An Investigation of Self-Referencing's Influence on Affective Evaluations

Jean B. Romeo, Boston College
Kathleen Debevec, University of Massachusetts
ABSTRACT - Self-referencing has been described as a cognitive process in which individuals associate self-relevant incoming information with information previously stored in memory. Studies have found that individuals who are high in self-referencing have more positive attitudes toward the ad and product. It has been suggested that self-referencing may also have an affective component in addition to the cognitive component. This study investigated the causal influence pattern of the self-referencing construct. The results suggest that self-referencing may influence cognitive reactions to the ad and product as well as both positive and negative affective reactions to the ad and product.
[ to cite ]:
Jean B. Romeo and Kathleen Debevec (1992) ,"An Investigation of Self-Referencing's Influence on Affective Evaluations", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 290-295.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 290-295

AN INVESTIGATION OF SELF-REFERENCING'S INFLUENCE ON AFFECTIVE EVALUATIONS

Jean B. Romeo, Boston College

Kathleen Debevec, University of Massachusetts

ABSTRACT -

Self-referencing has been described as a cognitive process in which individuals associate self-relevant incoming information with information previously stored in memory. Studies have found that individuals who are high in self-referencing have more positive attitudes toward the ad and product. It has been suggested that self-referencing may also have an affective component in addition to the cognitive component. This study investigated the causal influence pattern of the self-referencing construct. The results suggest that self-referencing may influence cognitive reactions to the ad and product as well as both positive and negative affective reactions to the ad and product.

The self-referencing phenomenon is an important one for marketers since research has found that individuals who self-reference information are more likely to remember that information (because it becomes meaningful to them) and more likely to respond in a favorable way. Self-referencing has been described in the cognitive psychology literature as the interaction between one=s previous experience and new information such that the new input can be interpreted and coded (Rogers, Kuiper, and Kirker 1977). It has been suggested, however, that the self-referencing process also has an affective quality (Rogers 1981). If self-referencing has an affective as well as a cognitive dimension, it is likely that it will influence cognitive and affective reactions to the ad and product. If self-referencing only occurs on a cognitive level, it may have little influence on affective reactions. Past research has not examined the causal influence pattern of the self-referencing construct. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether self-referencing induces two separate reactions toward the ad and product -- one affective and the other cognitive. A model is developed and tested to provide insight into self-referencing's influence pattern.

BACKGROUND

Self-Referencing

Self-referencing has been described as a cognitive process whereby individuals associate self-relevant incoming information with information previously stored in memory in order to give the new information meaning (Bellezza 1981, Kuiper and Rogers 1979, Markus 1977, 1980, Rogers 1981). Individuals who self-reference information are better able to learn and recall the information than people who do not (e.g., Bellezza 1981, 1984, Kendzierski 1980, Kuiper and Rogers 1979). Marketers should be interested in viewers' ability to self-reference advertising since self-referencing has been found to influence evaluations of an ad and subsequently evaluations of the product featured in the ad. For instance, one study found that individuals who are high in self-referencing have more positive attitudes toward the ad and product and thus more favorable purchase intentions than individuals who are low in self-referencing (Debevec and Romeo forthcoming).

Researchers who have investigated self-referencing have focused their attention on its cognitive component. Most studies have induced self-referencing by instructing subjects to relate stimulus information to themselves (Bellezza 1984, Lord 1980), to think of personal experiences which relate to a stimulus (Bower and Gilligan 1979), or to picture themselves relative to stimulus information (Shavitt and Brock 1986, Yalch and Sternthal 1985).

In addition to the self's cognitive component, Rogers (1981) suggests that the self also has an evaluative or affective component which plays a role in the encoding of personal information. He feels that the self-referencing process has an emotional quality which the cognitive model overlooks and attributes enhanced memory of self-referenced information to both the cognitive and affective components of the self.

The Affective Component of Self-Referencing

The early buyer behavior models in consumer behavior emphasized the cognitive processing of information. The consumer was viewed as a rational decision maker, and thus economic motives were driving the purchase decision. Research studies focused on the cognitive reaction to persuasive communication and the subsequent effects on beliefs and attitudes toward the ad. More recent research in consumer behavior has given more attention to affective responses (feelings, emotions) to persuasive communications. Batra and Ray (1986) found that determinants of attitude toward the ad are not entirely cognitive-based; affective responses (ARs), related to moods, emotions, and feelings, mediate the acceptance of advertising. They proposed the following model:

ARs ---> Attitude ad ---> Attitude brand ---> Purchase Intention

Holbrook and Batra (1987) were also concerned with the role of emotions in mediating the effects of advertising. They noted that affective responses have been treated as a unidimensional construct (positive/negative) by past researchers and suggest that future studies should emphasize the multidimensional properties of this construct (e.g., include emotional responses such as fear, love, hate, sadness, etc.). Holbrook and Batra concluded that emotional responses to an ad mediate attitude toward the ad and attitude toward the brand. Edell and Burke (1987) found that both semantic judgments and feelings mediate attitudes toward the ad and brand.

FIGURE 1

INITIAL SELF-REFERENCING MODEL

They noted that positive and negative feelings can exist at the same time.

As stated previously, much of the research in self-referencing has focused on cognitive reactions and could be summarized by the following model:

Self-referencing--> Cognitive Attitudead--> Cognitive Attitudeproduct--> Purchase Intention

Yet, advertising research has shown that there are two processes guiding the responses to persuasive communications -- affective and cognitive. Thus, self-referencing may mediate purchase intention through two separate responses -- one affective and one cognitive. This model, which is outlined in Figure 1, is investigated here.

STUDY

Print ads for a fictitious soft drink, TWIST, were used as the stimuli in this study. Two visual treatments were developed. One ad featured a can of the soft drink beside a glass of the beverage, and the other was a scene of students playing tennis with a small insert in the lower right-hand corner showing students studying. Three verbal copy strategies were examined which were designed to encourage varying levels of self-referencing. The copy strategies were similar in content with the exception of pronoun variations which should have led to the reader to focus on themselves, similar others, or the product. For a more specific description of the copy in the ads, see Debevec and Romeo (forthcoming). While subjects were expected to self-reference some of the ads more than others, past research suggests that self-referencing often occurs spontaneously (Shavitt and Brock 1986). Thus, in this study, the degree to which individuals actually self-referenced the ad they viewed was important, and not the composite reactions to individual ads.

Participants were 158 undergraduate junior and senior business students (100 female and 58 male) who were given partial course credit in an introductory marketing course for their participation. Students participated in the study by signing up for one of several sessions held outside of class time. Subjects were told that they would be evaluating a sample of articles and ads for a new magazine designed to appeal to college students. Each participant was given a packet which contained an article followed by the experimental ad described above, and a second article and ad. A series of questions followed each article and ad, but only those following the experimental ad are of interest here.

Dependent Measures

Self-referencing has been conceptualized and induced in prior research by instructing the subjects to relate the stimulus information to themselves (Bellezza 1984, Lord 1980), to think of personal experiences which relate to a stimulus (Bower and Gilligan 1979), or picture themselves relative to the stimulus information (Shavitt and Brock 1984, Yalch and Sternthal 1985). Two measures were used to assess the degree to which subjects self-referenced the ad and the product. One measure asked respondents as they were viewing the ad, whether they could picture themselves trying the product and the other measure asked whether they could picture themselves serving the product to a friend. Subjects responded to these questions on 7-point scales (1=not at all, 7=very much so).

TABLE 1

LISREL ESTIMATES OF LAMBDA X

Affective reactions to the ad were measured by giving subjects a list of words describing different kinds of feelings (good, happy, cheerful, pleasing, insulted, angry, irrational, and repulsed) and having them indicate on 7-point scales how characteristic each word was of how they felt while viewing the ad. The feeling scales were similar to the ones used by Holbrook and Batra (1987). Cognitive reactions to the ad were measured by asking subjects to rate the ad on 7-point semantic differential scales (relevant/irrelevant; interesting/uninteresting; exciting/boring; believable/unbelievable; realistic/unrealistic; informative/uninformative).

In order to determine affective reactions to the product, subjects were given a list of different kinds of feelings (special, happy, important, concerned) and asked to respond on a 7-point scale how they think the product would make them feel. Cognitive reactions to the product were measured by having subjects rate the product on 7-point semantic differential scales (superior/inferior; useful/useless; beneficial/not beneficial).

Finally, intention to purchase the product was measured by asking respondents if the product were available locally, how likely they would be to: 1) try the product, 2) purchase the product in a retail store, and 3) purchase the product in a bar or restaurant.

RESULTS

The model proposed in Figure 1 was investigated by performing a Confirmatory Factor Analysis using LISREL VI. In order to find the best fitting model, one modification was made. For both models, 158 cases were processed.

The first model investigated is outlined in Figure 1. The model's adjusted goodness of fit was rather low at .595 (Chi Square (df=293) =978.59), although it did show a significant improvement over a model which did not account for affective responses. An investigation of the LISREL estimates (maximum likelihood) of Lambda X indicated that two separate constructs might be present for the affective reaction to the ad and the cognitive reaction to the ad (see Table 1). For the affective reaction to the ad, the variables good, happy, cheerful, and pleasing appear to represent a positive dimension of feelings. The variables insulted, angry, irrational, and repulsed appear to represent a negative dimension. This finding is consistent with Edell and Burke's (1987) conclusion that positive and negative feelings can co-exist.

FIGURE 2

MODIFIED SELF-REFERENCING MODEL

For the ksi variable cognitive reaction to the ad, the adjective pairs personally relevant, interesting, exciting, and entertaining seem to represent characteristics of the ad's content and the adjectives believable, realistic, and informative seem to represent characteristics of the ad's quality. Thus, it seems there should really be eight, not six, ksi variables which alters the original model to the modified model represented in Figure 2.

The increase in the adjusted goodness of fit for the modified model was .804 and significant at p<.001 (Chi Square (df=271) = 379.53). In addition, the LISREL estimates of Lambda X (see Table 1) that were low in the first model show considerable improvement. Thus, the addition of the two ksi variables in the modified model seems justified.

A check was also made to determine whether self-referencing does mediate purchase intention. Subjects were divided into two groups -- one high in self-referencing and one low in self-referencing. This was done by averaging the two self-referencing measures (coefficient alpha=.90). Subjects scoring greater than 4 on the scale were classified as high in self-referencing, while those scoring less than four were considered low in self-referencing. Then, each of the dependent measures was combined into a composite measure and subjects who were low in self-referencing were compared to those who where high in self-referencing.

The results in Table 2 provide further support that self-referencing influences affective as well as cognitive evaluations of the ad and product. Respondents who were high in self-referencing had significantly more favorable cognitive and affective attitudes toward the ad and product than those who were low in self-referencing. These results suggest that in a persuasion context, self-referencing is a desirable outcome.

DISCUSSION

Since self-referencing has been shown to have a favorable impact on persuasion, it is important for marketers to have an understanding of the self-referencing phenomenon. This study has provided some insight into the causal influence pattern of the self-referencing construct.

The model developed suggests that self-referencing influences both cognitive and affective evaluations of the ad and product. Self-referencing does not appear to encourage individuals to only evaluate the stimulus ads on a cognitive level as much as the literature suggests. Instead, the results indicated that self-referencing may influence both a positive and negative affective response to the ad, which, in turn, influences affective responses to the product. Thus, as Rogers (1981) has suggested, the enhanced memory of self-referenced information may be due to both the cognitive and affective components of the self.

TABLE 2

MEAN RESPONSES TO DEPENDENT MEASURE FOR LOW VERSUS HIGH SELF-REFERENCING SUBJECTS

Additional research is needed to provide more insight into the dimensions underlying the self-referencing construct and how self-referencing may be measured in order to understand more fully its role in persuasion. A simple measure (based on how self-referencing has been induced in prior research) was utilized in the present study. Yet, it is likely that self-referencing in a communications context is multidimensional since individuals may self-reference more than one component of a stimulus ad. For instance, viewers may relate to a product and its benefits, to a spokesperson featured, to characters portrayed in an ad, to a scene depicted, or to music or voices (in the case of a radio or television commercial). Thus, there are visual, verbal, and auditory stimuli which may or may not encourage a favorable self-reference response. Scaled measures could be developed to tap into self-relevant responding to a variety of ad dimensions.

The self-referencing construct and its measurement may also be further refined through the thought listing procedure (Greenwald 1968). Respondents= reactions to an ad can be gathered after exposure, and self-relevant thoughts may be identified and coded according to their focus (whether toward the product, ad, spokesperson, etc.), valence, and as either affective or cognitive (if possible). Scaled measures might then be developed to assess the extent to which self-referencing occurred and the merit of the present model could once again be evaluated.

Past research has not attempted to directly measure self-referencing, but instead has offered methods to encourage it with the assumption that subsequent group differences are a reflection that self-referencing has occurred. Thus, it is a challenge to develop a scale to measure the construct, particularly in a communications context where individuals may be responding to a variety of stimuli.

This study provided initial support for identifying the causal role of self-referencing in persuasion. Broad generalizations from the data reported here cannot be made given the previous discussion and limitations in the methodology (i.e., a student sample was used, data was collected in an experimental setting, only one product class, soda, was investigated). Future research is needed to determine if self-referencing influences affective evaluations of the ad and product across a more diverse range of product categories. It may be possible that for certain product categories where the risk of making a wrong decision is high and many technical features need to be considered (e.g., personal computer, television set), self-referencing will only have an influence on cognitive reactions.

REFERENCES

Bellezza, Francis S. (1981), "Mnemonic Devices: Classification, Characteristics and Criteria," Review of Educational Research, 51 (Summer), 247-275.

Bellezza, Francis S. (1984), "The Self as a Mnemonic Device: The Role of Internal Cues," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47 (September), 506-516.

Batra, Rajeev and Michael L. Ray (1986), "Affective Responses Mediating Acceptance of Advertising," Journal of Consumer Research, 13 (September), 234-249.

Bower, Gordon H. and Stephen G. Gilligan (1979), "Remembering Information Related to One's Self," Journal of Research in Personality, 13 (December), 420-432.

Debevec, Katheen and Jean B. Romeo (forthcoming),"Self-Referent Processing in Perceptions of Verbal and Visual Commercial Information," Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Edell, Julie A. and Marian C. Burke (1987), "The Power of Feelings in Understanding Advertising Effects," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (December), 421-433.

Greenwald, Anthony (1968), "Cognitive Learning, Cognitive Response to Persuasion, and Attitude Change,? in Psychological Foundations of Attitudes, eds., A. Greenwald, T. Brock, T. Ostrom, New York: Academic Press, 147-170.

Holbrook, Morris and Rajeev Batra (1987), "Assessing the Role of Emotions as Mediators of Consumer Responses to Advertising,? Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (December), 404-420.

Kendzierski, Deborah (1980), "Self Schemata and Scripts: The Recall of Self-Referent and Scriptal Information," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 6 (March), 23-29.

Kuiper, N.A. and T.B. Rogers (1979), "Encoding of Personal Information: Self-Other Differences," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 (April), 499-512.

Lord, Charles G. (1980), "Schemas and Images as Memory Aids: Two Modes of Processing Social Information," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (February), 63-78.

Markus, Hazel (1977), "Self-Schemata and Processing Information about the Self," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 63-78.

Rogers, T. B. (1981), "A Model of the Self as an Aspect of the Human Information Processing System," in Personality, Cognition, and Social Interaction, eds. N. Cantor and J.F. Kihlstrom, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 193-214.

Rogers, T.B., N.A. Kuiper, and W.S. Kirker (1977), "Self-Referencing and the Encoding of Personal Information,? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (September), 677-688.

Shavitt, Sharon and Timothy C. Brock (1984), "Self-Relevant Responses in Commercial Persuasion: Field and Experimental Tests," in Advertising and Consumer Psychology, eds. K. Sentis and J. Olson, New York: Praeger Publications, 149-171.

Yalch, Richard and Brian Sternthal (1985), "The Effect of Self-Referencing Strategies on Message Persuasiveness," Working Paper, University of Washington.

----------------------------------------