Positive Illusions, Success, and Consumption: a Romanian Investigation

ABSTRACT - Individuals’ interpretation of reality, with implications for decision-making and information evaluation, has been a major research interest in psychology, economics, organizational behavior, marketing and consumer research, among other disciplines. In this paper, we examine a model of the positive interpretation of reality that occurs by individuals in the evaluation and interpretation of data, and the forecasting of likelihood of future events. We seek to introduce Taylor’s model of positive illusions (henceforth referred to as TPI) (Taylor 1983; 1989; Taylor and Brown 1988) to the consumer research field, to highlight the associations among TPI and consumption patterns, and to discuss the usefulness of this construct in consumer research.



Citation:

Anastasia M. Luca and Deborah Cours (1999) ,"Positive Illusions, Success, and Consumption: a Romanian Investigation", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 37-39.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 37-39

POSITIVE ILLUSIONS, SUCCESS, AND CONSUMPTION: A ROMANIAN INVESTIGATION

Anastasia M. Luca, UCLA, U.S.A.

Deborah Cours, California State University, Northridge, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT -

Individuals’ interpretation of reality, with implications for decision-making and information evaluation, has been a major research interest in psychology, economics, organizational behavior, marketing and consumer research, among other disciplines. In this paper, we examine a model of the positive interpretation of reality that occurs by individuals in the evaluation and interpretation of data, and the forecasting of likelihood of future events. We seek to introduce Taylor’s model of positive illusions (henceforth referred to as TPI) (Taylor 1983; 1989; Taylor and Brown 1988) to the consumer research field, to highlight the associations among TPI and consumption patterns, and to discuss the usefulness of this construct in consumer research.

WHAT ARE POSITIVE ILLUSIONS?

Social cognition research has provided strong evidence that mentally healthy individuals process and interpret reality to their benefit via self serving biases (Fiske and Taylor 1988; Nisbett and Ross ; Kahneman and Tversky 1984). Several models of positive eality interpretation have evolved in the social psychology and social cognition literatures. Psychologists have collected significant evidence that individuals interpret reality with a positive bias. Alicke (1985) and Brown (1986) show that positive personality traits are rated as more representative of the self than are negative traits. Kuiper and colleagues (Kuiper and Derry 1982; Kuiper and MacDonald 1982; Kuiper et al. 1985) demonstrate that individuals show better cognitive processing and memory for positive personality information than for negative personality information about the self. Ross and Fletcher (1985) report the fundamental attribution error, a self-serving bias whereby one makes favorable attributions when making attributions about oneself and less favorable attributions when making attributions about others. For example, individuals will make internal, stable and uncontrollable attributions for positive outcomes, but attribute negative outcomes to external, unstable uncontrollable sources.

This study employs Taylor’s model of positive illusions (TPI) (Taylor 1983; Taylor and Brown 1988; Taylor 1989). According to this model, individuals mildly distort reality to their benefit due to self-serving biases. This construct represents an in-depth synthesis of many models. According to the TPI model, individuals with positive reality interpretation biases develop enhanced self-esteem, sense of control, and unrealistic optimism, as well as the belief that they are better off than their peers.

The benefits of positive illusions may not be immediately or intuitively apparent. While these biases might be expected to have deleterious effects due to inaccurate self-assessments, findings suggest that TPI has beneficial consequences. Higher levels of positive illusions are related to increased happiness and contentment, as well as to more creative and productive work, a greater capacity to care for others, higher motivation persistence and performance. In addition, TPI provide an adaptive mechanism, enabling individuals facing critical illnesses to adjust and cope better (Taylor and Armor 1996; Taylor et al 1998).

CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISONS OF POSITIVE ILLUSIONS

Positive illusions have been demonstrated in numerous studies using North American samples in social psychology and health psychology. TPI has not been previously tested cross-culturally. Heine and Lehman (1995) find that Canadians demonstrate significantly more unrealistic optimism than does a Japanese sample. In 1997, Heine and Lehman speculate that one explanation for the lack of positive self-serving biases in Asian cultures may be due to differences between the collectivist vs. individualist nature of Asian vs. North American cultures (Hofstede 1991). This interpretation suggests that Japanese, as members of a collectivist culture, do not focus on individual success. Therefore, positive illusions and other self-serving biases, which function to improve self-evaluation, would not occur. Heine and Lehman suggest that if members in a collectivist culture show a group orientation instead of an individual orientation, that perhaps Japanese would show a group-serving bias instead of a self-serving bias. However, the authors find a lack of both self and group serving biases among Japanese subjects.

Luca (1999) employs TPI as a means of exploring positive self-assessment. She compares a sample of Romanian MBA students to U.S. MBA students along the dimensions of TPI, and found a similar pattern of positive illusions despite the fact that the Romanian culture is considered to be more collectivist than the U.S. culture. Thus, this study provides evidence that the positive illusion phenomenon may be a cultural similarity rather than difference.

Luca applies positive illusions to individuals in the workplace. Her findings include demonstrating that individuals with high positive illusions are more motivated in the workplace than those with lwer positive illusions. She also finds that individuals with relatively higher levels of positive illusions enjoy greater career success and produce a higher level of performance than do individuals with lower levels of positive illusions. This research contributes to the organizational literature by developing a positive self-assessment model as well as demonstrating its association with increased motivation and career success. Luca also identifies career expectations as a useful arena in which to measure positive illusions.

POSITIVE ILLUSIONS AND CONSUMPTION

We seek to introduce the notion of positive illusions to the consumer literature, extend the measure of positive illusions to consumption behavior, and consider consumer theory implications of the positive illusions construct.

Using the Romanian sample data from Luca’s (1999) study, we explore differences in expected consumption between individuals who score high vs. low on positive illusions.

Hypotheses

Luca’s questionnaire instrument includes questions about several important and relevant purchases. Her questions include descriptions of the respondent’s current and expected future car, current and expected future home, and expected vacation location and frequency. Future expectations are framed according to "at graduation" and "ultimately." We hypothesize that we would find evidence of positive illusions in the predicted consumption data, such that individuals with higher levels of positive illusions would report higher likelihoods of owning nicer cars and homes and of taking more frequent and more prestigious vacations.

The Sample

The sample consists of 85 Romanian executive MBA students. The data collection occurred at an institution located in Bucharest. Sixty-five percent of the sample was male, the mean age was 35, and 27% of the students in the sample are entrepreneurs.

The Measures

Luca (1999) develops a survey instrument incorporating several sub-scales. The positive illusion dimensions are based upon Taylor’s Positive Illusions scale. Luca provides eleven business scenarios describing a mix of positive and negative situations. Twenty-two questions are created by asking the participants to appraise the likelihood of each of the eleven business scenarios occurring to themselves, and to their peers. That is, each scenario was presented twice; once in the context of self-likelihood assessment and once in the context of evaluating the likelihood a peer would experience that situation. The questions are asked in a random order. After reverse scoring for negative vs. positive events, positive illusions are then measured by difference scores, created by deducting the self ratings of outcome likelihood from the respondent’s rating of a peer’s likelihood of experiencing the same outcome. The eleven difference scores are then combined to form an overall level of positive illusions.

The consumption measures include a description of the respondent’s current car and the cars expected to be owned at graduation and ultimately (ultimately to refer to after some post-graduation period of career development). Current housing and expected housing, at graduation and ultimately, data are collected by asking for a description of the type of houses currently owned and expected to be owned at graduation and ultimately. Just as in the U.S., one can afford a larger house in a less prestigious neighborhood, while a small apartment in a more prestigious location may have more value. Hence, data are also collected on the "district" of the current and expected housing. Finally, expectations of vacationing behaviors, in frequency and in ocation, are collected.

These descriptions are coded with knowledge of Romanian and European brands, housing preferences, and vacation preferences. Scaled categories of consumption for each category with scores ranging from 1 (lowest, worst, least valued) to 5 (highest, best, most valued) are developed.

Analysis

Multiple regression analysis, controlling for age, gender, and entrepreneurship is run on the consumption measures to determine the role of positive illusions as measured by the self-other difference scores. F-statistics are calculated to evaluate the significance of the effects.

Results

Cars. Positive illusions are marginally significant in predicting the car currently owned by the students (F(1)=3.57, p=.06) and in predicting the car expected to be owned at graduation (F(1)=3.72, p=.06). There is no effect of positive illusions on predicting the car expected to be ultimately owned (F(1)=.86, p>.3).

Houses. There are no significant effects of positive illusions in explaining the type of current housing (F(1)=.70, p>.4) or the housing expected to be owned at graduation (F(1)=1.07, p>.3). However, positive illusions do have a significant effect in explaining the type of housing expected to be owned ultimately (F(1)=5.39, p<.05). In a similar pattern, there are no significant effects of positive illusions on the expected district of housing at graduation (F(1)=1.41, p>.3), but there is a significant effect of positive illusions in explaining the district for ultimate housing expected to be owned (F(1)=8.13, p<.01).

Vacations. There are no statistically significant results for either of the vacation measures. Positive illusions do not explain variance in the expectations of locations of vacations (F(1)=2.45, p>.1) nor in the expectations of vacation frequency (F(1)=.035, p>.8).

Summary. Although we do not find a great deal of support for the relationship between positive illusions and consumer behavior and expectations, we did find some results that encourage us to pursue this stream of research. The coding of housing, car, and vacation preferences is a difficult task. It is possible that our coding scheme does not permit as fine-tuned scaling of the consumption expectations as we would like to have. As we pursue this research, we recommend the use of consumer-based evaluations, by independent interviews or focus groups by appropriately matched consumer groups.

DISCUSSION

Through this research, we have introduced Taylor’s construct of positive illusions to the consumption arena. We have established that positive illusions can be measured by (expected) consumer behavior. We believe that the further study of positive illusions and consumption has significant potential. Due to their differing response to statistical information about event likelihood, we expect that individuals with higher levels of positive illusions will respond differently to some types of advertising appeals than individuals of lower (or no) positive illusions. For example, an individual with high positive illusions may be more willing to accept that she can experience the same outcomes as a celebrity or other ideal referent. An individual with a lower level positive illusions might be more influenced by a similar-other referent such as a peer. We might also expect expenditure differences between individuals with high versus low positive illusions. We suggest that the relationship between positive illusions and risk proneness, and the resulting implications for consumer behavior, is an interesting path to pursue. Finally, we wonder about the impact of positive illusions on customer satisfaction. Do individuals with higher positive illusions cause the to have higher expectations and hence, make them more difficult to satisfy, or do they reinterpret their experiences with this positive bias, and hence, report greater satisfaction?

REFERENCES

Alicke, M. D. (1985), "Global Self-Evaluation as Determined by the Desirability and Controllability of Trait Adjectives," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1621-1630.

Brown, J.D. (1986), "Evaluations of Self and Others: Self-enhancement Biases in Social Judgment," Social Cognition, 4, 353-376.

Fiske, Susan T. and Shelley E. Taylor (1991), Social Cognition, 2nd edition, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Heine, Steven J. and Darrin R. Lehman (1995), "Cultural Variation in Unrealistic Optimism: Does the West Feel More Vulnerable than the East?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68 (April), 595-607.

Heine, Steven J. and Darrin R. Lehman (1997), "The Cultural Construction of Self-Enhancement: An Examination of Group-Serving Biases," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72 (June), 1268-1283.

Hofstede, Geert (1991), Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, London: McGraw-Hill.

Kahneman, Daniel and Amos Tversky (1984), "Choices, Values, and Frames," American Psychologist, 39, 341-350.

Kuiper, N.A. and P. A. Derry (1982), "Depressed and Nondepressed Content Self-reference in Mild Depressions," Journal of Personality, 50, 67-79.

Kuiper, N.A. and M. R. MacDonald (1982), "Parameters of a Depressive Self-Schema," in J. Suis and A.G. Greenwald (eds.), Psychological perspectives on the Self, Volume 2, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 191-217.

Kuiper, N.A., L. J. Olinger, M. R. MacDonald, and B. F. Shaw (1985), "Self-schema Processing of Depressed and Nondepressed Content: The Effects of Vulnerability to Depression," Social Cognition, 2, 77-93.

Luca, Anastasia M. (1999), Positive Self-Assessments at Work: Positive Illusions, Motivation, and Career Success, unpublished dissertation.

Nisbett, Richard E. and Lee Ross (1980), Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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Taylor, Shelley E., M. E. Kemeny, G. M. Reed, and J. E. Bower (1998), "Psychosocial Influences on Course of Disease: Predictors of HIB Progression," Health Psychology Update, 25, 250-260.

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Authors

Anastasia M. Luca, UCLA, U.S.A.
Deborah Cours, California State University, Northridge, U.S.A.



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999



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