Sad, Glad, and Mad: the Revealing Role of Emotions in Consumer Rituals

Julie A. Ruth, University of Washington
[ to cite ]:
Julie A. Ruth (1995) ,"Sad, Glad, and Mad: the Revealing Role of Emotions in Consumer Rituals", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 692.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Page 692

SAD, GLAD, AND MAD: THE REVEALING ROLE OF EMOTIONS IN CONSUMER RITUALS

Julie A. Ruth, University of Washington

People regularly participate in ritualized activities (e.g., grooming) and ritual events (e.g., rites of passage such as weddings and funerals) that mark important and meaningful life experiences. While recent research has begun to investigate these activities and events, the experience of emotions concurrent with participation in rituals has received relatively little research attention. Because many rituals tend to accompany significant events in one's life (e.g., weddings, funerals, religious holidays), the concurrent emotional experiences also tend to be dramatic, intense, and likely to play fundamental roles in the ritual experience. The purpose of this session, then, was to bring together research focused on emotions as experienced, described, and displayed or managed in ritual events.

As part of the session, the three papers explored emotions in conjunction with three ritual contexts: planning and participating in weddings, funerals, and receiving a gift. The first paper, by Tina M. Lowrey (Rider University) and Cele Otnes (University of Illinois), focused on the "mixed emotions" or ambivalence experienced by brides as they plan and participate in weddings. The authors describe three types of ambivalence that emerged in their interviews with brides: psychological, sociological, and cultural ambivalence. These forms of ambivalence emerged as brides selected and shaped artifacts, performance roles, scripts, and audience to be included in their weddings. Psychological ambivalence typically involves inner tension resulting from contradictory and vacillating feelings about a person or object. Sociological ambivalence is characterized, not by internal conflict within an individual, but by the conflicting norms and expectations associated with different social roles including bride-to-be, daughter, and future daughter-in-law. Finally, cultural ambivalence stems from the existence of cultural or subcultural values that are incongruent. As brides proceeded through the complex assortment of tasks required to create their weddings, they experienced all three types of ambivalence.

The second paper, by Larry Compeau (Clarkson University) and Carolyn Nicholson (Clarkson University), addressed the experience of emotions in relation to the experience of death and the funeral ritual. Based on in-depth, long interviews, an existential-phenomenological approach was used to focus on the emotions experienced before, during, and after the funeral ritual. Detailed analysis of the transcripts of these interviews revealed several general themes about the "lived experience" of funerals: (1) detrimentality; (2) ritual as loss of agency; and (3) a distinct social/public funeral experience. The experiences associated with funerals are punishingCphysically, emotionally, and mentally. Furthermore, attendance at funerals is deemed an obligation. Not only one's attendance but one's behavior is prescribed and compulsory. The ritual seems to engender a feeling of hopelessness and of being out of control. The funeral-goer is forced to attend and to go through the motions, which are unpleasant. The social/public aspects of the funeral were considered important by participants: funerals provide an opportunity to give comfort, to visit family and friends, and to reaffirm relationshipsCboth with the deceased and the immediate family.

However, contrary to the "Received View" of funerals as useful mechanisms for expression of grief and commemoration of the life of the deceased person, it was observed that the essential nature of funerals varies depending on the funeral-goer's relationship with the deceased. For close loved ones, funeral-goers tend to be stoic and/or numb during the ritual itself, with periods of active and, importantly, private grief either preceding or following the funeral. In contrast, for those not close to the deceased, the funeral rite served a different role, one where the primary grief was experienced during the funeral itself and was oriented toward the family. Further, the acts and symbols of the ritual are signals for emotion or what is termed ritualized emotions. These ritualized emotions, prescribed as part of the script and performances associated with participation in the funeral experience, are used as communication tools to express feelings for the family left behind.

The third paper, by Julie Ruth (University of Washington), Cele Otnes (University of Illinois), and Frederic Brunel (University of Washington), probed deeply into the negative emotions which may be experienced by gift receivers. The research was based on critical incident reports regarding experiences where a gift was received and, at some point in the process, negative emotions were experienced. An interpretation of the data shows that components of the gift-exchange ritual itself characterize informants' interpretation of the "causes" of negative emotions. Negative emotions were oriented toward violations of expectations and norms associated with: (1) the nature of the gift artifact itself, particularly vis a vis the relationship of the giver and receiver, and (2) other elements of the ritual including presence of audience, anxiety associated with performance roles, and the ritual script. The authors interpreted the themes according to a Gestalt perspective, where the relationship between the gift, giver, and recipient were of foreground importance, and the other elements associated with the ritual provided an important background context to the emotional experience. Further, a theme that emerged with respect to performance roles was the recipients' ability to control their display of emotions. Respondents clearly recognized the importance of emotions as a form of communication with the giver and a critically important component of their performance as "gift recipient."

The session discussant, T. J. Olney (Western Washington University), highlighted the commonalities in the three papers and provided insightful comments with respect to each paper. Questions from the audience addressed the extent to which negative emotions, as a message from giver to recipient, were observed. Audience comments also addressed emotions and participation in funerals, both for close loved ones and those more distant to the deceased. Finally, the discussion acknowledged areas of opportunity for business in reducing or minimizing the ambivalence experienced by brides and others associated with the wedding planning process.

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