Special Session Summary Consumers As Motivated Beings: the Influence of Self-Regulation on Judgement and Persuasion

Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University
Jennifer L. Aaker, Stanford University
[ to cite ]:
Michel Tuan Pham and Jennifer L. Aaker (2002) ,"Special Session Summary Consumers As Motivated Beings: the Influence of Self-Regulation on Judgement and Persuasion", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 308-311.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 308-311



Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University

Jennifer L. Aaker, Stanford University

Consumers are not computers, nor are they defective cash registers. They are beings with goals and motives. Although the idea of consumers with motives once was prominent in marketing and consumer research (e.g., Alderson 1957), it has been largely lost in the information processing revolution and the recent advent of behavioral decision research. When goals and motives have been studied, it was generally along broad drive-like concepts such as "involvement" or micro-level concepts such as evaluation criteria. This special session provided a different perspective on consumers’ goals and motives. Bringing together a group of consumer researchers (Aaker, Avnet, Lee and Pham) and psychologists (Markman, Pennington, and Roese), the session discussed how self-regulation tendencies that have been ignored in the consumer literature shape the way consumers evaluate objects.

While many past theories of motivation invoked a single hedonic rule of self-regulationCthe "pleasure principle"Crecent research has identified two distinct types of goals and motives in people’s lives (e.g., Higgins 1987). The first are those goals and motives that relate to people’s aspirations, hopes, or wishes. Many individuals aspire, for instance, to be rich, successful, or beautiful. These goals are called "ideals." Owning a beautiful house is a typical consumer ideal. The second type of goals are those that relate to people’s duties, responsibilities, and obligations. Being a good parent, a dependable employee, or a committed students, are examples of such goals, which are called "oughts." Drinking responsibly or eating healthy are typical consumer oughts. Research has shown that these two types of goals and motives entail different emotional reactions when people fail to achieve them. Whereas ideal failures engender sadness-like emotions, ought failures engender anxiety-type emotions (e.g., Higgins et al. 1986).

More recent research has shown that these two types of goals are associated with different self-regulation strategies. Whereas regulation along ideals involves primarily approach-type of strategies, regulation along oughts involves primarily avoidance-type of strategies (e.g., Higgins et al. 1994). In his recent Regulatory Focus Theory, Higgins (1997) called these two modes of self-regulation "promotion focus" and "prevention focus," offering that they tap into distinct regulatory systems. The notion of promotion-versus-prevention focus has since proven to be a powerful predictor of behavior and thinking. It has been found to influence people’s problm-solving strategies (e.g., Crowe and Higgins 1997), their responses to incentives (e.g., Shah, Higgins, and Friedman 1998), their responses to event and message framing (e.g., Brendl, Higgins, and Lemm 1995; Aaker and Lee 2001), investment decisions (Zhou and Pham 2001), and counterfactual thinking (Roese, Hur, and Pennington 1999). The three presentations, whose abstracts appear next in these proceedings, further extend our understanding of how regulation along ideals and oughts and promotion versus prevention focus shape consumer judgment and persuasion.

Finally, serving as a discussant, Arthur Markman (Psychology Department, UT-Austin) pointed out that the reunification of information processing and motivation concepts has been an important trend in psychology, as exemplified by the three presentations. He stressed the importance of moving away from the unidimensional view of motivation implied by the pleasure principle and the single utility currency. Discrete motivational distinctions such as promotion and prevention, he suggested, have important implications for consumer behavior. He argued that, while intuition guides a lot of consumer research, motivation defies intuition. This is because individuals do not have conscious access to their motivational states, and because these states (e.g., drug craving) are not necessarily correlated to the strength of goals to which they are supposedly associated. It is therefore important to understand the factors that influence the activation of goals in consumer behavior (e.g., temporal proximity, situation cues, etc.).



Ginger L. Pennington, Northwestern University

Neal J. Roese, Simon Fraser University

This research examines the link between regulatory focus (promotion versus prevention concerns) and the temporal perspective with which individuals view events and goals. A number of distinct streams of social psychological research have emphasized the substantial impact of temporal perspective on individuals’ perceptions and judgments. Previous research on such phenomena as counterfactual regret, optimism, the planning fallacy, and cognitive construal has shown reliable shifts in judgment for distant versus proximal events. In the present research, we suggest that such effects reflect underlying processes of regulatory focus (e.g., Higgins, 1998). We argue that this pattern reflects a general decline in promotion focus (and a relatively greater emphasis on prevention focus) with increased proximity to a goal. More specifically, we propose that temporally distant events tend to be construed with a greater emphasis on promotion (concern with the realization of desired end-states) as compared with prevention (concern with preserving the absence of unwanted end-states). In contrast, temporally proximal events are expected to involve equivalent levels of concern with prevention and promotion. The current work, while sharing certain similarities with classic theory on goal gradients, is conceptually distinguishable in a number of important respects. The present research focuses on temporally placed goals that are strategically "approached" at all distances, with changes in the regulatory emphasis (or cognitive framing) of goals occurring over the course of goal pursuit. This research addresses two major research questions. First, we examined whether changes in goal proximity bring about changes in regulatory focus. Next, we examined evidence for the reverse casual relationshipCnamely, whether changes in regulatory orientation affect temporal perspective.

In Study 1, 80 undergraduate participants were asked to make judgmens about the outcome of a future event (exam) at two points in time (2 weeks vs. immediately before). At both times, participants indicated their current level of concern with 5 promotion-framed outcomes (e.g., "getting a high score") and 5 prevention-framed outcomes ("avoiding an unfavorable score"). In accordance with our predictions, a 2-way interaction between regulatory focus and time (F (1, 78)=4.45, p<.05) revealed that promotion concerns significantly decreased with the event’s temporal proximity (p=.03), whereas prevention concerns remained steady as the event drew nearer in time. In Study 2, the temporal perspective with which consumers approached a travel situation was shown to influence the degree of importance placed on promotion versus prevention-focused information. Thirty participants were asked to imagine they were scheduled to depart on a vacation in either one month, or a few days. Subjects then rated the extent to which they would be concerned with travel issues framed in terms of promotion (e.g., "being happy with our hotel") versus prevention ("not having any complaints about the hotel"). For the hotel items, the expected 2-way interaction was found, F(1, 28)=4.47, p<.05. Promotion-framed concerns decreased as the event neared (p<.05), whereas prevention related concerns remained consistent in the near condition as compared with the far condition.

The remaining three studies examined whether regulatory focus produces changes in temporal perspective, indicating a bi-directional causal relation between these variables. In addition, the first of these studies examined whether the effects of regulatory focus on time were equivalent for both prospective and retrospective judgments. In Study 3, 63 participants were asked to freely generate 6 personal goals. Half of the participants were asked to focus on desired events to be achieved (promotion focus), and half focused on undesired events to be avoided (prevention focus). Furthermore, within each regulatory focus condition, half of the participants focused on future events and half on past events. After generating examples of goals, participants provided the estimated time of completion for each goal. Results indicated that promotion-focused goals involved a farther temporal perspective than prevention-focused goals (Ms=2.00 vs. 1.14 years), p<.01. Furthermore, this effect was robust for both prospective and retrospective judgments. Regardless of whether focused on the past or future, participants identified promotion-goals as temporally more distant than prevention-focused goals. The replication of the effect for retrospective judgments supports the proposed connection between these findings and previous work on temporally-dependent retrospective judgments (e.g., counterfactual regrets).

Studies 4a and b directly investigated the effect of regulatory focus on consumers’ estimates of when they would be likely to purchase products in the future. In Study 4a, 15 participants were asked to identify four health or beauty products they intended to buy sometime during the next year, and to estimate exactly when they expected to next purchase each item. Each participant listed two products intended to bring about a desired outcome (promotion focus) and two products intended to prevent an undesired outcome (prevention focus). Results indicated that participants intended to purchase prevention-focused products nearly twice as quickly (in 39 days) as promotion-focused products (69 days), p<.03. In Study 4b, 27 participants were asked to imagine that they needed to purchase a bottle of wine before a dinner party (at some unspecified time in the future). Participants estimated purchasing a bottle of wine more immediately when the text of the wine advertisement was prevention-oriented (e.g., "how can you be sure not to select the wrong Chianti?") versus promotion-oriented (e.g., "how can you be sure to select the right Chianti?") (5 days versus 25 days, p=.06).

Taken together, these findings highlight the temporal immediacy with which prevention versus promotion goals are perceived, and suggest that consumers are likey to differentially value certain outcomes and products depending upon the temporal perspective adopted at the time of judgment. Additional research is needed to investigate the limiting conditions and moderators of this effect within the consumer judgment domain. For example, the goals examined in the current research involved the gradual unfolding of situations over time. In contrast, we expect that when a "near" temporal perspective is induced by rushed decision-making, the pattern of results may differ from those found in the current research, or even reverse.



Angela Lee, Northwestern University

Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University

Considerable research in both psychology and consumer behavior has examined the basic hedonic principle of approach and avoidance, and showed that the distinct strategies can lead to very different attitudinal and behavioral effects. Interestingly, however, the research in this stream has manipulated approach and avoidance (or benefits and costs) in two different ways. The first is to focus on positive outcomes (e.g., monetary or psychological gains) versus negative outcomes (e.g., monetary or psychological losses; Brendl, Higgins and Lemm, 1995; Lee, Aaker and Gardner, 2000; Tversky and Kahneman, 1981). For example, Aaker and Lee (2001) demonstrate that persuasion appeals emphasizing positive outcomes (e.g., energy creation) are more effective for individuals who are promotion focused, while appeals emphasizing negative outcomes (e.g., cancer prevention) are more effective for individuals who are prevention focused. Another way to examine approach and avoidance effects is to focus on the absence versus presence of the desirable outcome, which may be a gain or a nonloss (e.g., Block and Keller 1995; Maheswaran and Meyers-Levy 1990).

What is missing from the literature, however, is a systematic examination of how people process information that focuses on the absence or presence of positive outcome (i.e., gain and nongain) versus negative outcomes (i.e., loss and nonloss). In the present research, we examine the extent to which the absence or presence of promotion focused outcome (e.g., getting energized vs. missing out on getting energized) versus the absence or presence of prevention focused outcome (e.g., preventing clogged arteries vs. missing out on preventing clogged arteries) may influence persuasive effects (i.e., evaluations towards an ad).

Previous research on the framing of desired outcomes suggests that positively framed messages (i.e., those that convey the presence of the desired outcome) are often more persuasive than negatively framed messages (i.e., those that convey the absence of the desired outcome). The current research suggests that regulatory focus and perceived risk may moderate this framing effect. The results of three studies showed that positive frame is more persuasive than negative frame when the appeal has a promotion versus prevention focus, and also when the situation is perceived to be low versus high risk. In contrast, negative frame is more persuasive than positive frame when the appeal is prevention versus promotion focused, and also when the situation is perceived to be high versus low risk.

The results of Experiment 1 show that respondents presented with a promotion focused appeal evaluated the product more favorably when the appeal emphasized the presence of gains (e.g., getting energized) versus the absence of gains (e.g., missing out on getting energized). However, respondents who were presented with a prevention focused appeal evaluated the product more favorably whenthe appeal emphasized the absence of loss (e.g., preventing clogged arteries) versus the presence of loss (e.g., missing out on preventing clogged arteries).

Because of their focus on negative outcomes, prevention focused appeals are by nature more threatening and present a riskier situation than promotion focused appeals. Thus, a plausible explanation for the moderating effect of regulatory focus on frame is the role of perceived risk. Experiment 2 was designed to examine if the effect of framing may be moderated by risk. Perceived risk was manipulated by varying the probability that these individuals may have engaged in at-risk behaviors. Our results indicate that, indeed, respondents in a low risk condition develop more favorable attitudes when they were presented with appeals that emphasize the presence versus absence of gains, whereas those in a high risk condition develop more favorable attitudes when presented with appeals that emphasize the absence of versus the presence of a loss.

In Experiment 3, both regulatory focus and perceived risk were manipulated to further examine their moderating effects on framing. Consistent with our findings in Experiments 1 and 2, positive frame was more persuasive than negative frame for promotion focused appeals, and when perceived risk is low. In contrast, negative frame was more persuasive than positive frame for prevention focused appeals, and when perceived risk is high. The results of these three experiments further enhance our understanding of the role of regulatory focus and perceived risk in persuasion, and serve to bridge the gap between the regulatory focus literature and the negative framing literature.



Tamar Avnet, Columbia University

Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University

Self-regulation research distinguishes two types of goals: ideals and oughts. Ideals relate to people’s aspirations, hopes, and wishes (e.g., wanting a beautiful house). Oughts relate to people’s obligations, duties, and responsibilities (e.g., providing for a child’s education). Building onCand extendingCregulatory-focus theory (Higgins 1998), we propose that self-regulation along ideals versus oughts changes the weighting of information in persuasion. Ideals increase the weight of affective cues and decrease the weight of the message content. In contrast, oughts increase the weight of the content and decrease the weight of affective cues. We call this the differential-weighting hypothesis. We also argue that these effects are distinct from the notion of "central" versus "peripheral" processing (e.g., Petty and Cacioppo 1986). That is, regulation along ideals does not necessarily entail peripheral (or heuristic) processing, nor does regulation along oughts necessarily entail central (or systematic) processing. Instead, ideals and oughts change the perceived diagnosticity of affective versus content cues in persuasion, rather than the depth-of-processing (see Pham 1996 for a discussion of diagnosticity versus depth-of-processing explanations of ELM-type results). These propositions were tested in a series of six studies involving over 800 respondents. The results provide consistent support for the differential weighting hypothesis and the proposed diagnosticity explanation.

The first study examined how the temporary accessibility of ideals versus oughts moderates the influences of message strength and aesthetic appeal on persuasion. Respondents were exposed to a print ad and asked to evaluate the advertised product. The strength of the ad’s message and the aesthetic appal of its layout were manipulated between-subjects. A priming task (Higgins et al. 1994) was used to manipulate, also between-subjects, the momentary accessibility of ideals versus oughts. The results showed, as predicted, that message’s strength was more influential under salient oughts than under salient ideals, whereas the ad’s aesthetic appeal was more influential under salient ideals than under salient oughts. The results also showed that the priming of ideals versus ought did not change respondents’ involvement.

The second study examined the robustness of these persuasion effects and tested their "strength" in terms of (a) attitudinal confidence, (b) persistence over time, and (c) resistance to counterattitudinal information. The results replicated the first study’s main finding that salient ideals and oughts change the relative weight of message strength and aesthetic appeal in persuasion. The results further showed that, by common attitude strength standards, the persuasion effects of ideals and oughts were equally "strong." Specifically, attitudes formed under salient ideals and salient oughts were (a) held with similar confidence, (b) equally persistent over time, and (c) equally resistant to counterattitudinal information. These results speak against a depth-of-processing (ELM or HSM) interpretation of the effects of ideals and oughts on persuasion. In addition, affective counterattitudinal information triggered stronger revision of evaluations formed under salient ideals than evaluations formed under salient oughts. According to Pham and Muthukrishnan’s (2002) model of judgment revision, this suggests that evaluations formed under salient ideals contained a greater amount of affect than evaluations formed under salient oughts.

The third study examined whether the chronic accessibility of ideals and oughts has similar effects on persuasion. To obtain wide variations in chronic ideals and oughts, over 450 respondents were recruited in four different countries. The design was correlational. All respondents were asked to evaluate the same three ads, one ad at a time. They were asked to rate each ad’s affective appeal, argument quality, and persuasive impact. After evaluating the ads, respondents were assessed in terms of (a) how much their actual attributes matched the attributes they would ideally like to possess (chronic ideal orientation) and (b) how much their actual attributes matched the attributes they thought they ought to possess (chronic ought orientation). Regression analyses tested how these chronic ideal and ought orientations moderated the influence of affective appeal and argument quality on the persuasive impact of each ad. Consistent with the first two studies, the results showed that chronic ideals increased the weight of affective appeal and decreased the weight of argument quality in persuasion. Chronic oughts had the opposite effects.

A fourth study showed that people’s chronic ideals and chronic oughts, as measured in Study 3, were not related to their need-for-cognition. This again speaks against a depth-of-processing explanation of the phenomenon. A fifth study showed that the priming of ideals versus oughts does not alter people’s mood, ruling out another alternative explanation.

The sixth study was designed to provide more direct evidence of the change-in-perceived-diagnosticity explanation of the differential weighting phenomenon. Respondents whose ideals or oughts had been primed were exposed to two ads for competing products. One ad featured only executional elements without any product claims. The other "ad" featured only claims without any executional element. Respondents were asked to rate the diagnosticity of the first ad’s layout and the diagnosticity of the second ad’s claims. Consistent with the perceived-diagnosticity explanation, the results show that the layoutCeven when presented aloneCwas perceived to be more diagnostic of the product’s value under salient ideals than under salient oughts. In contrast, the claimsCwhen presented aloneCwere perceived to be more diagnostic of the product’s value under salient oughts than under slient ideals.


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