Special Session Summary Getting to the Heart of the Consumer: the Role of Affect and Cognitive Strategies in Consumer Decision Making

Baba Shiv, University of Iowa
[ to cite ]:
Baba Shiv (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Getting to the Heart of the Consumer: the Role of Affect and Cognitive Strategies in Consumer Decision Making", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 236-237.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 236-237



Baba Shiv, University of Iowa

Much research on consumer information processing and decision making has regarded consumers as dispassionate, logical thinkers, adopting a rational orientation to the various tasks they engage in. Not much attention has been paid to the role of the "heart," i.e., feelings and emotions, an aspect of consumer research that has been widely criticized by eminent researchers such as Bettman (1993), Hoch and Loewenstein (1991), and Holbrook and Hirschman (1982). Fortunately, serious efforts have been made by consumer researchers in recent years to redress this imbalance (see, e.g., Hoch and Loewenstein 1991; Kahn and Isen 1993; Garbarino and Edell 1997; Luce, Bettman, and Payne 1997; Mellers et al. 1997). The broad purpose of this session was to present work that adds to this growing body of research. A more specific objective was to offer fresh insights into the role of different types of affect (ambient versus task-related; evoked by automatic versus controlled processes) and different types of processing strategies in consumer information processing and decision making. To meet this objective, three papers were included in this session.

The first paper by Herbert Bless and Norbert Schwarz called to question the validity of dual process models that have traditionally been used to explain the role of recipients’ mood in persuasion processes (e.g., Chaiken, 1987; Petty and Cacioppo, 1986). In this research, it has consistently been found that attitude judgments of happy individuals are more likely to reflect the use of heuristics wile attitude judgments of individuals in sad, or neutral moods are more likely to reflect the quality of the presented arguments. Based on the underlying dual processing paradigms it has been concluded that the differential impact of strong versus weak arguments is the result of different processing motivation and/or processing capacity. As an alternative to this traditional view, Herbert Bless provided extensive empirical evidence that suggests that affective influences on the use of heuristic strategies may be independent of processing motivation or capacity. More specifically, Herbert Bless provided evidence that the differential effects of mood on information processing arises from the adoption of different processing stylesBpositive mood results in top-down processing, with greater reliance on existing general knowledge structures; negative mood results in bottom-up processing with greater reliance on external information than on general knowledge structures. Herbert Bless finally addressed some general theoretical and methodological implications of the presented findings for dual process models.

Mary Frances Luce then presented her work with Jim Bettman and John Payne that focuses on attribute-induced affectBhow negative emotions arising from making difficult tradeoffs among attributes affect consumers’ processing resources and their choices. Her previous work, which focuses on the causes of tradeoff difficulty, demonstrates that individuals shift towards increasingly tradeoff-avoidant decision processing patterns when faced with more difficult-to-trade-off attributes Luce, Bettman & Payne (1997). Further, Luce (1998) demonstrates that options allowing for decision resolution without consideration of specific attribute values and trade-offs (denoted "avoidant options") gain choice share under tradeoff difficulty. Focusing on the antecedents rather than the causes of tradeoff difficulty, Mary Frances Luce presented findings from recent work, which suggest that attribute-level loss aversion is a viable proxy for tradeoff difficulty. The results also indicate that attribute characteristics that predict tradeoff difficulty include a #moral / ethical’ component with implications for others in society and a #selfish’ component with implications for the consumer’s goals that have a higher position in his/her hierarchy. Mary Frances Luce finally drew the implications for particular processing outcomes (i.e., avoiding specific tradeoffs, scanning on specific attributes) from an understanding of these components of tradeoff difficulty.

Finally, Baba Shiv presented his work with Alexander Fedorikhin that focuses on positive affective reactions that are elicited in an automatic fashion by alternatives in a choice task. Consistent with recent evidence obtained from brain-scan and chemical tracing techniques (LeDoux 1987, 1995, 1996), Baba Shiv presented the results of two studies which suggest that when processing resources are constrained, consumers are more likely to make their choices based on their affective reactions to the alternatives being considered; when processing resources are not constrained, consumers are more likely to choose on a rational basis using cognitions rather than affective reactions in choosing between options. Further, he also presented evidence that the effects of "mindless" versus "mindful" processing strategies on choice are more pronounced when physical proximity to the alternatives is high rather than low, and for consumers low rather than high in inhibitory control.


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Garbarino, Ellen C. and Julie A. Edell (1997), "Cognitive Effort, Affect, and Choice," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 24 (September), 147-58.

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Mellers, Barbara A., Alan Schwartz, Katty Ho, and Llana Ritov (1997), "Decision Affect Theory: Emotional Reactions to Outcomes of Risky Options," Psychological Science, Vol. 8 (November), 423-29.

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