Special Session Summary Here’S the Beef: Cognitive Evidence For Literary Theory

George S. Babbes, University of California, Berkeley
Nicholas H. Lurie, University of California, Berkeley
[ to cite ]:
George S. Babbes and Nicholas H. Lurie (1997) ,"Special Session Summary Here’S the Beef: Cognitive Evidence For Literary Theory", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 218-219.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 218-219



George S. Babbes, University of California, Berkeley

Nicholas H. Lurie, University of California, Berkeley


The objective of this session was to bring conceptual and empirical rigor to the study of how language (e.g. rhetoric, narrative) influences human thought. Researchers have long speculated that language affects consumer behavior. However, to date, little effort has been made to discuss the underlying cognitive mechanisms and provide evidence for these claims. The session combined work in literary analysis, conceptual metaphor and narrative theoryCall of which share a common interest in how cognitive frames are evoked, processed and usedCto examine the language of print advertising and service encounters.




Edward F. McQuarrie, Santa Clara University

David Glen Mick, University of Wisconsin, Madison

McQuarrie and Mick presented a theoretical taxonomy that provides a systematic account of how rhetorical figures function in ad contexts. Rhetorical statements, which may be thought of as artful deviations from expectations, capture consumer attention by requiring greater processing than literal ones. For example, the incongruiy that defines a complex trope leads to arousal which in turn affects attitude towards the ad.

Rhetorical figures differ in both type and complexity. The degree of deviation varies systematically with the type of figure. Tropes, which use irregular or disordered language, demand more elaboration than schemes, which are characterized by excessive regularity or order. Because tropes require greater depth of processing, they have more attention-getting and pleasure-creating power. These systematic differences between figure types allow the authors to predict differences in consumer response to advertising. In addition to presenting preliminary research that supports the taxonomy, the authors suggested several areas for future research. These include moderating effects of the opportunity to process an ad, individual difference effects, as well as cultural approaches to how figures function in ad texts.



George S. Babbes, University of California, Berkeley

Nicholas H. Lurie, University of California, Berkeley

Joydeep Srivastava, University of California, Berkeley

Most marketing research on advertising language has adopted an Aristotelian view towards metaphor. In this view, metaphor effects are seen as primarily emotive; there is no underlying cognitive mechanism. The contemporary theory of metaphor suggests that metaphors create representation through cross-domain mapping. "Metaphors" may be defined as drawing from a source domain to describe a target domain, while "literals" draw only from the target domain. The contemporary theory also suggests that most metaphors are "embodied" and draw their source domains from the world of physical experience. This has implications for consumer choice processes and outcomes.

Babbes, Lurie and Srivastava presented the results of two experiments. The first compared the effects of metaphorical to literal advertising on choice outcomes for more concrete (e.g. motor oil) versus abstract (e.g. financial service) products. Experimental results suggest that metaphorical ads are chosen more often and that this effect is significantly stronger for abstract products. The second experiment examined metaphor effects on choice processes. The authors compared concept maps for metaphorical versus literal ads and found no difference in number of nodes, but did find significant differences in numbers of source domain nodes. This effect is much greater for the abstract products. This suggests that the metaphor effect is one of cross-domain mapping, not elaboration. The results from the concept mapping experiment, and the differences between metaphor effects for concrete and abstract products for both experiments, lead the authors to conclude that for consumers, metaphorical ads are more than "artful deviation"Cthey affect cognitive representation.



Daniel Padgett, University of New Orleans

Jerry C. Olson, Pennsylvania State University

How do consumers understand their consumption experiences? Much of consumer knowledge may be organized in narrative or story form. A narrative representation of a consumption experience has one or more characters, a setting, a plot, and an overall theme. Stories, therefore, are a convenient and efficient form for understanding (and representing) the meanings of a personal experience. Consumers employ interpretive or narrative frames (perspectives or frames of reference) to guide their narrative understanding of consumption experiences. Narrative frames focus consumers attention on certain elements of experience and guide the sense people make of the places, objects, and events in their experiences. Consumers may use multiple frames to create a narrative interpretation (a story) of a consumption experience.

To capture consumers narrative frames, Padgett and Olson adapted Gamson’s (1983, 1989) framework for analyzing political discourse. They collected stories from consumers about their experiences with several ordinary consumer services, and systematically coded the metaphors, exemplars, depictions, justifications, and themes found in these stories. By comparing these elements of meaning (especially themes) across stories and services, Padgett and Olson identified the frames consumers use to interpret and structure their service experiences. They demonstrated this analytical method by showing narrative frames for consumers’ health care experiences. In addition, Padgett and Olson suggested several areas for future research. These include developing other coding approaches for identifying narrative frames and determining the stability of frames across situations and time. Other work could look at testing the relationship between personal characteristics and type of narrative frame, identifying the origins of particular frames, and establishing the generality of narrative frames.



John Deighton, Harvard University

To start the discussion, Deighton quoted a reviewer of the special session who responded to the call for cognitive evidence for literary theory with, "Literary theory doesn’t need any validation. Thank you very much." On the contrary, argued Deighton, theory is never excused the obligation to justify its utility. Since literary theory deals in attributes of the text rather than the psychology of readers, and advertising research tends to do the opposite, this session achieved a long-overdue marriage. Metaphor was an appropriate place to start, being arguably both a feature of text and a method of sense-making. Some of the issues raised in the discussion include: Should sociological and cultural, as well psychological, aspects of language be considered? Are there figures that can be both tropes and schemes? Is there really such a thing as a "literal"? If frames are based in semantic memory and narratives in episodic memory, what is the psychological reality for frames? Are abstractness, knowledge and experience different constructs? These questions demonstrate that there is both substantial interest in, and need for future research on, the relationship between language and cognition.


Gamson, William A. and Kathryn E. Lasch (1983), "The Political Culture of Social Welfare Policy," in Evaluating the Welfare State: Social and Political Perspectives, ed. Shimon E. Spiro and Ephraim Yuchtman-Yaar, New York: Academic Press, 397-415.

Gamson, William A. and Andre Modigliani (1989), "Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach," American Journal of Sociology, 95 (July), 1-37.