berkowitz 1970) and subjects who received a cookie in an experiment were more willing to help. Taken together, this is consistent with the notion that some products (e.g. cookies) are feel-good products, i.e., they make some consumers feel better.

If product memories are affectively encoded and become more accessible during congruent moods (Isen et al. 1982), then mood is likely to affect the salience, evaluation and use of feel-good products. Consumers may associate such products with previously experienced situations in which the feel-good product alleviated negative moods or enhanced positive ones. Rosenhan et. al. (1974) found that children in happy or sad mood conditions self-gratified by taking more candy relative to children in a control group. This is explained by Masters et al. (1979) who suggest that children elicit different treatments (i.e. receive or do not receive feel-good products) from parents, teachers or other agents of socialization depending on their mood. These treatments are likely then to influence future behavior.

Additional insights into the role of mood on the evaluation and use of feel-good products is provided by the mood management perspective. Self gratification can be viewed as a mood management technique: A study in which altruism was assumed to be a self-gratifying act, showed that helping can function to maintain a positive mood and to terminate a negative one (Cialdini and Kenrick, 1976). Self-gratifying with products as simple as cookies or candy may be used by consumers to produce or maintain positive moods. A more complex product experience, television viewing, has also been shown to affect mood states. Hirschman and Holbrook (1982) suggest that people use products such as television in what they refer to as "hedonic consumption." They cite two different types of mental images which affect consumers' perceptions' of products. The first involves products that bring to mind past events such as smelling the perfume of an old romantic partner. The second deals with fantasy and what the consumer wishes to be true.

Zillman (1982) found that people use television to reduce unpleasant states of arousal or to generate or increase pleasant states of arousal. Zillman, Hezel and Medoff (1980) found that subjects selectively chose-programs which held the greatest promise of relief of negative states or accentuation of positive mood states. In their experiment, subjects in a positive affective state elected to watch more comedy programs than those in a control group. In addition, subjects in a negative affective state (annoyance) watched fewer comedy programs and more game shows than those in a neutral state. The authors suggested that annoyed subjects avoided merriment from comedy but sought it from game shows because "prime time comedy is laden with so called put down humor" (Zillman, Hezel and Medoff 1980). People may not be able to-distract themselves from their negative experiences if they are exposed to such humor.

The preceding discussion is consistent with both the accessibility and mood management perspectives. Products may be associated with affect-laden experiences and encoded in memory with these feelings. Future moods may cue product information, making it accessible and making the product a more salient candidate for use in mood management techniques. If successful, a product's use in mood management may serve to reinforce its use in future instances of the same mood. This is best illustrated by paraphrasing Mischel's (1973) article to include product use. If product use is seen as rewarding (reducing negative affect or enhancing a positive mood) then it is likely that the product will be favorably regarded; if the use of the product is seen as negative, the product will probably be unfavorably regarded.

Empirical evidence supports the mood-related use of some feel-good products by at least some consumer segments. Some products (e.g. liquor and cigarettes) have been shown to be used by consumers in both positive and negative affective states (Harris and Fennel, 1988, and Wills and Shiffman, 1985). Although physiological factors may account for some habitual use, evidence suggests that at least some smoking is motivated by negative affect to reduce or eliminate tension, anxiety, and stress and by positive affect to produce stimulation (Wills and Shiffman 1985). The authors suggest that people smoke for both reasons depending on the time and place.

Alcohol use follows a similar pattern. Wills and Shiffman (1985) suggest that alcohol is consumed for two major reasons: 1.) to reduce tension, prod

Based upon the above discussion we postulate:

P1: For consumers in negative mood states, feel-good products will be more accessible, favorably evaluated, and likely to be consumed than for consumers in neutral mood states.

P2: For consumers in positive mood states, feel-good products will be more accessible, favorably evaluated, and likely to be consumed than for consumers in neutral mood states.

Feel-Bad Products

We will use the term "feel-bad products" to refer to those products associated with future needs with affectively negative tones. Need for these products depends on unpleasant predicons of the future. For example, the purchase of life insurance is based on the quite disquieting prediction of one's own death. A mood management perspective suggests that people in positive moods may choose to avoid thinking about such products in order to maintain their positive moods. This avoidance of negative stimuli has been shown in several studies. For example, Mischel, Ebbesen and Zeiss (1973) found success subjects focused their attention on their assets rather than their liabilities. Also, adults selectively attended to more positive and less negative self-referent information during positive (rather than neutral) mood states. Mischel (1976) found people tend to avoid any type of selective processing that would prolong the experience of an existing negative mood state. Forgas and Bower (1988) found happy subjects took more time reading and thinking about positive characteristics than negative ones while sad subjects took more time on negative material.

While consumers in positive moods may seek out products associated with positive experiences and avoid those associated with negative experiences, consumers in negative moods may view products associated with negative experiences as a means for solving real life problems. This is consistent with Isen et.al.'s (1978) suggestion that those behaviors that endanger good mood or require thinking about material incompatible with a positive mood state should be less likely in a positive mood than when in a negative or neutral mood state.

Mood states also affect consumers' perceptions of risk. This, in turn, may lead them to evaluate some products -- e.g., insurance-- more favorably when in a negative mood. Dramatic differences in probability ratings of future events in different mood states were found by Bower (1983). In this study, subjects were placed in positive, neutral, and negative moods and asked to rate the probability of future events. Subjects in a good mood rated positive future events --e.g., vacations -as more likely to occur; those in a negative mood rated negative future events --e.g., car accidents-- as more likely to occur. Further support is provided by Johnson and Tversky (1983), who found subjects in a positive induced mood showed a significant decrease in reported worry about potential risks than those in a control group.

Consumers' assessments of future risk probabilities may affect their product evaluations. For instance, people in negative moods may believe there is a greater chance of rain. If this is so, they will rate carrying their umbrellas more favorably. In contrast, people in a good mood may have a more positive outlook for the future and denigrate the importance of such products.

Therefore, perceptions of the importance and evaluation of feel-bad products may depend on mood. Their use however, is not affected by mood. For example, consumers who are standing in the rain don't wait until they are in certain moods to open their umbrellas.

Based on this discussion we postulate:

P3: For consumers in negative mood states, feel-bad products will be more accessible and favorably evaluated than for consumers in neutral mood states.

P4: For consumers in positive mood states, feel-bad products will be less accessible and less favorably evaluated than for consumers in neutral mood states.

Try-Not-To-Feel Products

We will use the term "try-not-to-feel products" to refer to products that are so important to consumers that they try to overcome the impact of mood states on salience, evaluation and use. Such products may be associated with high levels of risk and involvement (cf. Laurent and Kapferer 1985). When considering such products, consumers may be sufficiently motivated to use controlled processes to retrieve information that is not readily accessible, thus overcoming the effects of mood on accessibility.

In addition, a mood management perspective suggests that consumers may override biases associated with mood states to make sure important purchases do not induce negative moods. This is consistent with Isen et al.'s (1982) suggestion that people in positive states will be as cautious on important tasks as people in neutral moods, because failure on such tasks would induce negative moods.

Thus, we postulate:

P5: The salience, evaluation and use of try-not-to-feel products will be relatively unaffected by mood states.

No-Feel Products

We will use the term "no-feel products" to refer to products purchased by habit and used as part of one's routine. For such products, learning and attitude formation may occur after exploratory trial buying. Use of no-feel products is unlikely to be associated with mood-laden experiences or significantly affect one's mood state. Thus, neither an accessibility perspective nor a mood management approach predict that mood would affect the salience, evaluation or use of products that do not affect the consumer's mood state.

Thus we postulate:

P6: The salience, evaluation and use of no-feel products will be relatively unaffected by mood states.

DISCUSSION

Conceptual Issues

Accessibility and mood management perspectives were used to examine the role of product type as a moderator of the effects of mood. Taken together, these conceptual approaches suggest that a product's relationship to consumers' feeling states will affect the impact of mood on that product's salience, evaluation and use. Accordingly, a product typology was developed in which classifications are based on the relationship of products to consumers' feeling states. The typology is uniquely suited to research involving product type as a moderator of affect-related effects, but is exploratory and preliminary.

Additional conceptual clarification may be achieved by addressing such questions as:

1.) Are product categories completely idiosyncratic or do consistent patterns of classification emerge across market segments or subculture groups?

2.) Are biologically-based product reactions inherently different from developmentally-learned reactions?

3.) How do product feelings based on personal usage experience differ from those based on indirectly acquired information?

4.) Under what circumstances are consumers unable to over-ride the biasing effects of mood states?

In addition. research is needed to explore how products may move from one category to another over time. For example, some products (e.g., liquor) may start out as feel-good products and later become no-feel products. Initially, such products serve as mood management tools. Later, the emotions associated with product use wear away and usage becomes merely habitual. Tomkins (1968) describes smoking as being used to augment affect or reduce negative affect initially and eventually becoming preaddictive or addictive for some smokers. Although the routinized use of cigarettes may be associated with a physical addiction to nicotine, use of other products can become routinized as well. Understanding this process may provide insight into over-consumption and addictive behavior.

Methodological Issues

As with any conceptually-based typology, the one presented here must be carefully operationalized. Traditional, qualitative, projective and physiological approaches can be used to triangulate on phenomenologically perceived feelings. Additional questions need to be addressed as researchers prepare to examine the postulates presented in this manuscript:

1.) At what level of specificity (i.e., negative mood vs. sadness) should feeling states be studied?

2.) How should individual differences be examined?

3.) How would one determine the set of products which comprise each category for a given individual?

The typology and postulates presented are intended as a preliminary stage toward developing our understanding of product type as a moderator of the effects of mood on product salience, evaluation and use. While further research is obviously necessary, we believe the ideas presented provide a critical first step in an important direction.

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