Special Session Summary New Directions in Exploring the Interface of Consumer Cognition and Motivation

S. Ratneshwar, University of Florida
[ to cite ]:
S. Ratneshwar (1995) ,"Special Session Summary New Directions in Exploring the Interface of Consumer Cognition and Motivation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 271-272.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 271-272



S. Ratneshwar, University of Florida

For the last two decades information-processing models have dominated the study of consumer decision-making. Correspondingly, interest in motivational factors and theories has tended to wane. Nevertheless, a "cold cognition" approach to consumer decision making has revealed numerous limitations. For example, while it is commonly acknowledged that consumer behavior is goal-directed, we know little about the overall structure of consumer goals and how these structures manifest themselves in day-to-day decision-making. Similarly, a broad class of individual, situational, and cultural factors related to consumer motivations are known to impact on consumer decisions, as proven by their relevance to key concepts such as market segmentation. Yet, we generally don't seem to consider these same factors when we study how consumers make choices. As a result, information-processing research has shed little light on the more molar, persistent, and contextually-grounded aspects of consumer motivation that drive much decision-making. Further, even though cognitive processes are known to be heavily influenced by emotional states as well as by the anticipated emotional consequences to the decision-maker, rarely has consumer research examined these relations.

Contrary to these trends, several investigators are now directing their research efforts at exploring the interface of consumer cognition and motivation. This special session brought together some of these researchers so as to stimulate the exchange of ideas about the potential value in these new research directions. A brief overview is provided below of the three papers presented at the session.

The paper by Sirsi, Reingen, and Ward presented an innovative theoretical and methodological perspective called microcultural analysis. A microculture is a group of people who identify with an overall belief-system or cause and have social contact with one another (e.g., members of a particular church group). The presentation focused on the study of causal reasoning structures: Why do consumers in different microcultures prefer and avoid different products, and how do their cognitive structures connect their beliefs to purchase and consumption behaviors?

In addressing this problem, Sirsi et al. argue that a complex set of individual, cultural, and social variables explain the sharing and variability in consumer belief systems within a microculture. Within the individual, at the micro level, these reasoning structures link individual behavior to broader cultural motives and patterns of reasoning. At the macro level, the distribution of these reasoning structures across the interacting parties in a culture is a crucial aspect of the culture. Thus, their approach is concerned with not only the micro level of analysis, but also how the micro relates to the macroCthe culture itself, its "group mind."

Sirsi et al. use the methods of interpretive ethnography to develop an emic perspective of the microculture. The results are an impressionistic picture of shared beliefs, and a broad understanding of the "pool" of cultural reasoning. Next, they turn to the perspectives and methods of ethnoscience and cognitive psychology to study the diversity of reasoning in the culture and develop more precise estimates of the sharing of specific concepts and paths of reasoning across people and consumption objects. Relying upon the ethnography, they create a pool of concepts relevant to reasoning about why products or services are consumed or avoided. Participants then use this pool to construct maps of the causal reasoning explaining their own behavior toward sets of products or services. Finally, the authors employ social network analysis to understand the pattern of social ties and structures in the microculture.

The paper by Luce, Bettman, and Payne presented a theoretical framework for understanding the motivational consequences of distressing decisions. Consumers are often faced with decisions where either the content of a decision (e.g., necessary attribute tradeoffs) or potential decision outcomes are very threatening. Consequently, consumers may be motivated to cope with or minimize anticipated and experienced negative emotions.

Luce et al. focus on how adaptive decision-making strategies might work to serve coping goals when people are faced with such inherently negative emotion-laden decisions. They propose a conceptual framework that includes: (1) a typology of various causes or types of decision-related emotion, (2) predictions regarding how the drive to cope with content-aroused emotion will influence one's decision strategy, and (3) an examination of how assessments of one's potential for coping with a decision influences emotional reactions to that decision.

Luce et al. consider two broad coping strategies. Problem-focused coping involves alleviating the environmental problem leading to emotion. Emotion-focused coping involves directly acting on emotion. Luce et al.'s conceptual framework develops the implications of consumers' motivations to use these two broad coping strategies. For instance, they reconcile the two strategies' seemingly inconsistent implications for decision-making processes by considering the specific aspects of processing upon which each coping strategy will operate most strongly. Thus, they argue that problem-focused coping motivations lead one towards more extensive processing at the same time that emotion-focused coping motivations lead one to process in a non-compensatory manner, avoiding explicit tradeoffs among attributes. This prediction that decision makers will simultaneously shift towards both more extensive and less compensatory processing is unique to the decision making literature.

Luce et al. suggest that coping is an important construct for understanding the generation of emotion, as well. Emotion generation and coping often operate iteratively; that is, emotional experience is altered by coping potential and efforts. The authors suggest how aspects of decision tasks, such as the presence of an easily justifiable status quo option, may moderate emotional reactions to task content by satisfying coping goals or providing coping mechanisms. Luce et al. also discuss how assessments of one's personal coping prospects or abilities to cope (e.g., assessments of one's decision-related expertise or knowledge) influence emotional reactions.

The paper by Huffman, Ratneshwar, and Mick proposed a hierarchical model for consumer goals. They view the consumer as a "motivated problem-solver" and suggest a conceptual framework wherein the evolution of consumer goals is a dynamic process that is a function of both person and situation. Their approach combines the stress on process issues that is epitomized by traditional consumer decision-making research with the structural, molar emphasis of means-end research. Thus, their research suggests how, in fact, consumer behavior can be purposive.

Drawing on a variety of source literatures, Huffman et al. propose a model with six levels of goal constructs that span the domains of being, doing, and having: (1) Life themes and values, (2) life projects, (3) current concerns, (4) product purposes, (5) benefits sought, and (6) feature preferences.

Further, Huffman et al. examine the linkages between these different levels of goals as well as the dynamic processes involved in goal determination and goal change. They term the two main forces for goal determination as alignment and adaptation. Alignment is the process by which multiple goals are considered together and inconsistencies are reduced or eliminated. It may occur in a top-down as well as bottom-up manner. Incorporation is the process by which higher-level goals constrain, make coherent, and lend meaning to lower-level goals. Abstraction, on the other hand, refers to the manner in which lower-level goals are used for constructing or discovering higher-level goals. The second primary force for goal determination is adaptation, in which goals are shaped or constrained by contextual factors. Huffman et al. investigate these various processes of goal determination and suggest when each is likely to be salient. They also examine the dynamics of goal determination processes in relationship to consumer decision making and consumer learning mechanisms.

In sum, it is worth noting that in the last few years many social psychologists have come around to believe that cognition and motivation cannot be studied independent of each other because of their inherently synergistic relationship (Pervin 1989; Sorrentino and Higgins 1986). In the same vein, it might be speculated that in the future many consumer researchers also may find it fruitful to explore the relations between cognition and motivation. This session provided an opportunity for highlighting some of the important areas of current research and debating the pros and cons of various conceptual approaches.