Neuroticism, Affect and Postpurchase Processes

Todd A. Mooradian, The College of William and Mary
James M. Olver, The College of William and Mary
[ to cite ]:
Todd A. Mooradian and James M. Olver (1994) ,"Neuroticism, Affect and Postpurchase Processes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 595-600.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 595-600


Todd A. Mooradian, The College of William and Mary

James M. Olver, The College of William and Mary


Recent research in psychology has shown that enduring personality traits predict transient affective states; specifically, neuroticism predicts negative affect. Additionally, recent consumer research has shown that postpurchase processes are related not only to cognitive assessments of the consumption experience but also to consumption-based affect. This research proposes and tests a model in which neuroticism, a fundamental and enduring personality trait, predicts negative affective states which, in turn, predict consumer satisfaction, complaint behavior, and negative word-of-mouth. The results begin to integrate important recent advances in the understanding of personality and emotions into the consumer behavior domain.


"My headset's too tight. When are we going to eat? My seat's too small. How much further?"

C The Whiners, from Saturday Night Live

Every marketing manager has encountered Mr. or Mrs. WhinerCno matter what product is provided, it just isn't good enough. There is always something to complain about and nothing makes them happy.

This paper presents and tests a theoretical model which seeks to understand the Whiners and other consumers with a propensity to be dissatisfied. In doing this, we integrate emerging literature on personality traits and emotions from psychology with recent consumer research efforts relating affective experiences to postpurchase processes, including consumer satisfaction, complaint behavior and negative word-of-mouth. Although previous research linking personality and consumer behavior has been disappointing, this research offers promising results and shows that, by including major intervening systems such as affect, consumers' behaviors may be shown to have relatively robust relationships with enduring individual traits and dispositions. Initially, the relevant literatures from personality psychology and consumer behavior are reviewed. We then present a model linking one widely-accepted personality construct, neuroticism, to consumer satisfaction, complaint behavior and negative word-of-mouth. Thus, this paper contributes both a specific understanding of the relationship between neuroticism and consumption and, more generally, a promising framework for integrating personality with consumer behavior via fundamental intervening systems, such as affect.



Overview. Debate over two central issuesCwhether traits can predict behaviors, and the fundamental structure of personalityChas dominated personality scholarship over the past several decades. However, it appears that preliminary consensus may be emerging. As of the late 1960s, decades of personality and attitude research had failed to empirically identify robust relationships between traits and behaviors. Mischel (1968) concluded that "highly generalized behavioral consistencies have not been demonstrated, and the concept of personality traits as broad response predispositions is thus untenable" (p. 146). He introduced the disparaging term "the personality coefficient" to describe "...the correlation between .20 and .30 which is found persistently when virtually any personality dimension... is related to almost any conceivable external criterion" (1968, page 78). Since this discouraging review, researchers have made meaningful advances toward explaining the poor empirical results and toward developing improved procedures and methods for identifying relationships. Ajzen (1988) has presented an excellent review of these advances and concludes that "while measures of behavioral dispositions cannot be used indiscriminately, when appropriately employed they yield highly valuable information... people are quite consistent in the patterns of behavior they exhibit" (page 150).

During this same period, a second important question in the personality literature has been: what are the basic personality dimensions? Literally hundreds of personality traits have been proposed. Five fundamental traitsCextraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and opennessCwere identified as early as 1961 (Tupes and Christal 1961) and have been more generally agreed upon in the past half decade (McCrae and John 1992). Two of these, extraversion and neuroticism, have been linked theoretically and empirically with the experience of emotions. Neuroticism in particular has been so closely linked with negative affect that some researchers have labeled it negative affectivity: "the disposition to experience aversive emotional states" (Watson and Clark 1984).

Neuroticism and Affect. Of the "Big Five" personality factors, there is probably the least controversy about the definition of neuroticism (N), which has been variously labeled negative affectivity, emotionality, stability-instability, trait anxiety, adjustment, well-being, stress-reaction, or psychasthenia (Watson and Clark 1984; McCrae and John 1992; Eysenck and Eysenck 1975). Regardless of the label, neuroticism "represents individual differences in the tendency to experience distress, and in the cognitive and behavioral styles that follow from this tendency. High N scorers experience chronic negative affects and are prone to the development of a variety of psychiatric disorders" (McCrae and John 1992).

A large and growing number of studies have correlated personality traits and affective states. Further, neuroticism has been shown to predict, via the mediating system of affect, such diverse outcomes as health complaints, perceived stress and daily social activities, subjective well-being, and minor daily illnesses (see Larsen and Ketelaar 1991 for a thorough review).

At least two explanations can be hypothesized for the relationship between personality and negative affect: a temperamental theory posits that neurotics are more likely to experience negative affect in a given situation; the alternative instrumental view holds that neurotics may place themselves in more adverse life situations (and therefore experience more negative affect). Larsen and Ketelaar (1991) found support for the temperamental perspective, drawing on theory developed by Eysenck (1967) and expanded by Grey (1981, 1987) which proposes that neurotics are more likely to focus on punishment signals (negative aspects of given situations) while extraverts attend more to reward signals (positive aspects of situations).

In summary, an emerging body of evidence indicates that neuroticism is a fundamental structure of personality that predicts the experience of negative affect. Further, affect has been shown to mediate the effects of neuroticism on various behavioral outcomes. The neuroticism-negative emotions relationship has been found in both correlational and experimental studies, suggesting that the relationship is robust. To date, neuroticism has not been linked with consumption-based affect or to consumer behavior outcomes.

Personality and Consumer Behavior. In 1991, Kassarjian and Sheffet declared: "An overview of the studies on personality effects can be summarized by the single word `equivocal'" (page 281). Generally, their review indicates that most reported studies in consumer behavior which have included personality have found the .20 to .30 range of correlations bemoaned by Mischel, above. "A few studies indicate a strong relationship between personality and aspects of consumer behavior, a few indicate no relationship, and the great majority indicate that if correlations do exist they are so weak as to be questionable or perhaps meaningless" (Kassarjian and Sheffet 1991, page 291).

Sparks and Tucker (1971) did identify canonical roots relating personality profiles with patterns of purchases. Similarly, Alpert (1972) used canonical correlation to relate personality profiles with the relative importance placed on product attributes (in three product categories: residences, automobiles and movies). These studies suggest that, while specific consumer behaviors may not be predictable with individual personality traits, personality does relate with aggregated behaviors and with cognitive criteria in more complex patterns.

Kassarjian and Sheffet (1991) identified several shortcomings of consumer behavior research on personality which presumably explain many of the disappointing findings. A major weakness pointed out in their review was the compatibility of the traits and behaviors: "...instruments originally intended to measure gross personality characteristics such as sociability, emotional stability, introversion, or neuroticism have been used to make predictions of the chosen brand of toothpaste or cigarettes" (Kassarjian and Sheffet 1991, page 292). Kassarjian and Sheffet call for marketing and consumer behavior to conceptualize and develop measures for personality traits which should predict specific consumer behaviors: "If neuroticism and sociability are not relevant personality variables, then perhaps such terms as risk aversion, status seeking, and conspicuous consumption can be used. Personality variables that in fact are relevant to the consumer model need to be theorized and tests developed and validated" (page 292). This criticism is certainly valid; it is similar to the `principle of compatibility' from attitudes theory, which asserts that broad attitudes cannot be expected to predict narrowly defined and measured behaviors. However, an alternative solution may be to use `gross personality traits,' such as those in the five-factor model explicated above, to predict gross consumer constructs, such as affective experiences or attitudinal states, which may mediate the effects of personality on more specific consumer behaviors. This would similarly satisfy the requirement for compatibility. The research reported here takes exactly such an approach to the personalityCconsumer behavior relationship.

Affect and Postpurchase Processes in Consumer Behavior

Satisfaction. Day summarized a consensus conceptualization of satisfaction as "the consumer's response in a particular consumption experience to the evaluation of the perceived discrepancy between prior expectations (or some other norm of performance) and the actual performance of the product as perceived after its acquisition" (1984, p. 496). This definition captures the dominant, highly cognitive confirmation/ disconfirmation model within which much of the study of satisfaction has been framed. While this model has received strong empirical support (e.g., Oliver 1980; Tse and Wilton 1988), in the absence of affective considerations it may offer an incomplete description of the antecedents of satisfaction and postpurchase processes.

Affect in Consumer Research. In the last decade, affect has emerged as an important construct in the marketing literature, paralleling an increased focus on affect in psychology and social psychology. A great deal of research on affect in consumer behavior has focused on two central areas. The first of these has been conceptualizing and measuring affect and related constructs, including moods, feelings, emotions, evaluations and arousal (e.g., Gardner 1985; Aaker, Stayman and Vezina 1988). The second major focus has been toward examining affect as a mediating system in attitudes and advertising effects (e.g., Edell and Burke 1987; Allen, Machleit and Kleine 1992). A few studies have focused on affect in consumption experiences (Westbrook 1987; Dube-Rioux 1988; Westbrook and Oliver 1991). This consumption-based affect is the focus of the research reported in this paper.

Consumption-Based Affect and Postpurchase Processes. Westbrook and Oliver (1991) defined consumption-based emotion as:

...the set of emotional responses elicited specifically during product usage or consumption experiences, as described either by the distinctive categories of emotional experience and expression (e.g., joy, anger, and fear) or by the structural dimensions underlying emotional categories, such as pleasantness/unpleasantness, relaxation/action, or calmness/excitement... Consumption emotion is distinguished from the related affective phenomenon of mood (Gardner 1985) on the basis of emotion's relatively greater psychological urgency, motivational potency, and situational specificity (page 85).

Holbrook specified consumption-based affect as a major component in the tripartite model of consumption experiences: cognition, affect and behavior (Holbrook 1986; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). Havlena and Holbrook (1986) examined the affective component of consumption and noted that, although some products are more associated with positive or negative emotions than others, "...emotional aspects of consumption experiences occur to a greater or lesser degree in almost all consuming situations" (page 395). Several studies have found significant relationships between consumption-based affect and postpurchase attitudes and behavior (see Westbrook 1987; Allen, Machleit and Kleine 1992; Westbrook and Oliver 1991; Dube-Rioux 1989).

Consumption-based affect has emerged as a major component in consumption experiences that often reduces to a two-dimensional framework, positive and negative affect. The Differential Emotions Scale (DES) has been shown to be a valid measure of consumption-based affect. Further, consumption-based affect has been shown to predict significant and unique variance in postpurchase processes including consumer satisfaction, consumer complaint behavior, and consumer word-of-mouth behaviors.

Consumer Complaint Behavior. Consumer complaint behaviors are conceptualized as "a set of multiple (behavioral and nonverbal) responses, some or all of which are triggered by perceived dissatisfaction with a purchase episode" (Singh 1988). Singh (1988, 1990) has reviewed the literature on consumer complaint behavior and its relationship to consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction thoroughly. Westbrook (1987) found that consumption-based affect predicted consumer complaint behavior (directed at the seller) and word-of-mouth behaviors.

Negative Word-of-Mouth. Word-of-mouth behaviors have been shown to strongly influence purchase behavior (Swan and Oliver 1989; Price and Feick 1984; Arndt 1967). Previous studies have linked consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction to word-of-mouth behavior (Richins 1983; Swan and Oliver 1989). Richins specifically linked dissatisfaction with negative word-of-mouth (1983). Hence, negative word-of-mouth is a second influential overt behavioral outcome of consumer dissatisfaction.



The Model

Personality has been shown to predict affective experiences and those affective experiences have been linked with specific behaviors. In particular, neuroticism has emerged as a fundamentally affective disposition, linked to a host of affective experiences and outcomes. This research is based on the proposition that neuroticism may predict the experience of negative consumption-based affect, an important mediating system explaining consumer satisfaction, consumer complaint behavior and negative word-of-mouth. The first hypothesis to be tested in this research is that neuroticism will predict negative consumption-based affect. Next, we test whether negative consumption-based affect will predict consumer satisfaction with that consumption object beyond that explained by confirmation/disconfirmation of expectations. The third hypothesis is that consumer satisfaction with the product will predict complaint behavior and negative word-of-mouth. Together, these postulates lead to the hypothesized model shown in Figure 1. Note that this model links personality traits, which have only been 'equivocally' related to consumer outcomes in previous research, to overt and observable consumer behaviors via the mediating mechanism of consumption-based affect.


Subjects in our study were undergraduate students enrolled in upper level marketing classes at an Eastern university. Data was collected in two administrations, the first during class time, the second as a take-home survey. Of 70 students in the initial pool, 40 returned usable, complete questionnaires for both parts of the data collection. The product category selected for this research was cars, a product that may be expected to invoke meaningful affective experiences and variance across subjects on the postpurchase processes of interest (Westbrook 1987). An in-class poll indicated that a large majority of the students owned their own automobiles.

Neuroticism was measured early in the Fall, 1992 semester using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ; Eysenck and Eysenck 1975). This measure has been widely used and validated in the personality literature, and more specifically has been employed in several studies exploring the neuroticism-negative affect relationship (e.g., Larsen and Ketelaar 1991). Following Westbrook (1987), consumption-based affect was measured using the six DES subscales relevant to postpurchase processes: anger, disgust, contempt, interest, joy and surprise. The DES-III version of the scale, which presents each item in the form of a phrase, was employed (Allen, Machleit and Marine 1988; Allen, Machleit and Kleine 1992). Consumer satisfaction was measured using the 'delighted-terrible' (D-T) and the circles items (Andrews and Withey 1976; Westbrook 1987). Disconfirmation of expectations were measured regarding benefits, problems and overall performance using items from Westbrook (1987; see Oliver 1980). Negative word-of-mouth was measured using three self-report frequency items addressing conversations which involved: "something you do not like about your car," "a problem you had with your car," and "a problem you had with your car dealership." Complaint behavior was measured using Richins' (1982) Guttman-type scale (as adapted by Bearden and Teel 1983; cf. Singh 1988, 1990). The coefficient of reproducibility was 0.965. Cronbach's a for the DES-III subscales were all over .80 with the exception of CONTEMPT (.69); alphas for the 7-item disconfirmation scale, the 2-item satisfaction measure and the three item negative word-of-mouth measure were .90, .89 and .60, respectively. These latter measures (consumption-based affect, disconfirmation, satisfaction, complaint behavior and negative word-of-mouth) were included in a single questionnaire which was distributed during and returned to class late in the same semester, approximately three months after the initial (EPQ) data collection.


We attempted to replicate Westbrook's confirmatory factor analysis using the six DES-III scales attributing causal agency to the stimulus (i.e., ANGER, DISGUST, CONTEMPT, SURPRISE, INTEREST, and JOY). Due in part to the small sample employed, measures of sampling adequacy for JOY and INTEREST (.33 and .36, respectively) were too low to justify confirmatory factor analysis (Kim and Mueller 1983). The three measures that clearly relate to negative activityCANGER, DISGUST and CONTEMPTCloaded .83, .80, .51, respectively, on a single principal component accounting for 53 percent of the variance in these measures. The regression score for this component is used as a measure of negative affectivity in the analyses that follow.

The model depicted in Figure 1 was tested with a series of nested, stepwise regression equations. Variables with hypothesized direct effects were entered in step 1; variables thought to impact each dependent variable only indirectly through mediating constructs were then entered in blocks to test for unexpected direct effects. Inter-item correlations and stepwise regression results are presented in the Table below, with order of entry in the regressions reading from left to right. The enduring trait neuroticism (NEUROT) is a significant predictor of negative affective experiences (N.AFFECT). That is, there is a fundamental and enduring characteristic of the subjects which predicts the degree of negative emotions they will or will not experience with the product during consumption experiences. Further, our results support the negative impact of disconfirmation (DISCON) on satisfaction. [Note that disconfirmation and negative affect are corerelated. It is likely that disconfirmation contributes to negative affect.] Importantly, negative affect explains unique variance in satisfaction not accounted for by these cognitive processes (semipartial correlation significant at p < .01). NEUROT did not predict significant variance in satisfaction after entering DISCON and N.AFFECT, suggesting that the effect of neuroticism on postpurchase processes is mediated by the intervening affective system.



Finally, satisfaction is a significant explanator of two overt behavioral responses: negative word-of-mouth (N.WOM) and complaint behaviors (COMPLAIN). No causally antecedent measures contributed significant unique variance beyond their impact through the mediating effect of satisfaction.


Contribution. This paper has reviewed important advances in the study of personality and has found support for a model linking neuroticism, affect, and consumer behaviors. It contributes some specific understanding of consumers and their relationships with products, and more generally, an approach to studying such relationships. We not only show that the neuroticism trait predicts how consumers will interact with products, we also demonstrate the value of examining cognition and affect as mediators of personality-consumer behavior relationships. At the most basic level, this research offers a theoretically-based model of personality-consumer behavior association which is not equivocal, but in fact explains important differences in how consumers respond to products.

The link between personality, specific affective responses, satisfaction, and behavior (particularly in the form of complaining and negative word-of-mouth) is important for managers to understand. Meeting or exceeding "normal" product or service quality standards may not be sufficient to satisfy all consumers. Marketers who hope to avoid consumer dissatisfaction and its negative outcomes need to understand why dissatisfaction occurs: is it the product/service, or is it the customer?

Larsen and Ketelaar (1991) suggest that neurotic consumers will be more likely to focus on negative, punishment signals, while extraverts tend to focus on reward signals. If so, then efforts to provide positive signals (e.g., special sales or attractive displays) will not compensate for unintended negative signals (such as product defects, slipshod service or frequent out-of-stocks) because different personality types attend to each. Savvy marketers may wish to pay particular attention to minimizing potential punishment signals because neurotic consumers may be a disproportionately important source of negative word-of-mouth that "infects" other customers.

Future Research. Future research should examine whether our findings generalize to larger and more diverse populations. The model should also be extended to incorporate relationships between extraversion and positive affect, which have also been linked in prior research (e.g., Larsen and Ketelaar 1991). Although we measured extraversion and positive affect, the observed relationships were insignificant (albeit in the predicted direction). A larger, consumer sample may well produce significant results.

Future research should also relate personality traits and affective experiences to other behavioral outcomes of interest to marketers. For example, Larsen and Ketelaar found support for a temperamental view of the relationship between personality and affect. Previous research (e.g., Edell and Burke 1987) has linked emotional responses to advertising effects. It may be profitable to examine the effects of neuroticism (and extraversion) on feeling responses to advertising.


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