Exploring Subjective Emotion Intensity: Antecedents and Postconsumption Consequences

Robert Madrigal, University of Oregon
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Emotion is a fundamental component of people’s lives. We experience a wide array of emotions, ranging from the mild annoyance of waiting in line at a grocery store to the joy of purchasing a first home. Emotions vary not only in type, but also in intensity. For example, people may not only feel happy or sad, they can also feel each along a continuum ranging from slightly happy or sad to extremely happy or sad. Moreover, within a general category of emotions (e.g., fear), different emotion words reflect varying levels of intensity (e.g., apprehensive vs. petrified). Yet, in spite of this wide range of emotional experience, little systematic work has been done on the topic of subjective emotion intensity. Frijda et al. (1992) suggest that emotion intensity is multifaceted and have defined it as Athe total emotional impact of a given event, of which the magnitude of various objective and subjective parameters are aspects or manifestations@ (p. 64). Multiple underlying emotional intensity dimensions have been identified in past research (Frijda et al. 1992; Sonnemans and Frijda 1994).
[ to cite ]:
Robert Madrigal (2003) ,"Exploring Subjective Emotion Intensity: Antecedents and Postconsumption Consequences", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 148.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Page 148

EXPLORING SUBJECTIVE EMOTION INTENSITY: ANTECEDENTS AND POSTCONSUMPTION CONSEQUENCES

Robert Madrigal, University of Oregon

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Emotion is a fundamental component of people’s lives. We experience a wide array of emotions, ranging from the mild annoyance of waiting in line at a grocery store to the joy of purchasing a first home. Emotions vary not only in type, but also in intensity. For example, people may not only feel happy or sad, they can also feel each along a continuum ranging from slightly happy or sad to extremely happy or sad. Moreover, within a general category of emotions (e.g., fear), different emotion words reflect varying levels of intensity (e.g., apprehensive vs. petrified). Yet, in spite of this wide range of emotional experience, little systematic work has been done on the topic of subjective emotion intensity. Frijda et al. (1992) suggest that emotion intensity is multifaceted and have defined it as "the total emotional impact of a given event, of which the magnitude of various objective and subjective parameters are aspects or manifestations" (p. 64). Multiple underlying emotional intensity dimensions have been identified in past research (Frijda et al. 1992; Sonnemans and Frijda 1994).

The current paper examined the role of subjective emotion intensity in the context of a negative consumer experience with a product or service. Data were included from 177 college-aged students in exchange for course credit in a laboratory setting. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of two negative emotion intensity groups (mild or extreme). They were asked to recall a purchase situation in which they experienced a mildly (or an extremely) negative emotional reaction to a product or service. They then wrote a brief description of the incident, indicating what had happened and describing their subjective experience. Subsequent to the written narrative, all respondents completed the same scale items.

The questionnaire collected data pertaining to the dimensionality of emotion intensity, antecedents of emotion intensity, and consequences of emotion intensity. Dimensions of emotion intensity included here were felt intensity, peak amplitude, physical symptoms of the emotional reaction, duration of the emotion episode, and event recollection. Five antecedents of emotion intensity were included: unexpectedness of the event, temporal proximity of the event, relevance of the event to the individual, and attribution of responsibility for the negative event. The fifth antecedent was within-category emotion word type. The latter variable considered the implicit intensity attributed to various words used to describe anger by counterbalancing on bipolar scales emotions thought to possess less intensity (i.e., annoyed, bothered, irritated) with those possessing greater intensity (i.e., frustrated, irate, outraged). Thus, the scale required respondents to clearly delineate how they felt along a semantic-differential continuum represented on either end by emotion words contrasted on the basis of intensity. Three behavioral consequences were considered, each measured on a yes/no dichotomous scale that assessed whether the incident had led the respondent to (1) complain to the responsible party (source complaint); (2) complain to a supervisor or manager (supervisor complaint); and (3) give a negative recommendation about the product/service to friends (negative WOM). Also included was an affective consequence that asked respondents to indicate their current feelings about the situation.

The results support the prediction that subjective emotion intensity is multidimensional. A number of different measures, shown here to be independent, may be used to assess intensity. Consistent with past research, the items comprising two of the posited five dimensions (peak amplitude and felt intensity) loaded on the same factor and, collectively, represented a measure of global intensity. Although multifaceted in nature, the results of this study indicate that global intensity is much more predictive of postconsumption actions and feelings than the other factors underlying emotion intensity. However, only a limited number of postpurchase consequences were considered in this study. A wider array of consequences (e.g., attitude change, purchase intentions) should be considered in future research.

The results also offer support for the idea that different emotion word types are characterized by varying levels of intensity. For eight of the nine emotion word pairings, respondents describing an extremely negative consumer event scored significantly higher scores on a continuum depicting greater levels of anger than did those describing a mildly negative event. Also noteworthy are the results of a factor analysis indicating that a factor comprised of within-category emotion word pairings is empirically distinguishable from each of the emotion intensity factors considered in this study.

Frijda et al. (1992) argued that emotion intensity should be predictive of overt action because it represents the total emotional impact of an event on an individual. That reasoning is extended here to suggest that emotion intensity should be more proximal to postconsumption behaviors and feelings than the emotions themselves. In short, emotions contribute to subjective emotion intensity. The results of a series of mediated regressions lend support to this proposition. The direct effect of emotion word type on complaint behaviors and current feelings of a recalled event were partially mediated by global intensity. The direct effect of emotion word type on negative WOM was wholly mediated by global intensity.

The current study represents a first step in investigating how emotion intensity affects consumer behavior. The manipulations used here were fairly weak and future research should consider the issue using more rigorous experimental methods. Moreover, the use of a student sample may be limiting. It may be that the effects associated with subjective emotion intensity differ for older consumers. Finally, this study considered only emotions related to anger in a context of a negative consumer experience with a product or service. Future research should explore the antecedents and consequences of emotion intensity using a greater array of emotions and/or in the context of a positive consumer experience.

REFERENCES

Frijda, Nico H., Andrew Ortony, Joep Sonnemans, and Gerald L. Clore (1992), "The Complexity of Intensity: Issues Concerning the Structure of Emotion Intensity," in Emotion, ed. Margaret S. Clark, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 60-89.

Sonnemans, Joep and Nico H. Frijda (1994), "The Structure of Subjective Emotional Intensity," Cognition and Emotion, 8 (July), 329-350.

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