A Non-Interactive Social Presence in a Retail Setting: an Investigation of Its Impact on Consumers’ Emotions, Cognitive Performance, and Self-Presentation Behaviors

Jennifer J. Argo, University of Alberta
Darren W. Dahl, University of British Columbia
Rajesh V. Manchanda, University of Manitoba
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Social influence can play an important role in the consumption process (e.g., Bearden and Etzel 1982). The majority of research on social influences in consumer behavior has focused on an interactive social influence (e.g., Childers and Rao 1992). Examples of such interactive influences might be being greeted by a salesperson or asking a friend for an opinion in the store. However, consumers often find themselves in the presence of other shoppers who do not interact with them (e.g., other shoppers present in a grocery aisle). This raises the question-does the mere presence of another shopper influence a consumer? To date, little research has studied the impact of a non-interactive social presence (for exceptions see Zhou and Soman 2003). In the present research we study the relevance of a non-interactive social presenceBa social entity that is physically present, but is not involved nor attempts to engage the consumer in any way. In particular, in three field experiments we test whether characteristics of the social presence (i.e., social size (number of people present), proximity, and perceived similarity) influence consumers’ emotions, cognitions, and behaviors shopping when they are shopping for a privately consumed/low risk purchase product in a store aisle.
[ to cite ]:
Jennifer J. Argo, Darren W. Dahl, and Rajesh V. Manchanda (2005) ,"A Non-Interactive Social Presence in a Retail Setting: an Investigation of Its Impact on Consumers’ Emotions, Cognitive Performance, and Self-Presentation Behaviors", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, eds. Geeta Menon and Akshay R. Rao, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 309-310.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, 2005     Pages 309-310

A NON-INTERACTIVE SOCIAL PRESENCE IN A RETAIL SETTING: AN INVESTIGATION OF ITS IMPACT ON CONSUMERS’ EMOTIONS, COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE, AND SELF-PRESENTATION BEHAVIORS

Jennifer J. Argo, University of Alberta

Darren W. Dahl, University of British Columbia

Rajesh V. Manchanda, University of Manitoba

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Social influence can play an important role in the consumption process (e.g., Bearden and Etzel 1982). The majority of research on social influences in consumer behavior has focused on an interactive social influence (e.g., Childers and Rao 1992). Examples of such interactive influences might be being greeted by a salesperson or asking a friend for an opinion in the store. However, consumers often find themselves in the presence of other shoppers who do not interact with them (e.g., other shoppers present in a grocery aisle). This raises the question-does the mere presence of another shopper influence a consumer? To date, little research has studied the impact of a non-interactive social presence (for exceptions see Zhou and Soman 2003). In the present research we study the relevance of a non-interactive social presenceBa social entity that is physically present, but is not involved nor attempts to engage the consumer in any way. In particular, in three field experiments we test whether characteristics of the social presence (i.e., social size (number of people present), proximity, and perceived similarity) influence consumers’ emotions, cognitions, and behaviors shopping when they are shopping for a privately consumed/low risk purchase product in a store aisle.

To understand how a social presence might influence a consumer and to formulate hypotheses, this research uses Social Impact Theory (SIT; Latane 1981) as a theoretical framework. The theory proposes that an individual’s motives and emotions, cognitions and beliefs, and/or values and behavior are impacted by the real, implied, or imagined presence or action of a social presence (i.e., another person or group of people). The impact of this social presence results from "social forces" including the number (i.e., how many people are present), immediacy (i.e., the distance), and social source strength (i.e., the importance of the sourceBwe operationalize this as perceived similarity), that operate within a "social force field" (Latane 1981, pg. 343). SIT relates a series of principles, two of which are discussed in the present research, that define the theory’s functionality and predict inter-relationships between the three forces. First, the impact a target experiences from an increase in any of the social forces occurs as a power function where the greatest influence arises when there are more people present (vs. less), they are in close proximity (vs. further away) or they are high in strength (vs. low). Second, a social presence’s influence is a multiplicative function of the forces with the greatest impact occurring when there are several people, in close proximity, and high in source strength. Results from the three studies lend only partial support to SIT’s principles.

Study One results show that when the size of a non-interactive social presence increases, two distinct patterns arise. While cognition and behaviors follow SIT’s power function prediction, emotions did not; negative emotions decreased (and positive emotions increased) between the no one and the one person conditions, and then inverted (increased) between the one person and three people conditions. However, consistent with SIT’s first principle, when social size increased beyond one person, the consumer experienced more negative (less positive) emotions.

The results of Study Two demonstrate that the proximity of a non-interactive social presence moderates the impact of social size on feelings, thoughts, and behaviors as predicted in SIT’s second principle. This study also established the robustness of the unexpected results for emotions in Study One by producing a similar pattern. Thus, in contrast to SIT, in conditions where there is no one else present or there is a large social presence, consumers experience more negative (less positive) emotions as compared to when there is a small social presence. This study also found that crowding mediated emotions while distraction mediated cognitive performance.

Finally, Study Three’s results indicate that the proximity of a non-interactive social presence moderates the impact of its perceived similarity on consumers’ emotions, cognitive performance, and behaviors. As predicted and consistent with SIT, consumers experienced the least negative (most positive) emotions when a close non-interactive social presence was similar versus dissimilar; however, when the social presence was further away, perceived similarity did not influence the emotions that were experienced. Mediation analysis indicated that one theoretical driver of the impact of social presence characteristics on emotions is attraction. The patterns of results for cognitive performance and self-presentation behaviors were counter to SIT’s predictions. First, consistent with the distraction literature (e.g., Schlinger and Plummer 1972), a close dissimilar social presence (i.e., low strength) had the most negative impact on consumers’ recall. Mediation analysis indicated this was because participants were distracted. Second, consumers selected the most expensive/highest quality brand when a close social presence was dissimilar versus similar.

This research proposes to make a number of contributions to both the marketing and psychology literatures. First, the findings of the research demonstrate that in a consumption context the mere presence of another person has a significant influence on consumers. It is demonstrated that a non-interactive social presence influences consumers’ emotions, cognitive performance, and behaviors even during the acquisition of a privately consumed/low risk purchase product. Second, this research identifies and explores theoretical drivers that explain the effects of SIT’s social forces by drawing from research in crowding, distraction, and attraction. Third, the findings redefine SIT by highlighting situations in which the theory’s predictions do not hold. In particular, results indicate that the impact of social size on emotions and the impact of social source strength on both cognitive performance and behaviors, do not comply with the theory’s predictions. In these instances, the theory is qualified and other areas of research are integrated to support the identified pattern of effects.

REFERENCES

Bearden, William O. and Michael J. Etzel (1982), "Reference Group Influence on Product and Brand Purchase Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 183-194.

Childers, Terry L. and Akshay R. Rao (1992), "The Influence of Familial and Peer-based Reference Groups on Consumer Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (September), 198-211.

Latane, Bibb (1981), "The Psychology of Social Impact," American Psychologist, 36 (4), 343-356.

Schlinger, Mary Jane and Joseph T. Plummer (1972), "Advertising in Black and White," Journal of Marketing Research, 9 (2), 149-153.

Zhou, Rongrong and Dilip Soman (2003), "Looking Back: Exploring the Psychology of Queuing and the Effect of the Number of People Behind," Journal of Consumer Research, 29 (4), 517-530.

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