Special Session Summary Mixed Emotional Experiences: Consumer Reactions to Affective Complexity


Patti Williams and Suresh Ramanathan (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Mixed Emotional Experiences: Consumer Reactions to Affective Complexity", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 344-346.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 344-346



Patti Williams, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Suresh Ramanathan, University of Chicago, USA

Since the 1980s, emotions have received increasing attention from consumer researchers. The impact of emotions has been examined in numerous domains including consumer satisfaction (e.g. Westbrook and Oliver 1991), advertising response (e.g. Batra and Ray 1987; Edell and Burke 1987), decision-making (e.g. Luce 1998) and variety seeking (Kahn and Isen 1993). Accumulating research suggests that a deeper understanding of the emotional experience of consumers promises to shed light on our understanding of many areas of consumer research. The majority of past research has focused upon the experience of single, pure emotions. However, a growing interest in a broad spectrum of conflicting psychological states (e.g., attitude ambivalence, Priester and Petty 1996) and in conflicting emotion-states in particular, has led to increased theoretical development in this area.

For example, recent research has shown that while individuals can simultaneously feel happy and sad (Larsen, McGraw, and Cacioppo 2002), the degree to which they feel torn between these two emotions, and thereby are persuaded by appeals reflecting pure versus mixed emotions may be moderated by a propensity to accept duality (as operationalized via cultural background or age group, Williams and Aaker 2002). Complex blends of oppositely valenced emotional experiences have been observed in a variety of consumer situations, from "once-in-a-lifetime" highly engaging events such as planning for one’s wedding (e.g., Otnes, Lowrey, and Shrum 1997) to low-involvement habitual impulsive behaviors (e.g. Rook 1985), to much less engaging events such as watching television commercials (Edell and Burke 1987). Consumers, it seems clear, often experience mixed emotions (e.g., Polivy 1981). However, despite being commonplace, mixed emotions have, until recently, been largely overlooked in consumer research.

The three papers in this session focus on complex or mixed consumer emotions and examine the effect this complexity can have upon persuasion, judgments and behavior. The first paper considers the resources needed to process pure versus mixed appeals and how such resource demands interact with visual and verbal advertising content to influence persuasion. The second paper focuses on the immediate and delayed emotional responses arising from the engagement in impulsive behaviors and how those emotions change future behaviors. Finally, the third paper is ongoing research by psychologists active in the area of affective dilemmas, and examines mixed emotional responses to stigmatized individuals and acts.

Lau and Meyers-Levy argue that persuasion depends on the resources and goals consumers bring to bear when processing a mixed versus single emotional appeal. They examine the persuasiveness of a single (low resource demands) or mixed (high resource demands) emotional message. Results show that mixed emotional appeals are more resource demanding than pure appeals. Moreover, the degree to which the visual and verbal elements of the appeal are integrated versus separated interacts with emotional complexity to change the degree to which consumers are persuaded by the different types of appeals. Persuasiveness of the more resource demanding mixed emotion message is greater when the appeals visual and verbal elements are physically separated rather than integrated. In contrast, the persuasiveness of the less resource demanding single emotion message does not depend on whether such ad elements are separated or integrated.

Ramanathan and Williams examine mixed emotional responses to impulsive consumption, specifically focusing on the interaction between immediate (hedonic) and delayed (self-conscious) emotions (Giner-Sorolla 2001) and their influence on future behavior. In the first experiment, both impulsive and prudent consumers are induced into impulsive behavior via a priming manipulation. Emotional responses are measured immediately after engagement in the impulsive act, as well as one day later. Results show that hedonic emotions prevail in the short-run among all consumers. However, these are mixed with self-conscious emotions among prudent consumers. After one day, however, those short-term hedonic emotions decay for both groups, leaving only prudent consumers with a negative trace. This in turn, reduces intentions for prudent consumers to re-engage in the same impulsive behavior, relative to impulsive consumers. A second experiment finds that giving prudent consumers the opportunity to engage in a utilitarian (versus impulsive) behavior, after an initial act of impulsive consumption, reduces their experience of self-conscious emotions immediately after the impulsive act.

In the third paper in the session, Giner-Sorolla and Rodriguez present results from a preliminary study and two experiments examining how judgments toward stigmatized persons and behaviors are influenced by conflicting emotional reactions. Like the second paper, this one also explores the interaction between immediate and delayed emotional responses. Previous work and present experiments find that disgust is an immediate reaction to stigmatized acts. However, while past work has suggested that disgust is not very amenable to cognitive restructuring, the present work finds that over time, delayed emotions of anger and compassion play a role in judgments as well, on the basis of the more effortful process of thinking about an act’s consequences. The authors, both psychologists, will relate their findings to consumer domains.




Loraine Lau-Gesk, University of Minnesota, USA

Joan Meyers-Levy, University of Minnesota, USA

Ads often contain emotional appeals, sometimes encouraging a single emotion (e.g., happiness) and other times fostering multiple and mixed emotions (e.g., both happiness and sadness). Although instances of both types of emotional appeals are easily found in the consumer marketplace (Edell and Burke 1987), surprisingly little research has examined factors influencing the effectiveness of these two types of appeals.

In particular, one issue not yet addressed in the existing literature is the extent to which ad processing demands differ between mixed and single emotion appeals (Williams and Aaker 2002). Given their multiple and oppositional nature, mixed emotion appeals should require more processing resources than single emotion appeals. The current research relies on this basic premise and on extant research that draws upon resource matching principles to investigate when persuasion is enhanced for mixed versus single emotion appeals.

Specifically, Peracchio and Meyers-Levy (1997) showed that when consumers’ goals to process an ad are high and thereby seek and presumably obtain visual confirmation of a verbal message claim, they respond favorably to highly demanding message appeals wherein the visual and verbal claims are integrated rather than separated. In contrast, when the processing demands of the message appeal are low, highly motivated consumers tend to prefer ads that physically segregate rather than integrate the visual and verbal ad components. Resource matching theory suggests that favorable evaluations occur when the processing resources allocated by the consumer matches the resources required to fully process and substantiate the ad. In this way, only when there is a match (versus mismatch) of the resources allocated versus required do consumers use visual elements of the ad to substantiate the message claim made (Anand and Sternthal 1989). Moreover, integration of the visual and verbal message claims appears to demand fewer processing resources than separation.

The first experiment finds initial support for the premise that mixed emotional appeals demand more processing resources than single emotional appeals. Specifically, integration of picture and message claim leads to more favorable evaluations for mixed emotional appeals whereas separation of picture and message claim leads to more favorable evaluations for sad emotional appeals. However, responses toward happy emotional appeals are not affected by integration versus separation. A second experiment extends this theory by examining the persuasiveness of single (i.e., low resource demands) or mixed (i.e., high resource demands) emotional appeals when ambiguity inherent in the ad’s visual elements would defy processors’ attempts to confirm the emotion(s) discussed in the message. Under these conditions, we predict and observe that the persuasiveness of the more resource demanding mixed emotion message is greater when the ad’s visual and verbal elements are physically separated rather than integrated, yet the persuasiveness of less resource demanding single emotion messages is relatively low and constant regardless of whether such ad elements were separated or integrated. Interestingly, participants who are better able to seek visual confirmation generate more negative thoughts about the visual elements of the ad than participants who are less able to substantiate the verbal with the visual claims.

Implications of the findings will be discussed in light of the current understanding of resource matching theory, as well as the role of motivation versus ability in emotional regulation.



Suresh Ramanathan, University of Chicago, USA

Patti Williams, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Studies on consumer impulses have documented the presence of spontaneous positive affect guiding behavior, as well as feelings of guilt after the behavior is engaged in (e.g., Rook 1985, 1987). Recent work by Ramanathan and Menon (2002) has shown that at least some forms of impulsive behavior can be automatically activated by hedonic goals that in turn are activated by situational cues in the environment. The experience of mixed emotions after an impulsive act, however, may militate against such automatic activation. The present research attempts to address these two different points of view by looking at the degree to which different people experience mixed emotions after impulsive acts and how they reconcile the mixed emotions so experienced.

Following from the work by Giner-Sorolla (2001), we examine the extent to which people experience immediate emotions and delayed self-conscious emotions after an impulsive act. Giner-Sorolla suggests that self-conscious emotions such as guilt are experienced after a delay, presumably because it takes time and resources to process such emotions. In our first study, we test this proposition by priming both impulsive and prudent consumers with a hedonic goal. Ramanathan and Menon (2002) found that there was an increased incidence of impulsive behavior among both impulsive and prudent people after a temporary hedonic goal was primed. We examine the emotions felt after such behavior by manipulating the timing of the emotion measure (either immediately after the first impulsive act or a day after the act). We also manipulate the time people are presented with an opportunity to express an intention to re-engage in the same behavior (either 5 minutes after the first act or a day after the act). Results indicate that both impulsive and prudent individuals experience hedonic emotions immediately after engaging in the impulsive act. However, prudent people showed a greater extent of self-conscious emotions both immediately and after a delay as compared to impulsive people. This is reflected in a greater degree of ambivalence among prudent people immediately after the impulsive act, though results also show that this ambivalence decays in favor of a negative emotional trace one day later. In contrast, we found no evidence of ambivalence among impulsive people either immediately or after a delay, suggesting that self-conscious emotions were either not experienced or somehow rendered non-diagnostic in the interim. Reported intentions to re-engage in the same behavior were higher among impulsive people compared to prudent people.

In a second study, we looked at how people might reconcile their ambivalence or negative emotional components experienced after an impulsive act. Following from findings reported by Levav and McGraw (2002), we hypothesized that when prudent consumers could engage in a utilitarian behavior after the impulsive (hedonic) one, they were less likely to feel self-conscious emotions afterwards, because they would be able to effectively "launder" their self-conscious emotions through engagement in the utilitarian actions. Following the procedure in Study 1, all subjects were primed with a hedonic goal and those who acted impulsively in response were chosen for the next phase of the study. Once again, the emotion measure was taken either immediately after the act or a day later. Subjects were then presented with an opportunity to engage in either a utilitarian behavior, a hedonic behavior, or to do neither. Once again, we find that prudent people are most likely to experience ambivalence immediately after engaging in an impulsive act. However, when given the choice to act again after the impulsive act, this group was also more likely to choose to engage in a utilitarian behavior, relative to a hedonic one. In contrast, prudent people for whom the emotion measure was taken a day after chose neither the utilitarian nor the hedonic option. Impulsive people, on the other hand, were more likely to choose the hedonic behavior (in what could be a "what the hell" effect) both immediately and one day later.



Roger Giner-Sorolla, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK

Roberto Gutierrez, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK

In dealing with stigmatized persons and behaviors, judgments may be controlled by a variety of conflicting emotional reactions. These judgments will impact consumer behavior when, for example, an HIV-positive spokesperson is employed, an advertiser tries to promote an inherently unpleasant product, or a brand tries to recover from repulsive product rumors.

We propose a model in which stigmatized acts first invoke an immediate, irrational negative reaction of disgust that can be modified later by the presence or absence of anger arising from the perceived consequences of the act and also by compassion for the individuals involved.

Importantly, research shows that disgust is an immediate reaction that is not very amenable to cognitive restructuring; for example, people are disgusted by the thought of wearing the sweater of someone who has died of AIDS, even though they realize it can have no negative consequences (Rozin & Nemeroff, 1990; Rozin, Markwith & McCauley, 1994). More recent work (Haidt, 2001) finds that victimless scenarios involving a stigmatized behavior evoke immediate negative, and that people will sometimes bend the parameters of the scenario in order to come up with consequences that fit the initial affect. This work seeks to expand on this initial disgust-focused work, by looking at the ways in which the emotions of anger and compassion may strengthen or mitigate initial judgments, on the basis of the more effortful process of thinking about an act’s consequences.

A preliminary study generated scenarios describing stigmatized acts, and found that anger, disgust and compassion each made contributions to the overall judgment of each act. In particular, anger, but not disgust, was responsive to the valence of an act’s perceived consequences, and these two emotions formed separate factors in judgments of highly stigmatized but victimless acts. Compassion toward an act’s perpetrator was influenced by the act’s consequences primarily among highly stigmatized acts, and had a lesser influence on judgments of the act’s rightness or wrongness.

Results from two other studies now in progress will also be presented. The first of these studies examined thinking about consequences within-participants, asking participants to write down emotions that came to mind regarding stigmatized behaviors before and after writing down the likely consequences of the behavior. It is expected that anger and compassion, relative to disgust, will be more influential on judgments made after thinking about consequences, and that these emotions will be influenced by the valence of consequences listed. In preliminary analysis of this study’s results, extreme taboo acts such as incest showed a negative relationship between the number of consequences written down and judgment; the more consequences, the more extremely negatively the act was judged. However, more moderate taboo acts such as prostitution showed a positive relationship between the number of consequences and judgment, indicating that thinking about consequences may be related to more moderate judgments.

The second of these studies uses a between-participants manipulation and scaled emotion item to compare judgments after thinking about consequences versus judgments without thinking about consequences and judgments made under cognitive load. It is expected that under load, disgust will be more influential than anger and compassion on overall judgment.


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Patti Williams, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Suresh Ramanathan, University of Chicago, USA


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003

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