Affect Intensity As an Individual Difference Variable in Consumer Response to Advertising Appeals

William D. Harris III, Ohio University
David J. Moore, University of Michigan
ABSTRACT - Recent research in psychology has identified stable individual differences in the level of intensity with which individuals experience their emotions. In other words, high affect intensity individuals, when exposed to an emotion-eliciting event or stimulus, consistently manifest more intense emotional responses. This paper reviews the literature on affect intensity and suggests a variety of advertising settings where this variable might be used to predict individual differences in emotional response and overt behavior.
[ to cite ]:
William D. Harris III and David J. Moore (1990) ,"Affect Intensity As an Individual Difference Variable in Consumer Response to Advertising Appeals", 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: 792-797.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 792-797

AFFECT INTENSITY AS AN INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE VARIABLE IN CONSUMER RESPONSE TO ADVERTISING APPEALS

William D. Harris III, Ohio University

David J. Moore, University of Michigan

ABSTRACT -

Recent research in psychology has identified stable individual differences in the level of intensity with which individuals experience their emotions. In other words, high affect intensity individuals, when exposed to an emotion-eliciting event or stimulus, consistently manifest more intense emotional responses. This paper reviews the literature on affect intensity and suggests a variety of advertising settings where this variable might be used to predict individual differences in emotional response and overt behavior.

INTRODUCTION

Just as the 70's can be described as the decade of cognitive theory development, the 80's can be viewed as the decade of affective theory construction by consumer behavior researchers. Beginning with the work of Holbrook (1978) and continuing to the present, researchers have been actively at work building a significant body of literature on the role of affect in consumer behavior. In the 1987 December issue of The Journal of Consumer Research, a special section titled, "Consumer Affect, Emotions, and Feelings," appeared demonstrating the importance of affect in our study of consumer behavior . Today the literature on affect in consumer behavior includes numerous articles, monographs, book chapters, and even a few complete books. We have found that, through the inclusion of affect variables in our models of consumer behavior, our understanding of how consumers behave has been enhanced. As a result of these studies, our entire perspective on how consumers behave has been modified (i.e., Holbrook et al. 1984, Zajonc and Markus 1982, Gardner 1985, Peterson et al. 1986).

Nowhere has this effect been more evident than in the study of how people respond to advertisements (Batra 1986, Burke and Edell 1986). Affect in the form of emotions can play an important role in mediating consumer responses to advertising (Holbrook and Batra 1987), and different ads can elicit different emotional responses (Edell and Burke 1987). Yet, as has occurred many times before in new areas of inquiry, one discovery leads to a whole set of new or related issues that are in need of investigation. For example, it has been observed that different people will respond differently to the same emotional ad (Aaker et al. 1986 and Edell and Burke 1987); however, we do not know why peoplerespond differently to the same emotional stimulus.

Recently, Haugtvedt et al. (1987) have argued persuasively for the utility of individual difference variables as an aid in better understanding why different people have different reactions to the same ad. Their work focused on the usefulness of the need for cognition personality construct in understanding how advertisements influence the formation of attitudes toward a product. According to Haugtvedt et. al. (1987), individuals with a high need for cognition have a natural tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activities.

The purpose of this paper is to further examine the usefulness of individual difference variables as moderators of individual responses to advertisements. However, unlike Haugtvedt et. al. (1987) this paper will look at individual differences in affect reactivity rather than cognitive activity. The recent developments in the psychology literature on intensity of affect by Larsen and Diener (1985) holds considerable promise for increasing our understanding of affective processes that occur in response to advertisements.

Larsen and Diener (1985) developed the affect intensity construct to reflect the strength of a person's emotional responses to daily life events. Through the use of the affect intensity construct it may be possible to identify a type of individual who is more likely to respond favorably to an affectively oriented advertisement such as an emotional appeal than to a cognitively oriented advertisement such as an informational appeal.

THE AFFECT INTENSITY CONSTRUCT

In investigating individual differences in response to emotion-provoking stimulation, Diener, Larsen, Levine, and Emmons (1985) found that certain individuals consistently experience their emotions with greater intensity than others. Diener, Larsen, Levine, and Emmons (1985) related their findings to the theoretical work of Petrie (1967) on stimulus intensity modulation theory. According to Larsen and Diener (1987):

This theory suggests the existence of a stimulus intensity modulation mechanism located in the CNS (Central Nervous System). This mechanism functions to modulate the individual's responsiveness to sensory stimulation. It functions much like a "volume control" device, amplifying or augmenting the effects of stimulation for some individuals while damping or reducing the effects of stimulation for others.

From the perspective of stimulus intensity modulation theory,Diener et al. (1986) suggest that:

... some individuals modulate the intensity of emotional stimuli such that they consistently exhibit stronger or more intense emotional reactions. Other individuals are much less emotionally reactive to the same levels of emotion-provoking stimulation. We refer to stimulus intensity modulation in the emotional domain as affect intensity, and we consider affect intensity to be a stable individual difference dimension.

Larsen and Diener (1987) have developed two methods for assessing an individual's characteristic magnitude of emotional responsiveness, affect intensity. The first method requires that a subject report their daily moods over a period of a month or longer. Although this approach has strong ecological validity, the reporting and subsequent calculations can prove to be extremely burdensome for both subject and researcher. Consequently, the development of an easier method of measurement was deemed necessary. The second method of measuring affect intensity, the Affect Intensity Measure (AIM; Larsen, 1984), was developed to address the awkwardness of the daily moods report measure. The AIM consists of a 40-item questionnaire designed to cover a broad range of emotions of both positive and negative tone such as joy, bad, troubled, happy, nervous, and peaceful (i.e., "I feel pretty bad when I tell a lie" and "When I feel happiness, it is a quiet type of contentment"). In addition, Larsen (1984) sought to capture specific physical sensations which accompany strong emotional responses such as having one's heart race, being sick to one's stomach, or having a shaky voice (i.e., "When I talk in front of a group for the first time my voice gets shaky and my heart races").

Another consideration in the development of the AIM was that the items should reflect intensity of emotional response instead of the frequency of emotional reactions. Therefore, Larsen avoided the use of items such as "I am very happy quite often" which contains both frequency and intensity elements. Instead, he developed items which tapped the intensity component unconfounded by frequency like "When I feel happy it is a strong type of exuberance." The complete questionnaire along with scoring instructions can be found in Larsen and Diener's (1987) article, "Affect Intensity as an Individual Difference Characteristic: A Review."

The intercorrelation of the AIM items was assessed with coefficient alpha to be between .90 and .94 across four separate samples, while test-retest reliabilities for the AIM have been reported to be .80, .81, and .81 over 1-, 2-, and 3-month intervals respectively (Larsen and Diener 1987). The validity ofthe AIM was assessed by calculating its convergence with the subject's daily mood reports and parental reports of the subject's emotional intensity. Across three separate samples the AIM correlated with subject's daily mood reports .61, .52, and .49 (Larsen and Diener 1987). When parental reports of the subject's emotional intensity were compared to the subjects' AIM, a correlation of .50 was found. Thus, it appears that the AIM is a reasonably reliable and valid measure of the typical intensity with which individuals experience their emotions.

General responses to emotional or nonemotional stimuli by individuals either high or low on affect intensity are given in the following figures.

Figure A illustrates how the affect intensity construct operates as a moderator of emotional response. When the stimulus is strongly emotional in character the high affect intensity individual will have strong emotional responses. An individual with low affect intensity will have emotional responses to the strongly emotional stimulus but these responses will be much weaker in strength. Thus, affect intensity is said to influence an individual's emotional responses to an emotional stimulus. However, as Figure B shows, affect intensity will have no discernible effect on an individual's emotional responses when the stimulus is non-emotional.

Rosenberg (1968) refers to the process of examining a relationship between two variables under different conditions as specification. Sharma et al. (1981) states that a specification variable is, "one which specifies the form and/or strength of the relationship between a predictor and a criterion variable." When the specification variable is related (correlated) to the criterion variable and interacts with the predictor variable, Sharma et al. (1981) refers to the variable as a moderator variable of the "quasi-moderator" type. In previous studies, the affect intensity variable has exhibited the characteristics of interacting with the predictor variable and being related to the criterion variable. Therefore, affect intensity appears to be a variable which moderates the relationship between a stimulus and a criterion variable. To gain a better understanding of the affect intensity construct, an examination of the literature on affect intensity is in order.

PREVIOUS STUDIES ON AFFECT INTENSITY

Temperament

In a study (Larsen, Diener, and Emmons, 1984) which measured the relationship of affect intensity to other temperament variables such as sociability, activity, arousability, and emotionality, itwas found that affect intensity correlated significantly with each of these dimensions. This implies that persons who have relatively high affect intensity are more active, more sociable, more physically arousable, and more emotionally reactive.

Larsen (1984) further examined the relationship of affect intensity to other temperament characteristics by factor analyzing a battery of standard temperament measures along with measures of affect intensity. This factor analysis empirically demonstrated that there were two underlying factors among these measures. The first factor consisted of measures of sociability, activity level, and affect intensity. The second factor consisted of measures of emotionality, arousability, and affect intensity. What was most striking about this finding was that all the other temperament measures had simple factor loadings, high on one factor and low on all others, while affect intensity loaded on both factors. Larsen and Diener (1987) comment:

FIGURE A

WHEN AFFECT INTENSITY WILL MODERATE AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE

FIGURE B

WHEN AFFECT INTENSITY WILL NOT MODERATE AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE

It is interesting that affect intensity loads on both of the temperament dimensions that emerged. It could be that affect intensity taps into some common underlying mechanism that contributes to both sociability/activity and arousability/emotionality. Or it could be that affect intensity is an energizing force that drives or at least contributes to these temperament characteristics.... (I)t appears that emotional response intensity is a component of various temperament dimensions that has previously gone unrecognized (p.20- 1).

Daily Life Events

The relationship of affect intensity to daily life events has been investigated extensively. For example, Larsen and Diener (1987) have found that individuals high in affect intensity respond with stronger emotions to emotion-provoking events which occur naturally in daily life (eg. success or failure at accomplishing a small task, seeing a violent scene on the evening television news). Although the severity of events experienced (how good or how bad) does not differ between individuals high and low in affect intensity, there is a tendency for high affect intensity persons to engage in day-to-day activities which are prone to provoke more emotion than low affect intensity individuals.

One implication for marketers is that certain types of televisionprograms might attract high affect intensity individuals while other programs attract low affect intensity individuals. For example, high affect intensity individuals might be more prone to watch television news or television programs with emotionally charged plot lines than low affect intensity individuals. While the study of affect intensity as a segmentation tool is beyond the scope of this study, the potential for conducting this type of investigation in the future certainly exists.

Sensation Seeking

Because high affect intensity individuals are more prone to engage in daily activities with greater emotion provoking potential than low affect intensity individuals, it has been hypothesized that affect intensity might represent a form of sensation seeking. However, Larsen et al. (1986) found that affect intensity had almost no correlation with the standard measure of sensation seeking, Zuckerman's (1979) Sensation Seeking Scale. Larsen et al. (1986) attributed their finding to basic differences in the nature of the two construct . Sensation seeking refers more to behaviors which involve risk seeking, exciting, and thrilling activities which are different from every day life events, while affect intensity refers to having consistently strong emotional responses. Larsen and Diener (1987) state:

... One way to maintain this consistency is to engage more frequently in those ordinary daily activities, available to anyone, that provide a higher probability of provoking emotion. Thus individuals high on the affect intensity dimension do not seek out-of-the-ordinary experiences as much as they seek out an ordinary daily life that is more emotionally stimulating (p. 24).

Emotionally Relevant Cognitions

Another way to create consistently greater emotional responses to life events is to consistently engage in more emotionally relevant cognitions. It has been hypothesized by Epstein (1984) that cognitions can intensify emotional reactions to events when the person makes judgments about the stimulus event (i.e., intensified anger directed at a parent because that parent's child abuse behavior was viewed as irresponsible) and/or has beliefs about options of response (intensified anger because of the belief that parents who abuse children should be punished). Isen (1984) suggest that mood can prime associated cognitive material in memory, increasing the probability that these thoughts will intensify. Attribution theory (Weiner, Russell, and Lerman (1978)) suggests that attributions about the cause of an event will affect the intensity of a person's emotional reactionto the event.

Beck (1976) gave an account of certain cognitive operations that are relevant to emotional responses. Two of these are personalization and overgeneralization. Personalization occurs when an individual interprets experiences in a self-referential manner. Larsen et al. (1987) categorized personalization as consisting of two types of cognitive responses, personalizing statements and empathic statements. Overgeneralization occurs when a person takes a single event as being representative of how things are in the world. Larsen et al. (1987) categorized overgeneralization as consisting of two types of cognitive responses, global statements and fantasy elaboration.

It has been argued by Larsen, Diener, and Cropanzano (1987) that, when a high affect intensity individual personalizes the source of a negative event, he or she is making an internal attribution. However, when a high affect intensity person overgeneralizes from a specific emotion evoking event, then he or she is probably activating additional emotion related material in memory. These cognitive operations are then thought to intensify a person's emotional response to an emotional stimulus. Larsen, Diener, and Cropanzano (1987) found that individuals with high affect intensity engaged in more personalizing and more generalizing cognitive operations than did individuals with low affect intensity in response to affective stimuli. When the stimulus was of a nonemotional nature, Larsen et al. (1987) observed no significant difference in emotionally relevant cognitive responses between high and low affect intensity individuals.

Figures C and D illustrate when affect intensity will and will not moderate emotionally relevant cognitive responses.

In summary, affect intensity refers to a stable individual difference characteristic defined in terms of a person's standard degree of emotional responsiveness. It appears to be closely related to both sociability---activity and emotionality-arousability temperament factors. It has been found that affect intensity is not related to the sensation seeking construct. In addition, it appears that high affect intensity individuals experience more emotionally relevant cognitive responses and strong emotional responses when exposed to emotional stimuli. Moreover, the affect intensity construct seems to capture an individual difference dimension which could be highly related to how an individual might respond emotionally to such daily life events as exposure to an advertisement.

FUTURE RESEARCH

The literature reviewed in this paper suggests that it would beworthwhile to pursue the study of the role of affect intensity as a predictor of emotionally relevant cognitive responses and emotional responses to advertisements using ads of different hedonic tones. For example appeals designed to produce fear, empathy, warmth, joy, and happiness could be worthy of study (Bagozzi and Moore 1989, Moore and Hoenig 1988). Such work might prove to be helpful in better understanding individual reactions to various emotional appeals.

Another avenue of investigation for researchers interested in the role of affect intensity in the processing of commercial messages would be the study of affect intensity's influence on the memory of emotional versus informational ads. In addition, one might investigate whether high affect intensity subjects experience slower burnout to emotional appeals than low affect intensity subjects.

Stayman and Aaker (1988) suggest that feelings may be strongest at early exposures to an ad having a direct effect on brand attitudes. The study of affect intensity's effect on emotions and emotions effect on attitude toward the ad and attitude toward the brand when the number of ad exposures are varied would be a valuable follow-up to Stayman and Aaker's work.

FIGURE C

WHEN AFFECT INTENSITY WILL MODERATE EMOTIONALLY RELEVANT COGNITIVE RESPONSES

FIGURE D

WHEN AFFECT INTENSITY WILL NOT MODERATE EMOTIONALLY RELEVANT COGNITIVE RESPONSES

The opportunities for important work in this area appear to be great. We leave it to future research efforts to empirically confirm the usefulness of the affect intensity construct in enhancing our understanding of how advertising works.

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