Mood Effects in Consumer Behavior: a Unifying Theme

Ronald C. Goodstein, University of California, Los Angeles
[ to cite ]:
Ronald C. Goodstein (1994) ,"Mood Effects in Consumer Behavior: a Unifying Theme", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 526-529.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 526-529


Ronald C. Goodstein, University of California, Los Angeles


An accepted principle in our field is that both affective and cognitive reactions to marketing stimuli influence consumer behavior. In recent years Zajonc and Markus (1982) challenged consumer researchers to consider both types of reactions in understanding consumers. Since that time researchers have investigated many different aspects of affect and how they influence attitudes and behavior. For instance, studies have examined how feelings (e.g., Aaker and Stayman 1989; Edell and Burke 1987), moods (e.g., Batra 1986; Kahn and Isen 1993), general affect (e.g., Machleit, Allen, and Madden 1993), and attitude transfer (e.g., MacKenzie, Lutz, and Belch 1986) impact attention, persuasion, and behavior. Unfortunately, one cannot make generalized conclusions about the influence of affect on behavior because the findings in these areas often disagree. The three investigations of mood presented in this session provide a good example of this conflict in that they all come to different conclusions about mood's effect on consumer behavior.

The paper by Hadjimarcou and Marks (1993) conceptualizes mood as a pre-existing state that subjects bring to the ad processing domain. They believe that "the overriding goal of people while in a negative mood is to use any means possible to elevate their mood." This mood management perspective is based on the premise that consumers in a negative mood will be motivated to process ad information in hopes of improving their current mood. Motivation will be reflected by higher evaluations of the advertised product, relative to those in a positive mood. Those in a positive mood will be less motivated to process the information, and their evaluations will be less strongly influenced by their mood. The authors find that evaluations of a "feel-good" (mood elevating) product are more favorable for subjects in a negative mood relative to those in a positive mood, supporting the mood management hypothesis. This indicates deeper processing for subjects in a negative mood.

The experimental work presented by Kellaris and Mantel (1993) views mood as an affective reaction to an advertisement. The theoretical approach is similar to that proposed by Batra (1986) in that "ads are not merely liked or disliked; they also generate moods and make us feel a certain way." Using time perceptions as an indicator of processing intensity, they find that for women "time does not necessarily fly when they are having fun." That is, more intensive processing (i.e., longer) was associated with positive moods than with negative moods for female participants. This evidence counters the traditional mood preservation hypotheses (Isen 1989, cited in Kellaris and Mantel 1993) which predict that subjects in a positive mood will avoid processing in order to maintain their current, positive mood state. [Isen has traditionally been cited for initiating support for the mood preservation hypothesis. In recent discussions, however, Isen (1993) has stated that this is an incorrect attribution to her work. In fact, positive moods may give rise to more creative and flexible processing of new, positively valanced material (Kahn and Isen (1993). When presented with negatively valanced material, consumers may ignore the information in order to avoid negative thinking, especially when in a positive mood (Kahn and Isen 1993). Although this latter statement agrees with the mood preservation hypothesis, note that this is predicted only for negatively valanced material. It is inconsistent to say that subjects in a positive mood will always avoid processing (mood preservation); it is more consistent to say they will avoid processing if the affect related to that processing is negative.]

Finally, Kacen (1993) conceptualizes moods as emotional states that are precursors to further activities and behaviors directed toward managing the mood. This work provides an in-depth, phenomenological perspective of individuals' experiences of mood and the behaviors associated with moods. The methodology employed is unstructured depth interviews with 12 subjects which were transcribed, coded, and categorized. The findings indicate that negative moods are managed by refocusing attention on new activities, while positive moods are managed by either not refocusing attention or by engaging in mood congruent activities. Here, the answer to whether positive versus negative moods motivate more intensive processing is, "it depends." These results agree with the mood management discussion offered by Isen (1993) in that negative moods motivate consumers to refocus attention and positive moods will either motivate or fail to motivate refocusing attention depending on the affect associated with the new activity.

In summary, the papers presented in this session agree that feelings (moods) are primary motivators of behavior (cf. Tompkins 1970), but they disagree on whether moods are pre-existing states or reactions to stimuli. The also disagree on the exact nature of the relationship between mood and behavior. Rather than providing a detailed critique of each of the papers, this paper investigates whether these disparate findings can be integrated within a single framework. My discussion will attempt to reconcile these differences by emphasizing the importance of the source of the mood, i.e., its cause. While other frameworks might be used to explain this phenomenon, and while acknowledging that the relationship between moods and behavior is quite complex, the goal here is to offer one idea for simplifying the relationship.


That moods affect behavior is very clear, the question that remains is how they affect behavior. Mackie and Worth (1989, 1991) show that people are motivated to prolong a positive mood and therefore, have little motivation to process additional information. This may either be due to the fact that refocusing attention risks loss of the positive mood state or that the complex memory structures associated with positive moods allow little capacity for additional processing (Mackie and Worth 1989). Regardless of why, this research concludes that positive moods discourage processing of incoming information.

Other research in the domain, however, makes the opposite conclusion. Happy, positive moods are more likely to encourage processing of persuasive messages (Janis, Kaye, and Kirschner 1965). Further, when the mood evoked from stimulus processing is positive (cf. Batra 1986), people are more likely to approach that stimulus further (e.g., Fiske 1982; Zajonc 1980). Yet, current research again indicates that positive affect (mood) is accompanied by the use of more heuristic (versus systematic) processing strategies (Forgas and Bower 1987).

The debate also occurs in the realm of negative moods and affect. When the affect associated with a stimulus is negative, individuals are more likely to avoid further processing (Zajonc 1980). This is true even when the affect is evoked automatically upon categorizing the stimulus (Fiske 1982). Other psychologists find that negative affect (mood) motivates more extensive processing since people are compelled to terminate negative moods (Isen 1985). People inhibit the continuation of sad (negative) moods by engaging in mood elevating behaviors (refocusing, Cialdini, Kenrick, and Baumann 1981).


It is hardly surprising to find that the debate over mood effects exists in the domain of consumer behavior. For instance, negative moods often create situations that many consumers wish to avoid (Batra and Stayman 1990). Many consumers increase their shopping (product search), purchasing, and consuming of products in order to terminate a negative mood (e.g., Churchill and Wertz 1985; O'Guinn and Faber 1989). Mood-ameliorating products appear to be approached more often by consumers experiencing a negative mood (Gardner 1992). However, negative moods evoked during a consumption experience are sometimes likely to inhibit processing. For example, negatively valanced schema affect appears to curtail ad processing (Goodstein 1993).

In the consumer domain positive moods (affect) have been associated with more flexible and sustained information processing (e.g., Aaker, Stayman, and Hagerty 1986; Edell and Burke 1987; Goodstein 1993). Positive affect associated with unconditioned stimuli also leads to more attention paid to a conditioned brand (Janiszewski and Warlop 1993). Finally, positive moods evoked by advertisements tend to lead to greater processing and persuasion (Batra 1986; Batra and Ray 1986; Edell and Burke 1987). Alternately, consumer research illustrates that positive moods may inhibit processing. This may be due to mood-protection mechanisms (Swinyard 1993) such as biased (heuristic) processing of incoming material (Batra and Stayman 1990) or avoidance of cognitive elaboration (Isen and Levin 1972).


Although moods can be differentiated along many dimensions such as valence, intensity, source, etc., I believe that one way to unify many of the findings discussed in consumer research is to investigate the source of mood more rigorously. In particular, I suggest that moods formed prior to exposure (pre-states) are qualitatively unlike moods formed during stimulus exposure (reactions). The primary distinction between the two is that pre-states are generalized affect without focus and reactions are object oriented (cf. Clore and Ortony 1983).

As a pre-state, moods function as general, nonspecific positive or negative input (Frijda 1986). As a reaction, moods evolve with specific signalling functions about particular environmental occurrences (Frijda 1986). Stated more simply, mood has been conceptualized as an affective predisposition that is unrelated to the stimulus at hand (cf. Gardner 1985). Alternately, mood has also been conceptualized as an affective reaction with a known cause, namely the stimulus at hand (e.g., Batra and Stayman 1990).

I believe that consumers are motivated to achieve and maintain a positive mood state regardless of its source. The general effect of moods on processing, however, will depend directly on the source of the mood. When the mood's source is a predisposition, then processing of an additional stimulus (e.g., an advertisement) is likely to be avoided to sustain the current mood. When the mood's source is a reaction, then processing is likely to continue since the stimulus itself is the source of the positive affect. Conversely, when the predisposition is negative, consumers will process the stimulus in order that they might achieve a more pleasant affective state. When the source is negative, they are likely to cease processing of the current stimulus for the same reason. Let me use the papers presented in this session to illustrate these propositions.

Hadjimarcou and Marks manipulate mood by having subjects read either a happy or sad story before exposure to an ad for a "feel good" product. The study reveals that ad processing was more intense for the subjects that read the sad story (negative mood). Apparently processing the ad allowed subjects the possibility of achieving a more positive mood. Those reading the happy story (positive mood) processed the ad in a more cursory manner in order to sustain their prior mood.

Although Kacen did not manipulate moods, she did have subjects recall a positive and negative mood experience. After evoking this general mood, she then asks her respondents to identify behaviors used to manage their moods. In the negative case, most respondents tend to engage in activities meant to alter their moods in a more positive direction. In the positive case they tend to either continue in current activities or engage in mood congruent activities. Presumably, the desire to end in a more positive state was the commonalty, perhaps explaining why many similar behaviors (e.g., shopping, eating) are described as relating to both subjects in positive and negative moods.

Kellaris and Mantel manipulate mood by including either positive or negative background music in a radio advertisement. The mood evoked is measured by answering the question, "The ad made me feel..." Clearly, the mood is an affective reaction to the ad. Recall that more intensive processing was associated with positive moods than with negative moods for female participants. When the source evoked positive affect it was approached to maintain the positive experience, when negative it was avoided in order to terminate the negative mood.

The distinction between moods as a predisposition versus as a reaction can be used to explain more general affective consequences in consumer behavior as well. For instance, when moods are manipulated via an unrelated story (predisposition), subjects in a positive mood process ads seen later in a more heuristic, i.e., more cursory, manner (Batra and Stayman 1990). Similarly, subjects viewing a more interesting (positively evaluated) television program allocate less attention to an ad embedded in that program (Soldow and Principe 1981). These studies demonstrate that consumers have little motivation to process persuasive stimuli when they are already in a positive mood. Negative predispositions have received much less attention in the consumer literature.

Positive affect generated as a reaction to a stimulus motivates more extensive processing. Upbeat and warm feelings evoked in response to an ad yield greater ad involvement (Edell and Burke 1987). Positive schema triggered affect for advertisements is related to greater motivation to process the ad (Goodstein 1993). Negative stimulus generated affect reduces ad processing (Edell and Burke 1987; Goodstein 1993).

In summary, consumers are motivated to attain positive affective states and avoid negative affective states. This holds regardless of whether the mood state is developed prior to or during stimulus exposure. However, the means of achieving the desired state depends upon whether the mood was pre-existing or was a reaction to the stimulus. To sustain a positive mood developed prior to stimulus exposure may mean limiting processing of incoming information. Yet, increasing processing could prolong a positive mood if the stimulus was the source of the mood. Likewise, a consumer motivated to terminate a negative mood is apt to process a new stimulus if the mood was pre-existing. However, a consumer is likely to limit processing if the stimulus was the cause of the negative mood. This proposition can integrate the findings of the three studies presented in this session, and might be an interesting area for future research.


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