Anticipations and Consumer Decision Making

Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University
[ to cite ]:
Michel Tuan Pham (1995) ,"Anticipations and Consumer Decision Making", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 275-276.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 275-276


Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University


Consumer decision making is often characterized as stimulusBbased or memoryBbased (e.g., Lynch and Srull 1982), reflecting the field's emphasis on decisions based on information either present in the consumers' environment or previously memorized (e.g., Bettman, Johnson, and Payne 1991). For certain decisions, however, such information may be insufficient; and the consumer may attempt to anticipate what will (or may) happen. For instance, a consumer trying to make a decision about buying a dress may try to foresee the outcome of wearing it (e.g., receiving flattering comments, feeling proud). Similarly, decisions about magazine subscriptions would be facilitated if we could anticipate our future enjoyment of the magazine after several months of receiving it. Therefore, it is important that we better understand how and when consumers rely on such anticipations in making decisions.

This special session explored three sets of issues about anticipations and decision making: (1) What kinds of mental representations do consumers access or construct in their anticipations of future outcomes?; (2) How do consumers anticipate their future liking or hedonic responses?; and (3) How do they incorporate these considerations into their present decisions? These issues were examined from three theoretical perspectivesCbehavioral decision theory (Snell and Gibbs, this volume), affect and information processing (Pham 1994), and self concept (Phillips, Olson, and Baumgartner, this volume), with considerably different methodologies (scenarioBbased judgments, experiments; and depth interviews). The three papers and Andrew Mitchell's discussant comments are summarized below.


Jackie Snell and Brian Gibbs (see paper in this volume) address the following issue. Many products are either consumed over time (e.g., a magazine subscription) or purchased at one time and consumed at another (e.g., a vacation package). Decisions about such products therefore require expectations not only about future product performance, but also about one's future hedonic response to a delayed consumption of the product. The authors use a behavioral decision theory framework to discuss consumers' ability to predict their future hedonic responses to consumption.

They review evidence questioning the common assumption that people are able to predict how much they will enjoy an experience or a product when they make a choice. For instance, Kahneman and Snell (1992) asked subjects to predict their liking over time for various products (e.g., ice creams, yogurts, musical pieces) that they committed to consume every day. There was no correlation between predicted and actual changes in liking. This result suggests that it is important to study how consumers may predict changes in their hedonic responses over time.

They introduce the notion of intuitive hedonics, which they define as consumers' "common sense psychology regarding the dynamics of pleasure" (Snell and Gibbs, this volume). In a series of studies, they examine whether consumers' predictions about the hedonic outcome of various scenarios match predictions made by several psychological theories: classical conditioning, Weber's law, adaptation theory, opponent process theory, the mere exposure effect, and cognitive dissonance theory. While respondents' predictions were generally consistent with those of classical conditioning, Weber's law, and adaptation, they did not match predictions made by opponent process theory, mere exposure, and cognitive dissonance.

Adopting an information processing perspective, Michel Pham (1994) examines how consumers make decisions about future consumption episodes (e.g., going to a movie, having dinner at an exclusive restaurant). He argues that traditional consumer decision making models (e.g., expectancyBvalue) do not fully represent the processes underlying such decisions. Building on the postulate that affect is information (e.g., Schwartz 1990), he introduces the affect recruitment heuristic, which he suggests is a pervasive process through which consumers make decisions. This heuristic involves three steps: (1) a concrete mental representation of the consumption episode is accessed (e.g., the consumer "pictures" himself/herself at a movie); (2) an anticipatory affective response is instantiated through this representation (e.g., he/she experiences pleasant feelings in response to this "picture"); and (3) the anticipatory affective response is used as an informational input to the decision (e.g., he/she decides to go because it "feels good").

Pham (1994) further proposes that the use of these anticipatory affective responses obey accessibility and diagnosticity principles (e.g., Feldman and Lynch 1988). For example, anticipatory affective responses should be more accessible BB and affect recruitment more influential BB among consumers with high imagery abilities than among those with low imagery abilities. Also, anticipatory affective responses should be perceived as more diagnostic when consumption episodes are assessed for consummatory (or congenial) reasons than when they are assessed for instrumental reasons.

These propositions were tested in a series of five experiments, two of which were presented at the session. These two experiments relied on contextual mood as a means of manipulating anticipatory affective responses to an episode without altering its evaluative content. The first experiment suggests that consumers may regard feelings experienced during the decision process as having unique information value, and therefore incorporate these feelings into their decisions. The second experiment, which included process baseline conditions, suggests that the affect recruitment heuristic offers a plausible paramorphic description of how consumers with consummatory motives rely on their feelings to make decisions about consumption episodes. An expectancyBvalue model did not describe this process equally well.

Drawing on concepts from the self literature, Diane Phillips, Jerry Olson and Hans Baumgartner (see paper in this volume) describe a concept, called "Consumption Visions," that is consistent with the idea of affect recruitment. A consumption vision is "a visual image of of certain productBrelated behaviors and their consequences ... (they consist of) concrete and vivid mental images that enable consumers to vicariously experience the selfBrelevant consequences of product use" (Walker and Olson 1994, pp. 27,31). Phillips et al. discuss the concept of consumptions visions by exploring (1) their characteristics, (2) factors that influence them, and (3) their consequences on decision making. They illustrate their discussion with verbatim excerpts from unstructured depth interviews.

They speculate that consumptions visions have the following characteristics: (1) they may contain projections of "possible selves"; (2) they have a narrative form similar to that of miniature movies; (3) they have a visual representational format; (4) they may elicit affective responses; (5) they may provide tangible representations of consumers' goals. The authors further suggest that the likelihood of forming consumption visions depends on: (7) the level of involvement; (8) the consumer's propensity to process information visually; and (8) situational factors such as the presence of imageryBevoking stimuli in the consumer's environment. Finally, Phillips et al. propose that consumption visions may be used not only as inputs to decision making, but also as moodBmanagement devices (e.g., fantasies).


Discussing Snell and Gibbs' paper, Andrew Mitchell suggested that in was not all that surprising that consumers are not very accurate when predicting their future hedonic responses. Rather than focusing on whether consumer consumer can make such predictions, research should assess how and when they do make such predictions. The studies conducted by Snell, Gibb, and Varey (1994) represent an important first step in that direction.

Mitchell then compared Pham's theoretical propositions with those of Phillips et al., noting that there was substantial overlap, although these two programs of research originated from different literatures. He observed that Pham's framework is defined more narrowly than Phillips et al.'s. Pham (1994) regards affect recruitment as a decision heuristic, whose use depends on (i.e. is restricted by) accessibility and diagnosticity principles. For instance, he predicts that affect recruitment would not be used when prior evaluations are highly accessible. Phillips et al. define consumption visions more broadly: the use of these visions is not limited to decision making. For instance, when they suggest that consumption visions may also serve moodBmanagement functions, Phillips et al. implicitly include fantasies in the domain of consumption visions. Mitchell suggested that Phillips et al. be more precise about the boundaries of consumption visions as a theoretical construct. Is any kind of imagery a consumption vision? He also suggested that Pham's distinction between consummatory and instrumental motives be clarified. Finally, he stressed that future research needs to focus on when affect recruitment is likely to be used and consumption visions are likely to be formed.

The discussion was then opened to the audience, who engaged in a lively exchange with the speakers. For instance, the audience and the speakers debated on whether high consumer expertise in a product category would increase or decrease the likelihood of affect recruitment and the use of consumption visions. On the one hand, one could argue that unless a consumer has acquired sufficient experience with a product category, he or she would not be able to generate the concrete representations hypothesized by Pham and by Phillips et al. On the other hand, one could also speculate that those consumers who have extensive expertise already have wellBformed attitudes about the product, hence would not need to engage in anticipation processes such as affect recruitment and consumption visions. This issue (as well as many others) is worthy of empirical examination.


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