The Impact of Explanatory Style on Event-Induced Stress and Buying-Related Manifestations of Coping Behavior

Julie Z. Sneath, LaGrange College
Pamela A. Kennett, University of New Orleans
ABSTRACT - The impact of event-induced stress on coping outcomes is well documented in the social sciences. Research in the social sciences suggests that when confronted with an event, individuals make inferences about its causes and meanings based on past experiences with similar events and information obtained from the environment. When an event occurs, the individual determines whether or not the situation is controllable then, based on his or her belief of contingency or noncontingency between alternative responses and outcomes, makes inferences that influence emotional and behavioral outcomes. Within a consumer behavior context, these findings are important since it appears that consumer decision-making and buying behavior may be influenced by the stress associated with events that occur in peoples’ lives. However, few studies have explored the relationship between events, stress and impulsive and compulsive buying, and virtually none have examined how an individual’s style of explaining events might impact emotional states and subsequent purchasing behavior.
[ to cite ]:
Julie Z. Sneath and Pamela A. Kennett (2002) ,"The Impact of Explanatory Style on Event-Induced Stress and Buying-Related Manifestations of Coping Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 251-253.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 251-253

THE IMPACT OF EXPLANATORY STYLE ON EVENT-INDUCED STRESS AND BUYING-RELATED MANIFESTATIONS OF COPING BEHAVIOR

Julie Z. Sneath, LaGrange College

Pamela A. Kennett, University of New Orleans

ABSTRACT -

The impact of event-induced stress on coping outcomes is well documented in the social sciences. Research in the social sciences suggests that when confronted with an event, individuals make inferences about its causes and meanings based on past experiences with similar events and information obtained from the environment. When an event occurs, the individual determines whether or not the situation is controllable then, based on his or her belief of contingency or noncontingency between alternative responses and outcomes, makes inferences that influence emotional and behavioral outcomes. Within a consumer behavior context, these findings are important since it appears that consumer decision-making and buying behavior may be influenced by the stress associated with events that occur in peoples’ lives. However, few studies have explored the relationship between events, stress and impulsive and compulsive buying, and virtually none have examined how an individual’s style of explaining events might impact emotional states and subsequent purchasing behavior.

According to the model of inferential reasoning (Maier & Seligman 1976; Abramson et al. 1978; Aneshensel 1987; Oatley & Jenkins 1992), individuals have a certain inferential (i.e., explanatory) style that they regularly use to explain events. The model suggests that when an incident occurs, individuals are likely to explain its causes or meanings using either an 'optimistic’ or 'pessimistic’ style. Individuals with an optimistic explanatory style have a tendency to make inferences about events that are external, unstable, and situation-specific (events are caused by external people and circumstance, situation is unlikely to continue and will not affect other aspects of one’s life), while those with a pessimistic style tend to make inferences that are internal, stable, and global (event caused by self, situation is likely to continue and will affect other aspects of one’s life).

Although events can serve as antecedents to anxious feelings, and certain events may be more likely than others to elicit stress, studies of the event-stress relationship indicate that occurrence of an event may not be the key determinant of behavior (see Rabkin & Streuning 1976; Dhrenwend et al. 1984; Zautra et a. 1986; Seligman et al. 1988). However, how the individual evaluates an event has been shown to influence subsequent level of stress (Rahe 1972, 1974; Morgan et al. 1986; Kim et al. 1997), and emotion-induced responses to events have been linked to consistent and discernable coping behaviors (Abramson et al. 1978; Kobasa 1979; Lazarus & Folkman 1984; Seligman 1988). Furthermore, since appraisal of an outcome as controllable is stress-reducing (Lazarus & Folkman 1984; Kim et. 1997), how an individual ultimately responds to the occurrence of an event may depend upon the level of stress associated with his or her perceived control of and past experience with similar situations. Consequently, while factors such as perceived control, stability and globality may influence behavioral outcomes; it appears their greatest impact may be seen through their ability to predict the level of stress accompanying an event.

Studies have shown that under stress, individuals often make purchases in an effort to cope with and reduce anxiety through previously experienced means. Increased levels of stress have also been linked to compulsive behavior, including compulsive buying (Faber et. al 1986, 1988, 1989, 1992; O’Guinn & Faber 1989). A type of unplanned purchasing behavior, impulsive buying has been conceptualized as acts that are spontaneous and unplanned (Weinberg & Gottwald 1982; Rook 1987), often performed in anticipation of pleasurable outcomes that have been previously associated with performance of a behavior. Given the previously shown relationship between event-induced stress and other unplanned behaviors, it is conceivable that impulsive buying behavior may emerge as a consequence of event-induced stress.

In the current study, it was proposed that an individual’s style of explaining events (explanatory style) may be used to predict level of stress which, in turn, influences likelihood of certain buying-related behaviors. It was hypothesized that individuals with an optimistic explanatory style (associated with external, unstable and task-specific causal inferences) would be likely to exhibit lower levels of event-induced stress than those with a pessimistic explanatory style (associated with internal, global and stable inferences), and that the outcomes of these increased levels stress would be manifested through impulsive and compulsive buying behaviors.

Independent variables were measured employing previously-tested measures of life events and stress, and the effects of explanatory style on the event-stress relationship were operationalized based on the Attributional Style Questionnaire for assessing explanatory style (Peterson & Semmel 1982; Seligman & Schulman 1986; Seligman et al. 1988). Measures for the dependent variables (impulsive and compulsive behaviors) were drawn from existing scales developed by Rook and Hoch (1985) and O’Guinn and Faber (1989). Findings suggest that individuals exhibiting an optimistic explanatory style exhibit lower levels of event-induced stress, while those with a pessimistic style have higher levels of stress. A significant main effect was found (F=12.22, p<.001) and the correlation analysis revealed that the relationship was significant and negative (r=-.158, p<.01). The results of regression analysis indicated that increased stress led to a greater probability to engaging in impulsive buying behavior (F=111.263, p<.001) and compulsive buying behavior (F=85.565, p<.001), with the former explaining more than 12 percent (12.7%) of the variance and the latter more than 10 percent (10.2%). Tests for mediation indicated that both the explanatory style-impulsive buying and explanatory style-compulsive buying relationships were mediated by level of stress.

The present research suggests that the application of the explanatory style concept need not be limited to studies in the social sciences. It appears that causal inferences may also be used to explain behavioral outcomes in a marketing-specific context, offering healthcare practitioners and consumer advocates a more complete understanding of the forces that motivate certain purchasing behaviors. Further research concerninghow the explanatory style concept may be applied to consumer behavior studies is likely to provide a more complete understanding of why and under what condition certain individuals are more likely to engage in impulsive and compulsive buying behaviors.

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