Consumption As Therapy: a Phenomenological Inquiry Into Mood-Alleviative Consumer Behaviors

ABSTRACT - This paper presents a phenomenological exploration of different negative emotional experiences and the consumer behaviors that are resorted to in order to self-regulate these experiences. The belief that consumer behaviors are engaged in for mood-alleviative purposes is supported by the empirical data of this investigation. Against this background, it appears surprising that consumer behaviors have so rarely been viewed from an explicit mood-alleviative perspective. People possess numerous mood-alleviative habits, some of which are consumption-related, some not. The empirical data shows how finely structured, differentiated, and sophistocated mood-alleviative consumer behaviors can be. The therapeutic power of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors stems from different sources; there are at least three types of therapeutic power: distraction, self-indulgence, and stimulated elaboration. Most mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are successful in mitigating negative moods. However, the emotional consequences can also be negative: regret, shame, guilt, or a bad conscience. The mixed emotional consequences of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors crown the inherent complexity of this phenomenon. The paper is concluded by discussing the theoretical and managerial implications of the findings.



Citation:

Harri T. Luomala (2001) ,"Consumption As Therapy: a Phenomenological Inquiry Into Mood-Alleviative Consumer Behaviors", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 175-182.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 175-182

CONSUMPTION AS THERAPY: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL INQUIRY INTO MOOD-ALLEVIATIVE CONSUMER BEHAVIORS

Harri T. Luomala, University of Vaasa, Finland

ABSTRACT -

This paper presents a phenomenological exploration of different negative emotional experiences and the consumer behaviors that are resorted to in order to self-regulate these experiences. The belief that consumer behaviors are engaged in for mood-alleviative purposes is supported by the empirical data of this investigation. Against this background, it appears surprising that consumer behaviors have so rarely been viewed from an explicit mood-alleviative perspective. People possess numerous mood-alleviative habits, some of which are consumption-related, some not. The empirical data shows how finely structured, differentiated, and sophistocated mood-alleviative consumer behaviors can be. The therapeutic power of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors stems from different sources; there are at least three types of therapeutic power: distraction, self-indulgence, and stimulated elaboration. Most mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are successful in mitigating negative moods. However, the emotional consequences can also be negative: regret, shame, guilt, or a bad conscience. The mixed emotional consequences of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors crown the inherent complexity of this phenomenon. The paper is concluded by discussing the theoretical and managerial implications of the findings.

The belief that negative moods play a major role in the lives of people in general and in their consumer behavior in particular seems well-warranted; the multitude of mood-alleviative habits (Rippere 1977; Parker and Brown 1982; Cunningham 1988; Thayer, Newman, and McClain 1994) lends support to the significance of the role of mood experiences in human life. In the words of Thayer et al. (1994, p. 910): "...mood is now recognized as a central element of human behavior." As implied above, negative moods are not only experienced, they are handled as well (Frijda 1986, p. 401). People’s drive to self-regulate their negative mood experiences may be a rather basic human motive in maintaining their general welfare (Schaller and Cialdini 1990, p. 281). Consumption, in one form or another is a major mood-alleviative device in modern western societies (cf. Gould 1991; Kacen 1994; Luomala and Laaksonen 1999). In other words, different consumer behaviors are used to self-regulate the experience of negative moods.

In spite of this, it has not been usual to view consumer behaviors from a mood-alleviative perspective in consumer research (Luomala 1998). Thus, there is not a solid conceptual base formed by past studies on which research concerning mood-alleviative consumer behaviors could be grounded. As a consequence, a need for theory-building research is obvious. We also need more empirical knowledge concerning mood-alleviative consumer behaviors in order to advance the construction of a theory or a model of mood-alleviative consumption. Fortunately, researchers have begun to pay more attention to this phenomenon (Sujan, Sujan, Bettman and Verhallen 1999; Luomala 1999).

In line with such a development, this paper offers a phenomenological account of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. The study is structured in the following way. In the first section, past psychological research is briefly reviewed to provide some guidance for formulating meaningful research objectives. Next, the method and sample are briefly described. The key findings of the phenomenological exploration are reported in the third section of the paper. Finally, the paper is concluded by a discussion highlighting theoretical and managerial implications.

FORMULATING THE RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

Past psychological research offers many theoretical insights for studies addressing mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. First, there are theoretical reasons to believe that, as experiences, all negative moods are not alike, even though consumer research has often treated negative moods as a unitary construct. Many theorists accept the following tripartition of negative moods: irritation, stress, and dejection. For instance, according to Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1989), sadness (relates to dejection), fear (relates to stress), and anger (relates to irritation) are amongst the emotions that are most basic. The phenomenology of these moods is different because their "emotional roots" are distinct.

The mood of irritation is a derivative of the emotional family of anger (cf. Shaver, Schwarz, Kirson, and O’Connor 1987; Lazarus 1991). It is a milder version of anger. A person experiencing irritation is, according to Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974) three-dimensional mood model, feeling unpleasant, engaged, and submissive simultaneously.

The mood of stress is a derivative of the emotional family of fear (cf. Shaver et al. 1987; Lazarus 1991). However, stress is subtler than fear. According to Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974) three-dimensional mood model, a person experiencing stress is feeling unpleasant, engaged, and dominant simultaneously. It may appear odd that stress (being fear-based) should be marked by dominance or perception of having too much control (cf. Kacen 1994). However, dominance can also be construed to reflect the perception of having too great responsibility (cf. Ellsworth and Smith 1988).

The mood of dejecton is a derivative of the emotional family of sadness (cf. Shaver et al. 1987; Lazarus 1991). According to Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974) three-dimensional model, a person experiencing dejection is feeling unpleasant, disengaged, and submissive simultaneously. In conclusion, past psychological research suggests that there are qualitative distinctions between different negative emotional experiences.

Second, prior psychological research has identified several mood-alleviative strategies people implement when they are experiencing negative moods. For instance, Thayer et al. (1994) divided the strategies aimed at self-regulating negative moods into six categories: 1) active mood management, 2) seeking pleasurable activities and distraction, 3) passive mood management, 4) social support, ventilation, and gratification, 5) direct tension reduction, and 6) withdrawal-avoidance. It is important to realize that most of these strategies are easy to implement through consumer behaviors.

Although mood-alleviative consumer behavior has not been studied under this label, there are certain consumption phenomena which have received academic attention and are more or less linked to the notion of mood-alleviation. Examples of these phenomena with linkages to mood-alleviation include impulse purchasing, compensatory consumption, recreational shopping, and self-gift behaviors. For instance, impulse purchasing has been shown to be an effective tactic for breaking out of an undesirable mood state such as depression, frustration, or boredom (Gardner and Rook 1988, p. 128). As regards self-gifting, people have been found to take bubble baths, to get a massage, to indulge in beauty treatments, and to buy clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, snacks, candies, CDs, and furnishing articles in order to alleviate bad moods (Luomala and Laaksonen 1999).

Three objectives of this paper can be derived from the preceding discussion. First, to phenomenologically describe qualitatively different negative mood experiences. This description provides important background for understanding experiences connected with mood-alleviative activities. Second, to produce phenomenological insights concerning the practices of mood-alleviative consumption. Third, to suggest theoretical and managerial implications concerning mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. This paper seeks to contribute to consumer behavior research in two ways. First, it brings a neglected area of investigation to the attention of consumer researchers. Second, it offers empirical insights and findings that can serve as theoretical building blocks in advancing the construction of a theory or model of mood-alleviative consumption.

METHOD AND SAMPLE

The data used in the present study consisted of written reports. The textual material for the analysis was gathered by publishing a request for written responses in several Finnish national and regional newspapers and in two more infrequently appearing magazines. Nation-wide coverage was aimed at through these national and regional papers. In the request, people were encouraged to write about their experiences of irritation, stress, and dejection as well as about their irritation-, stress-, and dejection-alleviative experiences, including what they typically did in order to alleviate these negative moods. People were instructed to write freely or to use the indicators provided in the request as a guide in their writings.

In the regional papers, the writing request was mainly published as such in the Letters to the Editor column. In the national papers, again, the writing request was accompanied by a short article dealing with the role of consumption as a negative mood-alleviator. The present author and the research project were also featured in this article. In other words, the readers responding to the request in the national papers were automatically guided to write about their consumption-related mood-alleviative activities (e.g. self-gift behaviors), whereas the readers respondng to the request in the regional papers were not guided in this sense. In essence, they were invited to write about anything they felt was associated with negative mood experiences and mood-alleviative activities (not just consumption-related behaviors). As a consequence, there were writings that only dealt with consumption-related mood-alleviative activities and writings that addressed mood-alleviative activities more generally.

A total of 74 writings were received. Four writings were rejected due to their inappropriateness. The writings were mainly composed by women. Of the 70 analyzable writings, only seven were written by men. There are three potential reasons for this. First, women have been found to experience negative affective experiences more often and more intensively than men (Derbaix and Pham 1991). Second, women may be more comfortable than men discussing their feelings and reporting on them (Kacen 1994, p. 36). Third, it may be that the writing request accompanied by a short article treating the role of consumption and shopping as a mood-alleviator attracted more women respondents because they find such a topic more relevant than men (cf. Thompson, Locander, and Pollio 1990; Woodruffe 1996).

As regards other demographic and socioeconomic factors, the sample entertains more variability. The age of the writers varied evenly. Most writers were 25-45 years old, the youngest writer being only 15 years old and the oldest writer 74 years old. As regards education, it varied a lot too. There were writers of a low educational level (elementary or vocational schools), writers having middle level education (different institutes), and people representing a high educational level (universities and colleges). In terms of occupation (and the resulting income level), a typical respondent could not be pointed out. Thus, the writers were journalists, teachers, farmers, pensioners, students, secretaries, nurses, physiotherapists, saleswomen, managers, and full-time mothers. A big group of writers was married (or living in a companionate marriage) with children. Still, quite a few of the writers were single, divorced, or widowers. There was also a big group of writers who did not have children. So, excluding gender, the sample was quite diverse.

The length of the writings varied from one page to several pages. First, each of the writings was read through several times. Next, an analytical summary based on each of the writings was prepared. The findings to be reported are founded on these analytical summaries. The presentation of the findings is structured according to the themes that emerged from the writings.

PHENOMENOLOGICAL FINDINGS

In this section of the paper, the central findings of the phenomenological exploration are reported. This section is divided into two subsections. The first subsection presents the phenomenological characteristics of qualitatively different negative mood experiences. In the second subsection, several phenomenological insights concerning mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are derived and put forth.

Phenomenological Characteristics of Qualitatively Different Negative Mood Experiences

A few writers chose not to differentiate between the experiences of irritation, stress, and dejection. They either wrote about negative mood experiences generally or used the terms irritation, stress, and dejection in a way suggesting that they did not make distinctions between the experiences. This may imply that the writers did not find it natural to make the distinctions or that they did not bother because they felt that the distinctions were not important. However, many writers were able and willing to differentiate between the negative mood experiences of irritation, stress, and dejection. Some evidence can be extracted from the writings implying that the phenomenological properties of the experiences of irritation, stress, and ejection are different.

Irritation Experience. There were numerous causes of irritation. Some examples include spousal relationships, actions of the government, untidiness at home, other people’s laziness, "besserwissers" at the workplace, unsatisfying sex, noise, immoral behavior of other people, lack of service personnel in stores, and neighbors.

"Oftentimes, my kids’ silly actions, my wife’s tantrums, and my fellow workers’ practical jokes (and there are a lot of them) arouse irritation in me." (36-year-old married man)

"Oftentimes I get irritated by my husband. Stupid actions of the government irritate me even more than my husband." (47-year-old married woman)

"The biggest causes of my irritation are my work community, people in it, and the lack of open discussion." (46-year-old married woman)

At a more abstract level, it seems that people experience irritation when they feel that they themselves are not responsible for a negative state of affairs. The responsibilty lies outside (e.g. in other people, the government, circumstances). Another feature of irritation experiences appears to be that people’s goal-driven behaviors are prevented or impaired. Irritation is also experienced as a quite intensive and transient feeling state. Some writers themselves are aware of these aspects of irritation experiences.

"I get irritated if something does not happen the way it should. The other party (kids, husband, school, community, society) does not function in the way I expect or as it has been agreed upon." (37-year-old married woman)

"Irritation is especially caused by situations in which the desired goal remains unreached due to another person or unfavorable circumstances." (woman)

"Irritation is an intense mood." (65-year-old married woman)

"Of these three negative moods, irritation feels most superficial, changeable, and intense." (woman in companionate marriage)

"Nothing feels rightBit pisses me off, I’m angry." (58-year-old married woman)

Stress Experience. The typical sources of stress are a little different from the typical sources of irritation. Examples of typical sources of stress are illnesses or a threat of them, uncertainty about the future, work pressures, lack of money, problematical human relationships, public performance, fear of death, aging, formal occasions, being a single parent with kids, and moving to another place. A few illustrative citations from the texts:

"When a bad moment comes, I am scared about the future in terms of economic well-being. I start to think that was I totally crazy to move here." (44-year-old divorced woman)

"It is stressing at work when my fellow workers are simultaneously on sick leave, and there are no replacements. I feel that I don’t have the time to do everything I am supposed to do." (30-year-old married woman)

"I have experienced stress in my work when I encountered a situation in which the responsibility was too big. In human relations, I have discovered that stress is a health risk if a relationship simply does not work in the long run." (67-year-old divorced woman)

"I experience stress especially in work- and study-related situations when there is too much to do in relation to the available time resources." (woman)

Again, at a more abstract level, it seems that people experience stress in situations which are marked by uncertainty and a high degree of novelty or complexity. Stress is experienced occasionally as intensive and oppressive, but it can also remain in the background. People are uncertain whether they are able to cope with these situations. Essentially, they are afraid of losing control over their responsibilities, themselves, and their lives. In other words, they realize that they are personally deeply involved in the siuation that is causing stress. They feel that they are responsible for coping with the situation. This is coupled with the fear that if they are not able to cope, something bad will happen to them. These things make stress experientially more taxing than irritation. A few illustrative citations from the writings are offered.

"Stress is a feeling of inadequacy. When I’m stressed I cannot think about anything else." (28-year-old married woman)

"Work-related stress often shows in the following way: I cannot sleep properly after four or five o’clock in the morning." (36-year-old married man)

"I wake up at four o’clock, I’m still tired, but thoughts start whirling in my head. I’m restless, I cannot concentrate, my memory fails me." (65-year-old married woman)

"Stress is a paralyzing feeling." (24-year-old single woman)

"The dead end of life." (58-year-old married woman)

Dejection Experience. The typical sources of dejection share some common features with the typical sources of stress, but they also possess some special characteristics. A short list of the typical sources of dejection looks like this: losses, illnesses, divorces, loneliness, lack of money, remoteness from one’s relatives, pondering over fundamental issues of life, the seasons, broken relationships, disappointments, and received criticism. Illustrative citations follow.

"This long-lasting sickness (foot disability) also depresses me and makes me dejected." (older woman)

"I am dejected when I spend a lot of time alone with my dog." (46-year-old married woman)

"My bad financial position alone is enough to bring me down, because I cannot always have what I would need." (44-year-old married woman)

By the same token, it also seems that the cause of dejection cannot always be detected. Either people do not always consciously register that they are dejected or do so only later. However, at that time they may not any longer be able to remember the cause of their dejection. Or perhaps the experience of dejection is sometimes a result of an accumulation of minor negative incidents. Thus, no individual source of dejection can always be tracked down.

"Dejection is strange. It just comes. There is no reason for it. It is general melancholy." (28-year-old married woman)

"I sometimes feels dejected without an obvious reason..." (51-year-old married woman)

Looking at the experience of dejection from a more abstract angle, it seems to be featured by the experiencer’s incapacity to change the state of affairs from which dejection arises. The second important characteristic of dejection experience is its paralyzing effect. It appears that when a person is subject to severe dejection he/she does not feel like doing anything any more. A person may seek isolation from the outside world and flee into self-pity, apathy, and passiveness. The following citations shed some light on these points.

"When I am dejected, I just am, lying, thinking, passively watching TV. I am trying to sleep more than is necessary. I desire nothing." (51-year-old married woman)

"Dejection is passive melancholy that paralyzes action." (28-year-old married woman)

"Dejection is often caused by a situation in which I feel that I am totally incapable of changing the way things are. When I am dejected, I feel being trapped; I am incapable of changing the situation. Sometimes I sink into pleasurable melancholy and self-pity..." (woman)

In conclusion, the dejection experience does not seem to have a lot in common with the experience of irritation. Phenomenologically dejection is similar to stress in that the sources of dejection are often closely attached to the self andits well-being. Still, there seems to be one difference between them in this respect. While dejected, a person does not feel at all able to influence the state of affairs that instigated dejection, whereas a stressed person feels, in principle, capable of removing the stressor if coping with it is successful. There is still one additional feature that distinguishes dejection from both irritation and stress. It appears to be a more passive state than irritation and stress. When dejected, people’s energy levels are low and the appetite for life is lost.

Phenomenological Insights into Mood-Alleviative Consumer Behaviors

People have countless ways of dealing with negative moods. A number of phenomenological accounts of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are reported next to convey a rich picture of how the writers themselves experienced the pursuits of mood-alleviative consumption.

"When I’m dejected I like to buy something good, such as candies, chocolate, or chips, for myself as a comfort. Often I also bake myself something sweet when I’m dejected." (22-year-old woman in companionate marriage)

"After getting married I started to comfort myself by buying shoes and make-up if I had quarreled with my husband. It feels justified then. ... When I became pregnant and could not any longer comfort myself with a glass of wine, I bought something small. ... Especially, when my husband had been drinking, I in a way revenged on him by buying a piece of furniture if I could just afford it." (37-year-old married woman)

"As a consequence of dejection, I may comfort myself by buying something, usually something small such as chocolate or a women’s magazine. ...I might buy a couple of blouses to alleviate my dejection. ... When I’m irritated I buy delicious fastfood such as a slice of pizza or I go to a candy store and spend incredibly large amounts of money on candies." (27-year-old single woman)

"Amongst my friends it is completely normal to talk about so-called Stockmann-therapy (a high image department store chain in Finland), which means buying, consolation. I myself primarily associate it with dejection and feeling blue-like mood. I want to cheer up or compensate a disappointment in work etc. The Stockmann-therapy can be cheap or expensive, but usually I buy clothes, make-up, or bagsBin other words we are within the limits of 200-1000 marks. Minor disappointments and normal dejection are repaired by the theme "chocolate always helps," in other words, one buys a chocolate bar, pastry, or biscuits. ... Stress is tackled by relaxation exercises and visits to a masseur’s, a pedicurist’s, and hairdresser’s." (35-year-old single woman)

"When I’m feeling dejected, I do small things that give me satisfaction. I make coffee, I may buy something sweet to eat with my coffee, I may take a glass of wine or liqueur. ... When I am irritated I spend more on entertainment. I may go to see a movie I have been planning to see." (51-year-old married woman)

"When I’m feeling that nobody loves me and life is depressing, I buy beautiful clothes for myself. A new dress or blouse cheers me up quickly. Also new make-up, a new hairdo, chocolate, gloves, a scarf, or a pair of tights will help if I’m sad." (woman in companionate marriage)

"The way I rebel against gloominess depends on the amount of available money. A) I have very little money: I take a bath, use body lotions and Eau de Toilet (they are free for me because of my work). The scent depends on the intensity of the gloominess; the gloomier the more oriental the scent. The gloomier it is, the more stress I put on perfumes, make-up, hair, clothes, and jewelry. An especially bad day requires bright red nail polish. A minor morning gloominess can be counteracted by drinking a bottle of mild beer and reading the yellow paper which has the spiciest scandals. B) I have money about 50 marks: 1) I get a 40-mark bottle of wine and watch an action video (from my own collection) such as "The raiders of the lost arch." 2) I go to see an acion movie (e.g. "Twister") at the cinema and have a beer on the way back home. 3) I get a bottle of wine and go to see my girlfriend. C) I have extra money about 100-150 marks: 1) I’m having lunch in a decent restaurant (must have service at table): a steak with French fries or Italian pasta and a glass of red wine. 2) I go to a theatre and have a glass of sherry during the intermission. 3) I browse in bookstores and/or antiquarian bookshops and buy a couple of new books, preferably scifi or fantasy in English." (52-year-old single woman)

"After a week of the breakup of our relationship, I went to clothing stores to browse around. I decided to buy a beautiful woollen pullover for myself and that the price would not make any difference to me. I bought it and another nice blouse, socks, and gloves as well." (19-year-old single woman)

These citations clearly indicate that there is a linkage between mood-alleviation and consumer behaviors. They also seem to imply that the writers are well aware of the true nature of mood-alleviative consumers behaviors, that is, they consciously understand that these behaviors represent an attempt to compensate for the felt negative moods. Lastly, these citations demonstrate how finely structured, differentiated, and sophisticated mood-alleviative consumer behaviors can be. This, in turn, indicates people’s great adaptability in coping with negative moods.

Some respondents were highly knowledgeable both in the abstract and the concrete sense about their typical ways to alleviate irritation, stress, and dejection. For example, one of the writers, after going through multiple illustrations concerning how she alleviated irritation, abstracted the following structure for her irritation-alleviative behaviors: immediate emotional reactionC> thinking C>problem-directed action C>after-care. The structure of mood-alleviative behaviors can remain the same, while the content of the behaviors may change depending on the situational contingencies. For instance, the writer cited earlier idenfied three alternative courses of action depending on the available monetary resources. The alternative patterns of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors were virtually the same, although the settings for the behaviors changed from everyday and "cheap" to more luxurious and "expensive".

The third illustration of the high sophistication of mood-alleviative activities relates to a respondent who identified himself as a heavy expert consumer of music and movies. Perhaps naturally, his favorite mood-alleviative consumer behaviors were listening to music and going to the movies. Still, he made it clear that not every kind of music helps when he is irritated or dejected. In his opinion, stress is the most difficult negative mood to cope with. In the case of stress, music is not enough; movies, but not all kinds of movies, have to be resorted to. A citation from his writing is presented to substantiate these claims.

"When I’m irritated, only intensive and strong music will do, such as Shirley Bassey’s magnificent performances of Bond-film songs. ... Music is strongly related to memories and when I’m dejected I listen to the music that brings back the situation which made me sad. When you are stuck in remembering sad things, you can also slide to a more joyful atmosphere with the help of music, to those good pieces and good memories. ... When I’m stressed, I go to the movies to see so-called fairytale or fantasy films. They clear my mind and make me feel good, at least for a while." (21-year-old single man)

However, it is probable that many individuals are not very knowledgeable in terms of the sophistication of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. It is likely that those persons who chose to write are more knowledgeable in this sense than people in general. It is also worthwhile noting that some people may specifically avoid engaging in consumer behaviors when they are in a bad mood.

Therapeutic Powerof Mood-Alleviative Consumer Behaviors. The therapeutic power of different mood-alleviative consumer behaviors stems from different sources. Not every mood-alleviative consumer behavior is therapeutic in the same way. Different persons appear to experience the therapeutic power of the same mood-alleviative consumer behavior differently. A few citations that shed some light on these issues are offered.

"Seeing and experiencing completely new things recharge your batteries for a long time. When you travel, you almost totally forget worries at home and remembering the trip afterwards gives you strength for a long time. ... I don’t know anything that is more splendid than skiing in late winter, when the sun is warming you and you can feel the spring in the air. Also running or bicycling in summer evenings recharge my batteries. When I’m running alone, I think a lot and often I feel that I have found a solution. While running I dream my most beautiful dreams, my thoughts are wandering as they please. When I get home, I just can’t be depressed. After physical exercise I feel clear and serene, I feel that things are in order (even though they are not), my sleep is deep and peaceful." (34-year-old married woman)

"It gives me satisfaction to browse in shops and touch and see things." (older man)

"Yes, I like to go downtown to shop, eat, and drink (properties of a society lady?)Bwatching and touching goods is nice, and beautiful vanities are important in life to a certain extent. And shopping is most enjoyable with a girlfriend. I guess a man could not understand that I go to a "Body Shop" just to sniff the air between the shelves (SNIFFING!!!BWomen are crazy!)..." (36-year-old single woman)

"Jazzy music is not necessarily the best medicine for depression. Rather, it is thoughtful ballads that help me to clear my thoughts and find reasons for dejection. ... Also literature takes you quickly to another world, but by its nature reading is the kind of activity that does not necessarily lift your spirits very rapidly." (36-year-old married man)

"Music makes old thoughts go away and gives way to new ones." (33-year-old married woman)

"Reading is a good way to relieve depression if I only can concentrate. An interesting detective story takes my thoughts effectively elsewhere. ... Sometimes I go to a cafe to sit and watch other people. The presence and talk of other people make me feel cozy and somehow I feel that I belong there. ... The absolutely best way to alleviate depression and anxiety is to travel, that is, the travelling itself. When you are sitting in a bus or train, you have made a clear decision "now I’m going there," you are living just that moment, you cannot do anything else. People are pretty close to each other and perhaps you start talking to someone." (23-year-old single woman)

"I enjoy immensely trying new clothes on and watching myself in the mirror. I think then "how good I look" and "I should lose weight just a little bit and this blouse would look very sexy on me" etc." (19 years old single woman)

"It is not only buying new things that helps, it is also going to more open spaces and being amongst people that will help. I think that buying new stuff creates some kind of state of euphoria that stimulates my brain. Could it be that when I’m feeling anxious, I think about the meaning of life so much that it is painful, and by browsing in shops and buying I return to a more concrete level." (woman)

On the basis of the citations listed above, there appear to be at least three types of therapeutic power stemming from different mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. The first and second types of therapeutic power have a bearing on mood-alleviative strategies identified earlier in this paper. Thus, their relevance is supported here.

The first type of therapeutic power may be termed distractive. The mood-alleviative consumer behaviors that possess distractive therapeutic power (from the cited text passages: travelling, reading, buying something) work by transferring the person’s houghts from the issues related to negative mood to something else. For instance, the mere sensory stimulation emanating from the consumption environment (sights, sounds, smells, tactile sensations) can work this way. Similarly, if a person happens to find "a perfect thing" on his/her mood-alleviative shopping trip, it may divert his/her thoughts from the negative mood to the purchased item.

Another interesting theme pertaining to distraction is the usage of consumption visions as mood-alleviation. Using the construction of consumption visions to alleviate negative moods means that a person relieves the felt negative mood through mental maneuvers (e.g. thinking, imagining) that are related to consumer behaviors. Sometimes, people can accomplish this without external aid, that is, by just using their imagination. However, some people may need external stimulation to put their imagination into motion. For example, watching TV commercials or flipping through sales catalogues may serve as external stimulation. Resorting purposively to external aid of this nature results in the co-occurrence of mental and behavioral mood-alleviation. Next, a couple of text passages associated with these issues are cited.

"My shopping is also pretty much about looking for ideas, I see clothes and realize that I can make them by myself. I enjoy looking around in interior decoration stores. One sees what one can do at home by oneself...dreaming." (younger woman)

"If I just could afford to, I would weekly go to a masseur’s, a hairdresser’s, and a solarium in order to look better. I’m going to realize all my consumption fantasies I mentioned above. It feels better just to think about the possibility that I could do all that. It is enough for me to think about consumption. Just thinking about it makes me feel good." (31-year-old single woman)

"When I am in a bad mood, I flip through mail-order catalogues and think of what I’m going to order. Sometimes I do order new curtains, clothes, sheets, etc. In a way I try to get rid of my boredom by improving the appearance of my home or by buying new clothes." (woman in companionate marriage)

Self-indulgences form the basic ingredient of the second type of therapeutic power emanating from mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. Several citations listed above dealing with the satisfaction and enjoyment derived from buying new things, trying on new clothes, and browsing in shops, that is, shopping in general, pertain to this type of therapeutic power. The self-indulgent mood-alleviative consumer behaviors possess therapeutic power probably because they are maximally pleasurable. Due to this, they are able to reduce negative moods and reinstate a sufficiently aversive-free mental state that enables an individual to think and function in a more normal manner. In a sense, self-indulgence is some kind of pain-killing. The symptoms of a negative mood are treated first and the underlying reasons for it later (if they are controllable). The self-indulgent therapeutic power of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors appears partially to be intermingled with the distractive therapeutic power.

The third type of therapeutic power may be referred to as stimulated elaboration. The mood-alleviative consumer behaviors whose therapeutic power is based on stimulated elaboration (from the cited narratives: skiing, bicycling, running, listening to music) inspire deep elaboration that is related to the experience of negative mood. The mood-alleviative consumer behaviors possessing therapeutic power of this kind work by facilitating the generation of a solution to or new perspective on the problematic circumstances surrounding the experience of negative mood.

Emotional Consequences of Mood-Alleviative Consumer Behaviors. Most pursued mood-alleviative consumer behaviors seem to be successful in mitigating or removing negative moods. The mere existence of a multitude of mood-alleviative activities the writers possessed and the emergence of the "therapy" theme speaks for this fact. However, it is interestingto note that the emotional consequences of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are not solely positive ones. As a matter of fact, the emotional consequences can also be negative as most of the following citations reveal.

"When I’m depressed I just succumb to eating and sleeping badly, which leads to a general bad feeling and guilt." (34-year-old married woman)

"I get the worst conscience when I’ve bought special clothes for myself, but don’t have the courage to show them to my husband. The end result is that I don’t use them and they end up in a flea market." (37-year-old married woman)

"Consequently, irritation is forgotten. ... The alleviation of stress is usually successful. It leads to joy and satisfaction in work. It means that I get back my strengths." (30-year-old married woman)

"I have often justified the necessity of my purchases by their righteousness and the enjoyment they bring. I often feel that I have the right to get something beautiful for myself. ... I continued making unsuccessful purchases. Sometimes, I have been feeling bad, scared, and anxious afterwards. Nowadays, I make unsuccesful purchases more seldom." (36-year-old single woman)

"I try to reduce my irritation in this way (by buying fast food or candies) and for a moment it works. Soon I have a bad conscience for being so silly." (27-year-old single woman)

"Afterwards, I cannot say that I feel regret, but hunter-like satisfaction. Nevertheless, regret and shame are familiar feelings, when I’m using my Visa-card and I remember what my parents would think about it." (younger married woman)

"I feel regret, for instance, after having bought expensive golden jewelry. I think then that I don’t deserve it yet (I’m only 26) and even my mother hasn’t got this kind of stuff. ... When I’m coming back from my trip to Helsinki, I feel disappointed if there is nothing left to admire after the first half of the trip. ... It is not nice to travel with people who do not buy anything. I get depressed because they think that "she just buys, even though she has so much already"." (26-year-old married woman)

"Unfortunately, my stomach bears this (binge eating) pretty well, I’m feeling heavy and bad. And a merciless moral hangover. I’m having a feeling that I’m a bad and hopeless person. You never get a good feeling from eating a lot of sweet stuff." (52-year-old married woman)

"When you’re buying something beautiful that suits you, it really makes you feel good. But if I happen to buy something I don’t later like, it makes me feel bad. Regarding the clothing purchases I made after my boyfriend dumped me; they gave me a good feeling for a long time. I did not feel bad about the money spent, not a bit." (19-year-old single woman)

It is clear that most of the emotional consequences of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors must be positive. Otherwise, people certainly would not engage in them to the extent they do. However, it is equally clear that mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are sometimes accompanied by negative emotional consequences: a bad conscience, regret, shame, guilt, and a moral hangover. The fact that certain mood-alleviative consumer behaviors have mixed emotional consequences complicates the matter even further. To crown the complexity, the domination of positive or negative emotional consequences may vary from one occasion to another.

THEORETICAL AND MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS

In this section of the paper, the theoretical and managerial implications are discussed. The theoretical implications are tackled first. Firstly then, why is engaging in different consumer behaviors so therapeutic as it seems? This question probably relates to the fact that negative mood experiences typically entail the perception of uncontrollability. Thus, it may be that engaging in a consumer beavior reasserts the feeling of being in control, especially when the consumption activity is linked to the area in which a person has expertise and is involved. In other words, engaging in a consumption activity can be seen as the exertion of power in that situation and over sales people. For instance, a writer indicated that when stressed he gets mischievous satisfaction after managing to make sales people fuss around to fulfil his wishes. In a similar vein, Barnes and Ward (1995, p. 207) discovered that feeling dominant, in control of the service environment, is one of the strongest antecedents to a good mood. This issue may be more complex, however. The assumption that people seek therapeutically distinct things when they experience different negative moods does not appear far-fetched given that there was some evidence supporting the qualitative differences between irritation, stress, dejection. This is an intriguing research question.

Secondly, it appears reasonable to presume that certain personal characteristics moderate the extent to which an individual’s mood-alleviative behaviors are linked to consumption. A better understanding of the moderating role of different personal characteristics is an important theoretical challenge for consumer researchers. Thirdly, the circumstances in which the emotional consequences of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are positive, negative or mixed need to be uncovered and specified.

Fourthly, there are a few more specific theoretical implications. First, it would be interesting to see to what extent mood-alleviative consumer behaviors are deliberately (vs. spontaneously) engaged in. The ability of the writers to provide phenomenological accounts of negative mood experiences and different mood-alleviative consumer behaviors suggests that they are engaged in a more deliberate than spontaneous way. However, the utilization of a methodological approach that is based on self-reporting may have been a biasing factor. Second, what is the influence of different cultures on negative mood experiences and the way they are coped with? For instance, are there differences in the way in which and the extent to which negative moods are alleviated through consumer behaviors in dissimilar cultures? Third, it would be interesting to find out how the degree of sophistication of the supply structure (e.g. in rural areas vs. small cities vs. big cities) affects the forms and intensity of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors.

If marketers wish to design and implement marketing concepts that appeal to consumers wanting to self-regulate different negative mood states, they need to know in what kind of situations different negative moods are experienced, what are the characteristics of these negative mood experiences, and what is typically sought by consumers in different negative mood states. Moreover, information on the ways in which different consumption situations affect the emotional states of consumers would also be useful to marketers.

On the basis of this information, marketers can create product offerings whose marketing exclusively serves the idea of mood-alleviation. Moreover, for retail marketers, specialty storekeepers, and gift storekeepers, the purposeful utilization of atmospherics is a potential tool in facilitating the realization of mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. For example, if a specialty store operates solely on the basis of the idea of mood-alleviation, then every aspect of the atmospheric solutions of the store should be used to serve the ideas of mood-alleviation and therapy. In turn, retail managers could apply zoning (cf. Yalch and Spangenberg 1993). In zoning, smaller thematic departments are constructed within bigger premises. These departments are decorated in a manner that exclusively supports the theme. Perhaps special "therapy" departments would be worth creating.

Secondly, through advertising marketers can harness and legitimize consumption as a mood-alleviative instrument and try to change the moral climate, since it has traditionally been morally reprehensible in most Western countries to use consumption to treat emotional problems. Marketers could plan and carry out advrtising campaigns aiming at reducing the feelings of disapproval, shame, and guilt that are associated with engaging in mood-alleviative consumer behaviors. As a consequence, the threshold of pursuing mood-alleviative consumer behaviors could be lowered and consumers could feel more encouraged to execute these behaviors in an open way.

Thirdly, since people may differ in terms of the degree to which their mood-alleviative activities are related to consumption, segmentation is an additional managerial implication. It was a fact that a significant proportion of the writers used consumption in one form or another to alleviate negative moods. Marketers are certainly interested to know what kind of people belong to this group of "consumption-oriented mood-alleviators". Perhaps people who are consumption-oriented mood-alleviators have a certain type of demographic and psychographic profiles. For retail marketers, the development of an instrument for identifying different kinds of mood-alleviating individuals is clearly desirable.

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Authors

Harri T. Luomala, University of Vaasa, Finland



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001



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