It's Time to Stress Stress the Stress - Purchase/Consumption Relationship: Suggestions For Research

Kevin G. Celuch, Illinois State University
Linda S. Showers, Illinois State University
ABSTRACT - This paper is in line with recent calls to broaden the research agenda in the consumer behavior discipline (Belk 1987; Holbrook 1987). As such, it highlights a topic which has been practically ignored by consumer researchers - the relationship of stress to purchase/consumption. Further, the paper uses Andreasen's (1984) benchmark study as a springboard from which to offer conceptual and methodological suggestions for research in the area. Stress research stands to increase OUT understanding of consumer behavior in contemporary society as well as offer insights for marketing and public policy decision makers.
[ to cite ]:
Kevin G. Celuch and Linda S. Showers (1991) ,"It's Time to Stress Stress the Stress - Purchase/Consumption Relationship: Suggestions For Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 284-289.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 284-289

IT'S TIME TO STRESS STRESS

THE STRESS - PURCHASE/CONSUMPTION RELATIONSHIP: SUGGESTIONS FOR RESEARCH

Kevin G. Celuch, Illinois State University

Linda S. Showers, Illinois State University

ABSTRACT -

This paper is in line with recent calls to broaden the research agenda in the consumer behavior discipline (Belk 1987; Holbrook 1987). As such, it highlights a topic which has been practically ignored by consumer researchers - the relationship of stress to purchase/consumption. Further, the paper uses Andreasen's (1984) benchmark study as a springboard from which to offer conceptual and methodological suggestions for research in the area. Stress research stands to increase OUT understanding of consumer behavior in contemporary society as well as offer insights for marketing and public policy decision makers.

INTRODUCTION

The intent of this paper is twofold: First, we hope to call attention to a virtually ignored yet potentially significant topic for consumer research the relationship of stress to purchase/consumption. Second, we offer several conceptual and methodological suggestions regarding future research in this area.

In his 1986 presidential address to the Association for Consumer Research, Russell BeLk (1987) observed that consumer researchers have been guilty of studying purchase and consumption in isolation from other aspects of human life. He suggested that the mission of consumer researchers should be to "...examine the relationship between consumer behavior and the rest of life" (p.l). Holbrook (1987) echoes this perspective when he points out that a recent trend in the Journal of Consumer Research has been to expand the consumer research realm, and he argues that consumer research "...encompasses almost all human activities," (p. 131).

It is our contention that there is a component of contemporary western lifestyles which has the potential to impact behavior across many purchase and consumption situations, but which has not received adequate attention by researchers. In tracking current consumer lifestyle patterns, a recurring descriptor of households in the U.S. is the hectic pace and resulting stress associated with "living" today. Stress and its antecedents may be one of those aspects of human activity that Holbrook (1987) refers to which should be more closely examined for its influence on purchase and consumption behavior.

During the 1980's, much has been written in the popular press about stress in contemporary lifestyles. A general shift in values emphasizing career and success, coupled with changing household structures and characteristics (e.g., dual income families and single-parent households), have certainly contributed to the interest in stress and its effects on individuals. Stress "management" or "reduction" seminars have become commonplace. Books on managing or reducing stress are eagerly sought by consumers (e.g., Selye 1974; Tubesing 1981), and the topic of stress in modern life has been a recurring theme in the media.

Despite the recent wave of interest in arid popularity of the topic of stress in contemporary lifestyles, it has been virtually ignored among consumer researchers. Practitioners and textbook authors frequently refer to the potential for stress in dual income households, etc., but published data on the effects of stress on purchasing and consumption patterns is markedly absent.

One exception is Andreasen's (1984) study which included a measure of stress within a larger framework relating life status changes to consumer behavior. However, in his model stress was characterized as having no direct influence on consumption.

If, as Belk (1987) and Holbrook (1987) propose, consumer researchers should be expanding the realm of investigation of consumer research, a factor which has become an increasingly common element in contemporary lifestyles, i.e., stress, should be a topic of current investigations of consumer behavior. It is our contention that certain antecedents (daily hassles related to family, work, household activities, etc.) lead to stress (operationalized via physiological and psychological symptoms) which have a direct influence on a variety of daily purchase and consumption behaviors (e.g., patronizing convenience outlets, consuming services and convenience-oriented products, and purchasing and consuming hedonic goods). It is this daily pattern of antecedents and stress symptoms which may provide valuable insight into contemporary consumer behavior. (Refer to Figure 1)

Stress Research

Research on stress, its antecedents and its effects has spanned many disciplines. Empirical work on stress has examined issues including, 1) the measurement of stress via psychological versus physiological operationalizations (e.g., Derogatis, Lipman, Rickels, Uhlenhuth, and Covi 1974; Lazarus, Speisman, and Mordkoff 1963), 2) the impact of "daily" stress on health and mood (e.g., DeLongis, Folkman, and Lazarus 1988), 3) the use of alcohol as a stress-reducer (e.g., Steele, Southwick and Pagano 1986), 4) behavioral changes, and illness resulting from stressful life events or life change (e.g., Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend 1978; Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser 1987), and 5) the effects of occupational stress on productivity (Hoiberg 1982). Investigations across disciplines reveal the scope of human existence affected by stress. By extension, it seems plausible that stress might, in some situations, directly affect purchase and consumption.

FIGURE 1

STRESS-PURCHASE/CONSUMPTION RELATIONSHIP

Despite the abundance of work done on stress across many related disciplines, consumer and marketing researchers have ignored the question of whether stress has a direct influence on purchase and consumption behavior. It is our contention that purchase/consumption can be viewed as a means of coping with stress. Cohen and Lazarus (1979) broadly define coping as "efforts, both action-oriented and intrapsychic, to manage (that is, master, tolerate, reduce, minimize) environmental and internal demands, and conflicts among them, which tax or exceed a person's resources." (p. 219) As such, coping can occur in anticipation of stress or in reaction to present or past stress.

According to Hamburg, Coelho, and Adams (1974), the two functions of coping are problem-solving and/or emotion-regulation. Problem-solving consists of addressing internal or environmental demands that create threat (e.g., taking the car to the car wash because you are too busy this week to wash it yourself). Emotion-regulation consists of efforts to modify the distress associated with threat (e.g., consuming sweets or alcoholic beverages to make you feel better). It is possible that a behavior can serve both problem-solving and emotion-regulation functions (e.g., going out to eat because you worked late). Given that purchase/consumption might serve as a means of coping with stress, the study of stress (i.e., antecedents, symptoms, outcomes) would, therefore, appear to offer a promising research area for consumer researchers.

Research Relating Stress to Consumer Behavior

As indicated earlier, the marketing and consumer behavior literature has generally ignored the effects of stress on purchase and/or consumption activities. One notable exception is a pioneering study by Andreasen (1984). Andreasen included the concept of stress in an attempt to model the effects of changes in consumer life status or life events (e.g., death of a spouse, changed employer) on consumer behavior. Specifically, Andreasen proposed that the number of life status changes influences consumption behavior (operationalized as brand preference changes). He further proposed that the number of life status changes and the quantity of life status change (operationalized as weighted life status changes-} influence lifestyle which in turn influences consumption behavior. Lastly, Andreasen posited that the average evaluation of consequences of life status changes influences stress which in turn influences purchase satisfaction. Note that Andreasen's model implicates stress in the postpurchase process (satisfaction/dissatisfaction) only.

Andreasen employed a cross-sectional (across-subject) survey design. Regarding the key exogenous variable, life status changes, respondents were asked to indicate the major life events that had occurred within the last six months. The intervening variable, lifestyle change, was measured by asking individuals to indicate changes in twelve activities (e.g., increased/decreased the number of times eating out, consumed more/less medicine) over the previous six months. With respect to the key dependent variable, brand preference change, respondents were asked if they had changed brands in thirteen selected product (service) categories in the last six months, as compared to the prior six months. Lastly, the intervening variable stress was assessed via a six-item measure with five of the items relating to psychological symptoms (e.g., worrying about things, feeling unsettled) and one item relating to a behavior (not sleeping soundly). Overall, bivariate and multiple equation analyses supported relationships proposed in the model.

Suggestions for Future Research Relating Stress to Consumer Behavior

Andreasen should be credited with explicitly recognizing and introducing stress into consumer research. However, as Andreasen himself noted, several limitations are extant in his study. Further, recent conceptual and empirical work in related disciplines has provided insights for research relating stress to consumer behavior. In this section of the paper we use the Andreasen study as a springboard from which to offer suggestions for future research in this area.

Recall that a key exogenous variable in the Andreasen study was life status change. However, the focus on "major" life events, which occur relatively infrequently, as antecedents of stress limits our ability to examine daily antecedents of stress which may provide insight into many contemporary purchase/consumption activities. Although life events, such as the birth of a child, certainly result in dramatic and immediate changes in consumer behavior, they are not as useful in understanding day-to-day purchase/consumption as are daily antecedents and symptoms of stress. Given that daily "hassles" resulting from work, family, etc. are more prevalent than life events, it is not surprising that Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, and Lazarus (1981) found that daily hassles were a "considerably better predictor" of psychological symptoms of stress than life events. It is our contention that daily antecedents of stress (e.g., daily hassles) will reveal considerable insight into daily consumption behavior. Therefore, in addition to studying life events or life status changes, future research should examine daily patterns of stress, its antecedents and resulting changes in purchase/consumption behavior.

The Andreasen model also does not specify a direct relationship between level of stress and changes in consumption patterns (operationalized by changes in brand preference during the previous six months). However, examples of the direct effects of stress on purchase/consumption are relatively easy to imagine: perception of too little time to cook dinner, so one stops at a fast food drive-through window; a feeling of anxiety which prompts the purchase of an hedonic good such as chocolate or cheese cake to make oneself feel better; or using shopping as a means of easing tension.

Interestingly, Andreasen did find a significant relationship between stress and changes in lifestyle. In fact, since his "lifestyle" measure could be viewed as a measure of consumption behavior (e.g., the number of times eating out, consumed more/less medicine, the number of sporting events, movies, and concerts attended), it would appear that stress can have a direct influence on purchase/ consumption. However, Andreasen's focus on changes in brand preferences as the dependent variable reflects a very restricted view of consumption behavior. Future research could more thoroughly monitor selected purchase/consumption episodes through the use of daily diaries which have been used extensively in consumer/marketing research (Sudman and Ferber 1974; Walsh 1977).

As noted by Andreasen, another limitation of the study relates to the use of a cross-sectional design with subjects providing self-reports of life status, lifestyle, stress, and brand preference changes over the previous six months. In fact, this limitation goes beyond the Andreasen study and is applicable to the body of research which has examined the relationship between stress and health (Kasl and Cooper 1987). Even when such studies have employed longitudinal designs, the time between measurement of a life event and health status is often too long making it extremely difficult if not impossible to sort out what has occurred between the variables of interest (Kasl and Cooper 1987; DeLongis, FoLkman, and Lazarus 1988).

The limitations noted above hold important methodological implications for consumer researchers interested in examining the relationship between stress and purchase/consumption. First, the assessment of antecedents, stress, and purchase/consumption on a daily basis over several days in a multiple week period would prove valuable in examining relationships, and would result in more reliable data as memory loss would be minimized. DeLongis et al. (1988) have demonstrated the effectiveness of daily assessments in their investigation of relationships between hassles, health, and mood.

Further, it would be fruitful to monitor relationships between antecedents, stress, and purchase/consumption using within-subject approaches in addition to across-subject approaches. Several researchers have-successfully employed within-subject designs to investigate the relationship between daily stressors and mood (Eckenrode 1984; Stone and Neale 1984; Caspi, Bolger, and Eckenrode 1987).

The work of Lazarus, Speisman, and Mordkoff (1963) and Rehm (1978) demonstrate the utility of a within-subject approach. In both studies, an across-subject approach yielded small correlations between the variables of interest (autonomic nervous system indicators of arousal for Lazarus et al. and daily events and mood for Rehm). However, with a within-subject approach, substantial correlations were found between the variables of interest. In both instances, individual differences introduced by the across-subject method masked relationships between variables. In contrast, individual differences were controlled through the within-subject method as each subject acts as his or her own control thus eliminating the influence of across-subject differences.

As Delongis et al. (1988) point out, across-subject and within-subject methods approach a problem from somewhat different perspectives. In contrast to the across-subject approach which does not allow for an adequate assessment of changes in variables over time, a within-subject approach would address the conceptually relevant issue of whether changes in antecedents covary with changes in stress which, in turn, covary with changes in purchase/consumption. By examining relationships among changes in variables over time, the within-subject approach allows for a more dynamic exploration of the stress - purchase/consumption relationship than does the more static across-subject approach.

Finally, Andreasen used a very limited self-report measure of stress. The measure consisted of five items relating to psychological symptoms and one item relating to a physiological symptom. Recognizing this limitation, Andreasen called upon consumer researchers to develop better measures of stress. Prior stress-health research has also been found to employ simplistic measures of stress (Gruen, Folkman, and Lazarus 1988). Derogatis, Lipman, Rickels, Uhlenhuth, and Covi (1974) argue that a comprehensive assessment of stress should incorporate physiological as well as psychological dimensions.

Future research examining the relationship between stress and purchase/consumption must attempt to thoroughly assess physiological and psychological dimensions of stress. For example, health diaries could be used to assess physiological indicants of stress on a daily basis (e.g., headaches, backaches, nausea, etc.). Verbrugge (1980) discusses advantages of this approach with respect to levels of reporting symptoms, reduction of recall error, validity, and utility for analysis of individual health and health dynamics.

In addition to physiological indicants of stress, psychological indicants should also be assessed. For instance, mood could be measured on a daily basis through the use of an adjective check list (Nowlis 1965). Another possible alternative relates to the use of an activation check list in order -to monitor daily arousal (Thayer 1967). Such measures have been dependably used in psychological research. In fact, Thayer reports that self-reports of activation may be more representative of arousal than individual peripheral physiological indicants. Yet another example of a psychological indicant of stress could be sense of time urgency (Rizkalla 1989). Originally conceived as a personality trait, this concept could be adapted to reflect a more situationally dependent psychological state and assessed on a daily basis.

A related measurement issue worthy of mention concerns overlapping items between antecedent and stress measures. For instance, prior studies examining the relationship between antecedent events and health status have used physiological items in antecedent measures and also included similar items in the health assessments. As a consequence, antecedents (physical stressors) were confounded with stress (physical symptoms) (Kasl and Cooper 1987). Thus, care must be taken in order to avoid confounds of content between antecedent and stress measures.

SUMMARY

BeLk (1987) noted that consumer researchers have tended to study purchase/consumption in isolation from other aspects of human existence. In response to this situation, Belk advocated studying consumer behavior "within the broader tableau of human behavior." (p. 3) In advocating the study of the stress-purchase/consumption relationship, this paper is very much in line with Belk's call to broaden the research agenda in consumer behavior. Further, using Andreasen's (1984) ground-breaking study as a point of departure, we have offered conceptual and methodological suggestions for future research in this area. Specifically, it was suggested that our understanding of the stress purchase/consumption relationship could be enhanced through: 1) examining antecedents, stress, and purchase/consumption over short time intervals (i.e., on a daily basis); 2) the use of longitudinal designs; 3) the use of within-subject methods; and 4) the assessment of multiple dimensions of stress.

IMPLICATIONS

It is widely recognized that the success of a marketing strategy is dependent on knowing and influencing the consumer. It is the thesis of this paper that future research which incorporates comprehensive daily assessments of antecedents of stress, symptoms of stress, and purchase/ consumption will help increase our understanding of consumer behavior in contemporary society. For instance, stress might influence end-goals - the needs or objectives that consumers want to satisfy or achieve. In response to stressful situations, some decisions might become more oriented toward the avoidance of aversive states. Further, Fennell (1975) has distinguished between optimizing end-goals and satisficing end-goals. In reaction to stress, consumers may opt for satisficing as opposed to optimizing end-goals.

In addition, stress may influence the specific consequences used to evaluate alternatives. Functional choice criteria (product/service performance) as well as psychosocial choice criteria (affective) could be impacted depending upon whether purchase/consumption coping is intended to serve problem-solving or emotion-regulation functions. Beyond influencing choice criteria used in decision making, stress might also affect the evaluation of choice criteria. Some choice criteria may be evaluated a certain way in a given situation but may be evaluated differently in a more stressful context.

According to Bettman and Park (1980) and Hoyer (1984), consumers are prone to use a combination of integration strategies in decision making. Stress might contribute to the use of simpler non-compensatory strategies in order to screen alternatives to a manageable number so that more complex compensatory strategies can be used. Further, stress might also be implicated in search, evaluation, and choice heuristics given that such processes are constructed to meet the needs of particular situations (Hoyer 1984).

Stress research would offer insights for marketing strategy in the profit-making as well as the not-for-profit realms. For instance, by merging stress research with traditional demographic and lifestyle research, marketers may be able to more thoroughly segment markets for selected products and services.

Further, given agency research agendas within the Department of Health and Human Services, research examining the relationship between stress and purchase/consumption could have important public policy implications. For example, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has encouraged researchers to investigate family and household dynamics. Future research in this area could explore the influence of stress on household decision making, influence strategies, and conflict within purchase/consumption contexts.

Another Department of Health and Human Services agency, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has encouraged researchers to investigate the impact of advertising and media on alcohol consumption. The susceptibility of consumer segments to persuasive communications (e.g., advertisements and public service announcements) when experiencing stress would be a logical avenue of research in this area. Research questions relating stress to other harmful consumption realms such as drug abuse, smoking, and eating disorders could also be of interest to relevant Health and Human Service Agencies.

The stress - purchase/consumption relationship would appear to warrant the attention of consumer researchers. Research in this area holds the potential for broadening our understanding of consumer behavior as well as offering valuable insights to the marketing and Public PolicY realms.

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