An Exploratory Study of Non-Product-Related Influences Upon Consumer Satisfaction

Robert A. Westbrook, University of Arizona (student), University of Arizona
Joseph A. Cote, Jr.,
ABSTRACT - Studies seeking to explain consumer satisfaction have typically neglected influences other than those pertaining to the confirmation or disconfirmation of expectancies. This paper develops a more complete conceptual model to the cognitive and affective, attitudinal influences upon satisfaction and presents empirical findings relative to its validity.
[ to cite ]:
Robert A. Westbrook and Joseph A. Cote, Jr. (1980) ,"An Exploratory Study of Non-Product-Related Influences Upon Consumer Satisfaction", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 577-581.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 577-581


Robert A. Westbrook, University of Arizona

Joseph A. Cote, Jr. (student), University of Arizona


Studies seeking to explain consumer satisfaction have typically neglected influences other than those pertaining to the confirmation or disconfirmation of expectancies. This paper develops a more complete conceptual model to the cognitive and affective, attitudinal influences upon satisfaction and presents empirical findings relative to its validity.


Recent interest in consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction has fostered two distinct lines of inquiry. In one, researchers have sought to describe prevailing levels of satisfaction with regard to various aspects of the marketplace and its offering of goods and services. For example, there have been studies of the extent of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with individual products and services (Day et al. 1976, 1978; Handy 1977; Ash 1977; Andreasen and Best 1971), with the shopping and buying environment (Westbrook and Newman 1978), and with the overall consumer domain (Lundstrom and Lamont 1976). The other research direction has comprised efforts to understand the underlying cognitive processes through which consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction are determined. Typically, such studies have concerned satisfaction/dissatisfaction with individual products or services, and related it to the confirmation or dis-confirmation of consumers' expectations regarding product performance (Olshavsky and Miller 1972; Anderson 1973; Swan and Combs 1976; Oliver 1977).

Studies in the latter line of inquiry, however, have ignored the potential impact of other intrapersonal influences upon expressions of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction with products and services. There is strong reason to suspect that intrapersonal factors such as generalized affective states and attitudinal systems may also act to determine consumers' judgments of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with specific purchases. In addition to the theoretical basis for such assertions, there is evidence from early descriptive research on consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction reporting relationships to various psychographic and social-psychological attitudinal factors (Miller 1977; Wall et al. 1977; Westbrook 1977). Unfortunately, the latter have been isolated findings for which a priori conceptualization was not given. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to develop a more comprehensive conceptualization of the various cognitive and affective/attitudinal intrapersonal influences upon consumer satisfaction, and to describe the results of an exploratory study designed to test selected propositions. A fuller accounting of the determinants of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction would benefit not only the development of more comprehensive theories than now available, but would also add valuable perspective to both private and public sector efforts to assure buyer welfare.

Theoretical Framework

The construct of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with a product refers to the consumer's subjective evaluation of the various experiences and outcomes associated with acquiring and consuming the product. According to Hunt (1977, p. 459), "Satisfaction is a kind of stepping away from an experience and evaluating it... Satisfaction is not the pleasurableness of the experience, it is the evaluation rendered that the experience was at least as good as it was supposed to be..." In principle, there are several possible standards against which product experiences may be evaluated, though only that pertaining to what was expected by the consumer has been widely used. Others include the consumer's idealized, deserved, and minimally acceptable product experiences (Miller 1977).

Satisfaction, however, is not purely a cognitive determination of the disparity between perceived product outcomes or experiences and those comprising some standard of comparison. As Czepiel and Rosenberg (1977) note, satisfaction with a product entails some degree of affect or feeling, presumably inversely proportional to the cognitively-based disparity. That is, consumers feel subjectively "good" when satisfied, and "bad" when dissatisfied. Moreover, the construct of satisfaction also denotes a degree of conation, in that the consumer would be inclined to repeat the purchase choice if it were necessary to go back to the original purchase situation, and the consumer would not be inclined to seek any form of redress from the seller. Obviously, dissatisfaction denotes converse actions. Thus, satisfaction may be conceived as a special kind of attitude, where the object is not. a product or brand per se, but rather one's own acquisition and consumption experiences deriving from the product or brand (Czepiel and Rosenberg 1977).

As an evaluative response involving an affective element, satisfaction is presumably influenced by the broader affective states characterizing the individual consumer. That is, the presence of significant positive or negative affect within the consumer may well shape the his/ her reaction to any disparities between product experiences and the standard of comparison. Intuitively, the advent of an unusually good mood, or the presence of a happy, positive disposition may cause the consumer to feel relatively more satisfied with not only specific products but presumably also with respect to other stimuli being evaluated. Empirical support for this relationship is provided by Isen et al. (1978), who found that the inducement of a positive mood increased the favorability of subjects' evaluations of several stimulus objects, some of which were products owned by the individuals. The theoretical interpretation of this phenomenon was that affective state influences the availability of cognitive material for such processing tasks as stimulus evaluation. Earlier, Dommermuth and Millard (1967) had reported that environmental conditions unrelated to the product but coincidental with its consumption could affect consumers' judgments of product quality.

An accounting of the various kinds of affective influences upon consumer satisfaction may usefully differentiate these by permanence and domain. Within the individual, certain affective states are relatively more permanent and time- or situation-invariant, while others are less so. Independently of temporal stability, affective states may differ in their focus: some are relatively general, while others are particularized to the domain of interest, in this instance consumer behavior. Thus at least four relatively different types of affective influences may be distinguished:

1. Stable and generalized affective influences, as typified by basic personality dispositions as well as relatively enduring global attitude structures. Optimism and pessimism (Tiger 1979; Goldman-Eisler 1960) and happiness (Cantril 1965) illustrate the former, and life satisfaction (Andrews and Withey 1974) the latter.

2. Transient and generalized influences consist of the various elements of mood, such as elation- depression, tranquility-anxiety, harmony-anger, etc., (Wessman and Ricks 1965).

3. Stable and consumer-domain affect is illustrated by enduring consumer attitudes concerning consumerism and broad consumer discontent. Lundstrom and Lamont (1976) have defined such attitudes as comprising sentiments toward the product strategies of business, marketing communications and information, the impersonal nature of business and retail institutions, and the broader politico-socioeconomic forces linked to the business system (inflation, government regulation, social responsibility, etc.).

4. Transient and consumer-domain affect, as typified by temporarily favorable or unfavorable sentiments toward such elements as specific producers or retail institutions, marketing practices, consumerist issues, etc.

The foregoing affective states and attitudes would be expected to relate to satisfaction such that increasingly positive or favorable affect would be linked to higher levels of satisfaction, and vice versa. Happiness, life satisfaction, optimism and the absence of pessimism would all presumably entail greater product satisfaction than their converses, as would favorable mood states, and the absence of consumer discontent. Since there is little to suggest the contrary, it may further be presumed that to the extent that more than one affective influence is present, they exert their effects on product satisfaction in concert, combining in a more or less additive fashion. These predicted relationships do not, of course, deny the role of cognitive processes such as those concerning the assessment of expectancy confirmation or disconfirmation, but rather complement them in the determination of consumer satisfaction.

Thus, the conceptual model underlying this study viewed consumers' sentiments of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with products to be a function of 1) a comparison of product outcomes and experiences to those expected by the consumer, 2) relatively enduring affective predispositions and attitudinal structures both generalized as well as specific to the consumer domain, and 3) temporary affective states (moods) varying over time and situation. The following hypotheses were examined in this study:

(1) Product satisfaction will vary directly with expectancy confirmation or positive disconfirmation

(2) Product satisfaction will vary directly with optimism, and inversely with pessimism

(3) Product satisfaction will vary directly with life satisfaction

(4) Product satisfaction will vary inversely with consumer discontent

(5) Product satisfaction will vary directly with mood favorability


Subjects and Procedure

One hundred ninety-four undergraduate business students at a major state university voluntarily participated in the study during a class meeting. Use of this subject population was dictated by the exploratory nature of the research, and was considered appropriate in view of its focus on the students' own personal consumption experiences. Moreover, in this instance, these did not appear to be strong a priori reasons why the hypothesized relationships would be substantially different among this population subgroup compared to others.

Data were obtained from subjects by self-administered questionnaire, which was described as a study of students' opinions about products they owned or had recently bought. Two product categories were investigated, a durable product owned by the individual (automobile) and an item of clothing (shoes or boots) purchased within the preceding four months. The questionnaire took approximately 25 minutes to complete. Considerations of respondent fatigue necessitated the administration of lengthy multi-item measures of social desirability and consumer discontent in a separate questionnaire, which was completed approximately one week following the initial questionnaire.

Measure of Satisfaction

Satisfaction with regard to both automobiles and recently purchased footwear was measured using a percentage rating scale, in which subjects would indicate the level of their satisfaction ranging from 0% ("not at all satisfied'') to 100% ("completely satisfied"). Variable means and dispersions are shown in Table 1.

Reliability was assessed by the alternative forms approach (Nunnally 1967, p. 211). An alternative satisfaction measure was administered to a convenience sub-sample (N=47) of the original subjects at a three week interval. The alternative measure was the seven point Delighted-Terrible rating scale developed originally by Andrews and Withey (1974) for assessing subjective evaluations of life satisfaction. As Andreasen (1977) has noted, the scale is also appropriate as a product satisfaction measure. To minimize common-method variance with the use of this scale for overall life satisfaction assessment, the Delighted-Terrible scale was recast from a graphic form to a verbal form and positioned in the context of a different study than that to which the subject had originally responded. Only satisfaction with automobiles was assessed by the alternative form. The correlation between the alternative forms was .716 (p <.001).

Suggestion of the discriminant validity of the percentage satisfaction measure is found in the correlation between satisfaction with automobiles and satisfaction with shoes/boots, which represent two presumably unrelated constructs. There were 113 subjects who both owned an automobile and had recently purchased footwear. The observed correlation was -.008 (n.s.).

Measurement of Independent Variables

Expectancy confirmation was assessed in a two-step procedure similar to that employed in other satisfaction studies (Oliver 1977). First, subjects were asked to give their own estimation of the good points and advantages of the product, and then required to rate on a five point scale the extent to which these outcomes were greater or less than what they had expected. Second, the procedure was repeated for the bad points and disadvantages as perceived by subjects. The two ratings emerging from this procedure were combined to yield an overall measure of expectancy confirmation. Estimates of internal reliability (coefficient alpha) were .652 for automobiles and .524 for shoes/boots.

Optimism and pessimism were assessed by separate eight-item summated verbal rating scales previously developed by Goldman-Eisler (1960). Co-efficient alpha for the optimism scale was reported .90, and .74 for the pessimism scale. Evidence of the validity of the scales was provided by the strong inverse relationship between the two scales (r = -.63; p<.001), and their relationships to various other constructs as predicted in theory.

Life satisfaction was measured by a single graphic rating scale (Andrews and Withey 1974). Considerable evidence as to the validity of the scale has been presented by its authors, and the reader is referred to the source for further detail. Their estimates for the reliability of the scale range from .60 to .70. Overall measures of consumer discontent and consumerism attitudes have been developed by Lundstrom and Lamont (1976), and the authors' shortened 41-item form was employed in this study. Test-retest reliability of .79 has been reported along with criterion-related validity.

The procedure for measuring the favorability of subjects' moods concurrent to their sentiments of satisfaction was adopted from Wessman and Ricks' (1965) studies of mood and personality. These researchers developed a battery of ten-point "personal feeling" rating scales, each of which was unidimensional and encompassed a wide and descriptively graduate range of feelings. These measures demonstrated high internal consistency and were validated against portions of the MMPI and independent judgments of affect made by clinical psychologists. The Elation-Depression scale was selected for use in this study based on Wessman and Ricks' conclusion that it represented the best summary measure of mood favorability. However, the Harmony-Anger scale was also chosen to allow a multi-item measure of the construct. Scores on both items were combined to yield a single overall mood measure, which could range from 0 to 20. The observed mean was 13.27 with a standard deviation of 2.06. Coefficient alpha for the abbreviated two-item measure was .663.

Finally, to control for potential response bias due to the effects of social desirability on satisfaction as well as affective and attitudinal measures, the Crowne-Marlowe S-D scale (1964) was administered to subjects. Reliability coefficients of .88 (test-retest) and .88 (internal consistency) have been reported, along with validity evidence too detailed for presentation here.


Simple correlations between all variables of interest appear in Table 1, along with the observed mean and standard deviation of each measure. Examining the independent variables first, the generalized affective and attitudinal variables (optimism, pessimism, life satisfaction, and mood) are significantly intercorrelated in the expected directions, adducing further support for the validity of these measures. Social desirability is apparently related to reporting favorable mood, as well as optimistic beliefs. The domain-specific measure of affect, overall consumer discontent, is correlated negatively with life satisfaction and positively with pessimism. The former finding has been reported in previous research by the authors of the scale (Lundstrom and Kelly 1976), while the latter is a new finding. Neither of the expectancy confirmation measures for automobiles or footwear displays any relationship to the affective and attitudinal variables. They are directly related to each other, however, indicating that confirmed or disconfirmed expectancies with one product category tend to be associated with similar cognitions relative to an unrelated product category.



Multiple regression was performed to test the hypothesized relationships between product satisfaction and the various cognitive and affective determinants. The results are summarized for each product category in Table 2 Dealing with automobiles first, the full set of variables is able to explain some 32% of the variation in satisfaction responses (p<.001). There is support for the predicted relationships between satisfaction and expectancy confirmation (H1), life satisfaction (H4), and consumer discontent (H5). The remaining affective variables display weak standardized partial regression coefficients. To assess the unique contribution of the affective and attitudinal variables over that of the cognitive determinants, satisfaction was regressed on the former set alone. These variables were able to explain a modest but significant proportion of the variance in satisfaction with automobiles (R2 = .109; p<.001. Life satisfaction and consumer discontent display the strongest relationships in this reduced analysis, and the optimism measure is negatively related but only at the .10 level.



With respect to recently purchased footwear, the full set of explanatory variables explain 26% of the variance in satisfaction responses (p<.001) but only the expectancy confirmation measure is positively related when the effects of other variables are held constant. Neither life satisfaction nor consumer discontent display significant partial beta coefficients, in contrast to the case of automobile satisfaction. Thus these data support only H1. The unique contribution of the affective and attitudinal variables is less than 1% of the variance.


Mixed support was found for the hypotheses of this study. Overall, expectancy confirmation emerges as the most consistent and strongly related explanatory variable. Only in the case of automobiles was satisfaction also a function of intrapersonal affective variables, notably life satisfaction and consumer discontent. That is, persons who are satisfied with their lives as a whole and who are not generally discontent with the market place report higher levels of product satisfaction over others whose expectations of product performance and attributes were equally met. With respect to the ownership of an individual item of footwear, however, satisfaction was not related to the hypothesized affective influences. What these results suggest is that the structure of process through which satisfaction is determined may vary across product category, or at least according to the relative importance of the purchase. Perhaps only the more important consumption experiences are evaluated in terms of the consumer's broader affective state, while those of lesser consequence valuated principally in a cognitive domain.

An alternative interpretation of these results raises the issue of causal direction. The conceptual model underlying this paper assumes that both cognitive and affective/attitudinal factors are logically prior to sentiments of satisfaction/dissatisfaction. However, it is possible that strong sentiments of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with particular products may have an effect upon the individual's broader affective state. For example, extreme satisfaction with an especially major product in the consumer's life space may well produce more general sentiments of overall life satisfaction. Such may well be the case for college students and their automobiles. A car is likely to be this type of consumer's single most valuable asset. In contrast, great displeasure with one's automobile may be generalized to both dissatisfaction with life as well as negative attitudes toward the activities of business firms which were originally responsible for the product.

Clearly, further research into the direction of causality with respect to issues of consumer satisfaction would be beneficial. If the former interpretation is correct, then marketers of costly, important products face the possibility that consumer satisfaction with these items is in part a function of the individual and not limited to factors under their direct control, such as product and communications strategy. The implications are substantial for marketers as well as public policy makers concerned with maximizing consumer satisfaction or minimizing consumer dissatisfaction.

The results of this study also suggest the usefulness of satisfaction measures for policy decisions in the private and public sectors. Many have charged that such measures are "too soft" in that they are presumed primarily dependent upon the individual's subjective state at the moment of assessment. The results here do not indicate that this is the case. Satisfaction with automobiles was found to be quite stable, at least over the short run. Moreover, transient affect or mood displayed no relationship to satisfaction with either automobiles or shoes/boots. It can be inferred that sentiments of satisfaction are relatively invariant over short periods of time, and that where effective and attitudinal factors may enter is in the determination of a base level of satisfaction for the particular individual. Such influences may be partialled out analytically if the focus is on the cognitive bases of satisfaction.

The dominance of the expectancy confirmation variable over the affective and attitudinal variables also should encourage further research on the cognitive determinants of satisfaction. An issue which has received some attention in the literature is whether expectancy confirmation has a greater effect upon product satisfaction (Miller 1977; Oliver 1977). Though the results here are based on a field study, the high correlation between the expectancy confirmation and satisfaction indicates essentially a positive linear relationship. Since the expectancy confirmation measure was based on a positive to negative continuum, it would appear that positive disconfirmation has a greater effect than simple confirmation. The results of an ANOVA with appropriate a posteriori contrasts, though not shown here, support this interpretation.

Another issue that merits serious attention is the role of alternative standards of comparison. This study, like most others in the satisfaction literature, has assumed that product experiences and outcomes are compared to corresponding prior expectations and that the size and direction of the resulting disparity serves as the major cognitive basis for judgments of satisfaction. But what if the consumer has not explicitly formed an expectation of particular experiences or outcomes? Either the consumer invokes relevant expectation after the fact (i.e. "That's what I must have expected"), or else there exist alternative standards of comparison to be applied in such instances. Miller (1977), using Thibaut and Kelley's comparison level theory (1959), proposes several possibilities. Perhaps consumers make judgments of the extent to which the product experiences and outcomes meet their needs, either independently of or in conjunction with a determination of the extent to which their expectations were confirmed. To the extent that consumer needs may sooner or later be translated into product expectations, these two standards might be expected to relate. However, empirical attention to these issues might prove fruitful in future explorations of consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction.


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