Special Session Summary Interactions Between Positive and Negative Affect in Consumer Behavior: How Consumers Respond to Mixed Emotional Experiences

Patti Williams, Wharton
Loraine Lau, UCLA
[ to cite ]:
Patti Williams and Loraine Lau (2001) ,"Special Session Summary Interactions Between Positive and Negative Affect in Consumer Behavior: How Consumers Respond to Mixed Emotional Experiences", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 387.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Page 387



Patti Williams, Wharton

Loraine Lau, UCLA

Individuals are often faced with multiple and conflicting emotions that arise during their consumer-related experiences. However, existing consumer and psychological research has focused mostly on single discrete emotions or single valenced experiences, and more specifically, how they impact consumer satisfaction (e.g., Westbrook and Oliver 1991), advertising response (e.g., Batra and Ray 1987; Edell and Burke 1987, 1989; Stuart, Shimp and Engel 1987), attitude formation and change (e.g., Cacciopo and Petty 1989), memory (e.g., Bower 1981; Isen 1987), decision making and other behaviors such as compulsion, impulsive, complaining, risk-seeking, and variety-seeking (e.g., Luce 1998; Rook 1987; Nyer 1996; Raj and Pham 1999; Kahn and Isen 1993). Surprisingly little theoretical work has been done to advance our knowledge about the practical complexity of most emotional experiences and the effects this complexity has on consumer behavior. Indeed there is a need for theoretical models that outline how consumers process, maintain, and integrate competing emotional experiences, and this session aimed to shed some initial light onto this important yet largely neglected area of research. While the three papers presented in this session were all concerned with understanding consumer responses to their conflicted experiences, each paper explored not only a unique set of questions but also different kinds of mixed emotional experiences.

Lau examined consumers’ overall retrospective evaluations of four unique sequences or patterns of mixed emotional experiences, all of which contained positive, negative and neutral affective outcomes. Results from three experiments suggest that when consumers view the sources of these affect outcomes as similar, overall retrospective evaluations should be influenced by the pattern characteristics, Final Trend, which reflects either improvement or decline, and End, which reflects the magnitude of the affective outcome occurring last. In contrast, when the sources of affect outcomes are viewed as dissimilar, then overall retrospective evaluations are influenced by how close in proximity the positive and negative affective outcomes arise. Specifically, when experiential patterns reflect positive and negative outcomes arise closely together, favorable overall retrospective evaluations tend to result. Research in hedonic psychology and that in renewable resources were used as bases to support these two sets of findings. Finally, thought protocols suggest that overall retrospective evaluations may be driven by the degree to which individuals elaborate on the positive versus negative aspects of the mixed affective experience.

In contrast to Lau’s focus on sequential mixed motional experiences, Williams’ emphasis was on simultaneous mixed emotions. Specifically, she examined differences in the propensity to experience mixed emotions and evaluations of mixed emotional stimuli, based upon individual differences in tolerance for duality. The results of four experiments show that individuals with a low propensity to accept duality (e.g., Anglo-American individuals, younger individuals) have less favorable attitudes toward mixed emotional appeals relative to those with a higher propensity to accept duality (e.g., Asian-American individuals, older individuals). Across all experiments, the relationship between the stimuli and the attitude is mediated by heightened feelings of discomfort. The process that underlies these persuasion effects was discussed, and limiting conditions of the basic finding were identified.

Finally, a surprise to us all (J), Ariely presented his work with Wertenboch on procrastination. A set of studies investigated how sophisticated people are in dealing with their own procrastination behavior in effortful tasks in which the cost of procrastination is performance deterioration. Findings indicate that people are willing to self-impose meaningful (i.e., costly) deadlines to overcome procrastination, these self-imposed deadlines work as an effective mechanism in improving task performance, and finally, self-imposed deadlines are not as effective as some externally imposed deadlines in improving task performance. That is, people are sophisticated enough to recognize their own tendencies to procrastinate, but if left to their own devices they solve this self-control problem only partially.

Aimee Drolet provided a synthesis of the three papers and highlighted their distinct contributions, as well as the contribution of the session as a whole, in the light of additional work in psychology and consumer behavior that focuses on mixed emotional experiences. Specifically, the work presented focuses on the complex nature of consumer’s emotional experiences and suggests that individuals frequently try to cope with and balance such duality of emotional experience, though they are not always successful in doing so. In addition, the research presented suggests that consumers can adopt more cognitive, rational methods for dealing with emotional conflict (Lau, Ariely) as well as more emotional ones (Williams).