Affect and Consumer Behavior: Examining the Role of Emotions on Consumers' Actions and Perceptions

Mary T. Curren, California State University, Northridge
Ronald C. Goodstein, University of California, Los Angeles
ABSTRACT - The purpose of this paper is to provide a summary of a special topic session organized to address recent developments in affect research in consumer behavior.
[ to cite ]:
Mary T. Curren and Ronald C. Goodstein (1991) ,"Affect and Consumer Behavior: Examining the Role of Emotions on Consumers' Actions and Perceptions", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 624-626.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 624-626


Mary T. Curren, California State University, Northridge

Ronald C. Goodstein, University of California, Los Angeles


The purpose of this paper is to provide a summary of a special topic session organized to address recent developments in affect research in consumer behavior.


Recent research in consumer behavior has illustrated that cognitive reactions alone cannot account for the total variance we find in response to marketing stimuli. Zajonc and Markus (1982), for instance, caution us that in attitude formation there is a significant interaction of both affective and cognitive reactions. From an applied perspective, several studies in the advertising area reveal that affective reactions play as large a role as cognitive reactions in determining advertising effectiveness. Therefore, it is important that marketers both understand and consider affective reactions in their strategic planning. This session extended the study of affect's influence on consumer behavior by examining its effects across several domains.

Four papers were presented in this session that examined the role affect plays with respect to consumers' attitudes and actions. The first two of these papers were extensions of prior research concerning affect and advertising effectiveness. They explored the issues of the contextual and temporal influences of affect on ad attitudes and recall, respectively. The third paper also examined a temporal issue, this one dealing with inconsistencies between expected and actual outcomes and how such inconsistencies influence the intensity of consumers' affective reactions. Finally, the fourth paper addressed affect's role within a specific behavioral domain; variety-seeking.

By way of a more detailed overview, the paper by Kamins, Sanft, and Kiesler explores how the affect one brings to an ad exposure influences recall and attitudes subsequent to that exposure. Contextual affective states, they find, are especially important when advertisers' goals are to change consumers' brand attitudes. The paper by Edell and Moore addresses how feelings might be cued at the point of purchase so that consumers can (re)form brand attitudes in the store. They compare these attitudes with those formed immediately after ad exposure and find that the intensity of one's emotional experience will dictate the degree to which the attitude can be recreated at a later point in time. The Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran paper looks at affect as a dependent variable. They examine how involvement and temporal distance will influence the degree of affective reactions to gaps between expected and actual outcomes. The last paper in this session, by Isen and Kahn, studies how positive affect encourages consumers to process incoming information with greater cognitive flexibility. This results in positive affect leading to subsequently higher variety-seeking behavior in non-risky choice scenarios and to lower levels of variety-seeking in the realm of risky choices. Taken together, these works explore and extend the role of affect in consumers' attitude formation, persuasion, and behaviors. More detailed abstracts of the papers provided by the authors are presented next.




Michael A. Kamins, Henrianne Sanft, and Tina Kiesler

University of Southern California

The influence of consumers' moods upon their thoughts, memory and actions has recently become a topic of interest to consumer researchers. In Gardner's (1985) review of the literature in this area, she suggests that mood induced by media context may affect behavioral responses to advertising. Certainly this is a belief that is held by companies, as indicated by Coca Cola's corporate policy not to advertise on TV news because "there's going to be some bad news in there and Coke is an upbeat, fun product" (Advertising Age 1980).

The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of mood upon consumers' responses to an advertisement for a new product. Mood was induced by the editorial context (happy stories versus sad stories) that preceded a print ad. It was hypothesized that the feeling state of the consumers prior to exposure to the advertisement would influence their cognitive responses, attitudes toward the ad and the brand, and memory. Consumers who read happy stories were expected to feel happier (be in better moods) than those who read sad stories. It was expected that this would result in the recall of more favorable information when in a happy as opposed to a sad mood as well as in more positive cognition and more favorable ad and brand attitudes.

Results indicate that consumers do affectively respond to advertisements and the advertised brand in a manner consistent with their context-induced mood. However, consumers' mood at the time they observed the ad did not significantly influence the information that was remembered from the ad.



Julie A. Edell and Marian Chapman Moore

Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

In most advertising studies that investigate the effect of emotions on advertising effectiveness, subjects provide their reactions to ads immediately after seeing the ad. Even if the subject was in a delayed measurement condition, providing reactions up to a month after the initial exposure to the ad, the subject sees the ad again during the measurement setting. Consumers do not always form ad or brand evaluations immediately upon seeing an ad, however. Furthermore, in the "real" purchase or decision environment, the ad is not usually present to act as an explicit cue for the consumer. Research in other areas (Lichtenstein and Srull 1985) has shown that evaluations that are formed shortly after viewing a stimulus differ from those formed two days after viewing the stimulus.

It is important, therefore, to determine if the effect of emotions differs based on when the ad and brand evaluations are made. This study will investigate that issue. We expect that the intensity with which feelings are experienced during ad exposure will influence the nature of the impact of those feelings on ad and brand evaluations that are taken three or five days subsequent to viewing the ad. Further, we expect that the intensity of the feelings will be a function of ad characteristics that determine the relevance of the ad for the subject. These characteristics include features that determine how much the subject identifies with the ad features such as the characters in the ad, the setting of the ad, the music in the ad, the slice of life that is depicted in the ad, and so forth.

The experiment will also manipulate the type of cue that is used to retrieve previously experienced feelings. Keller (1987) has explored the role of cues in recall of brand information but the relationship between cues and feelings was not investigated. In this study we will use three types of cues that come from the ad: a picture of the product, a complete scene from the ad (which will be tested to assure that it captures the essence of the ad with respect to the characteristics that we think will affect the intensity of feelings), and the entire ad. We expect that the intensity of the previously experienced feelings will moderate the ability of the cue to bring the feelings "back to life." The results of this study will have important implications for the design of the purchase environment as well as for understanding how feelings influence choice. For instance, if the scene from the ad is better at eliciting previously experienced feelings than the picture of the product, then it might be effective to use the scene as an on-package cue, in a free-standing insert coupon, or as part of an in-store display.



Joan Meyers-Levy, University of Chicago

Durairaj Maheswaran, New York University

Consumers often face inconsistencies between their expectations and reality. While the majority of the literature has focused on how such mismatches influence consumers' cognitive and memory related activities (Houston, Childers, and Heckler 1987; Meyers-Levy and Tybout 1989; Sujan 1985), such inconsistencies are also likely to engender fairly pronounced emotional reactions. For example, the time that separates expected outcomes and reality may influence the perception of the mismatch, as well as the magnitude of emotional responses.

Consider a man who, in honor of his anniversary, rushes at the last minute to buy a necklace his spouse has admired, only to discover that the necklace was sold a month ago. This consumer would likely have an emotional reaction to not being able to complete his planned purchase. Now compare his likely reaction to that of another man in a similar situation whose attempt to purchase the necklace is thwarted by a purchase only five minutes (versus the month) earlier. Research by Kahneman and Tversky (1982) and Miller and McFarland (1987) implies that the shorter, five minute temporal distance separating expectations and reality is likely to be perceived by most people as more extraordinary, incongruent, and unfortunate than the one month temporal distance. Thus, although both individuals may emotionally respond to their unexpectedly interrupted purchases, the latter individual may have a stronger reaction.

The purpose of this study was to determine why, how, and when variations in the temporal distance separating expectations and reality can affect consumers' affective or emotional responses. Subjects received a message that solicited funds for a charity and described a situation illustrating how the charity attempted to assist two needy children. All subjects received the same message except that in one condition, a short temporal distance separated the expected outcome from reality (e.g., a plan developed by the charity to help the children was invalidated just one day before it was to be enacted), whereas in a second condition, a long temporal distance separated expectations and reality (e.g., the plan was invalidated nine months before it was to be enacted).

Results revealed that when involvement with the message issue was low, subjects exhibited heightened emotional responses and were more persuaded to contribute funds to the charity when a short, rather than a long, temporal distance separated expectations and reality. However, when message involvement was high, subjects' emotional responses and persuasion were constant, regardless of variations in the temporal distance between expectations and reality. Cognitive response and recall measures provided support for the process hypothesized to mediate these findings.



Alice M. Isen, Cornell University

Barbara E. Kahn, University of Pennsylvania

The purpose of this research is to understand the influence of positive affect on variety-seeking in choice behavior. We define affect as feelings induced by commonplace events or circumstances rather than intense focused emotions; examples would include the kinds of things one feels as one goes about the activities of the day -- listening to music, receiving a compliment, finding a quarter in a phone booth. We define variety-seeking behavior as the deliberate tendency to switch away from the brand chosen on the last one or more occasions; thus, more switching in a choice history indicates more variety seeking.

Past research has shown that relative to subjects in control conditions, those in positive affect states notice more features of objects and are more flexible in the way they think about and organize information in non-risky situations. However, in risky situations in which the potential for real, meaningful loss is salient, subjects in positive affect conditions are more conservative in behavior or more averse to risk than control subjects.

We propose that positive affect influences brand choice behavior in an analogous way. In non-risky choice situations, where brands are familiar, subjects in positive affect conditions should notice and think about more features of each brand. The more features that are identified, the more stimulating a brand would seem and the more appropriate it would seem to be for different contexts. Thus, consumers in positive affect conditions should be more likely to switch among brands over time, or exhibit more variety-seeking behavior, than control subjects.

On the other hand, if a consumer's choice set includes some brands for which the consumer is uncertain about the quality, then subjects in positive affect conditions would become more risk averse and less likely to switch among brands than would subjects in control conditions. Thus, their behavior would appear more brand loyal than the behavior in the control conditions.

We conducted computer-based experiments which supported these hypotheses. In follow-up experiments, we investigate how these results are affected by strength of brand names and by the degree of prototypicality of the brands within the product category.


The session coordinators thank Alice M. Isen of Cornell University for providing valuable comments as discussant.


Gardner, Meryl Paula (1985), "Mood States and Consumer Behavior: A Critical Review," Journal of Consumer Research, 12 (December), 281-300.

Houston, Michael J., Terry L. Childers and Susan E. Heckler (1987), "Picture-Word Consistency and the Elaborative Processing of Advertisements," Journal of Marketing Research, 24 (November), 359-369.

Kahneman, Daniel and Amos Tversky (1982), 'The Simulation Heuristic," in Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, eds. Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic and Amos Tversky, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 201-208.

Keller, Kevin Lane (1987), "Memory Factors in Advertising: The Effect of Advertising Retrieval Cues on Brand Evaluations," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (December), 316-333.

Lichtenstein, Meryl and Thomas K. Srull (1985), "Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Examining the Relationship Between Consumer Memory and Judgment," in L. F. Alwitt and A. A. Mitchell (eds.), Psychological Processes and Advertising Effects: -Theory, Research, and Application, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Meyers-Levy, Joan and Alice M. Tybout (1989), "Schema Congruity as a Basis for Product Evaluation," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (June), 39-54.

Miller, Dale T. and Cathy McFarland (1986), "Counterfactual Thinking and Victim Compensation: A Test of Norm Theory," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 12 (December), 513-519.

Sujan, Mita (1985), "Consumer Knowledge: Effects on Evaluation Strategies Mediating Consumer Judgments," Journal of Consumer Research, 12 (June), 31 46.

Zajonc, Robert B. and Hazel Markus (1982), "Affective and Cognitive Factors in Preferences," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 123-131.