Form Vs. Function: Emotional and Behavioral Consequences of Hedonic Vs. Functional Tradeoffs

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Most important decisions, including consumption decisions, involve making trade-offs. In the process of making difficult trade-offs, consumers experience significant negative affect (e.g., Luce 1998; Luce, Payne and Bettman 1999). For example, decisions involving a trade-off between safety of a car (high vs. low) and its price (low vs. high) may induce negative emotions that, in turn, influence subsequent behavior (Luce, Payne and Bettman 2001). In general, decisions involving difficult trade-offs have been found to induce decision avoidanceCthe tendency to postpone purchaseCpresumably because consumers feel uneasy about taking a decision without first having resolved the negative emotions evoked by that decision-situation (Luce 1998; see Luce, Bettman and Payne 2001, for a review).



Citation:

Ravi Chitturi, Raj Raghunathan, and Vijay Mahajan (2005) ,"Form Vs. Function: Emotional and Behavioral Consequences of Hedonic Vs. Functional Tradeoffs", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 74-75.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 74-75

FORM VS. FUNCTION: EMOTIONAL AND BEHAVIORAL CONSEQUENCES OF HEDONIC VS. FUNCTIONAL TRADEOFFS

Ravi Chitturi, Lehigh University, U.S.A.

Raj Raghunathan, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

Vijay Mahajan, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Most important decisions, including consumption decisions, involve making trade-offs. In the process of making difficult trade-offs, consumers experience significant negative affect (e.g., Luce 1998; Luce, Payne and Bettman 1999). For example, decisions involving a trade-off between safety of a car (high vs. low) and its price (low vs. high) may induce negative emotions that, in turn, influence subsequent behavior (Luce, Payne and Bettman 2001). In general, decisions involving difficult trade-offs have been found to induce decision avoidanceCthe tendency to postpone purchaseCpresumably because consumers feel uneasy about taking a decision without first having resolved the negative emotions evoked by that decision-situation (Luce 1998; see Luce, Bettman and Payne 2001, for a review).

Previous research (e.g., Luce, Bettman and Payne 2001) has found that, in decisions involving price-quality trade-offs, people tend to choose the option higher in quality. To formulate a more general theory, however, it is important to incorporate dimensions other than price or quality, since consumers often face decisions involving a trade-off between two equally priced alternatives of equal overall quality (e.g., a Dell vs. Compaq) that differ on other attributes. This research looks at the emotional and behavioral consequences of tradeoffs involving hedonic and functional attributes. Choosing between products that are a combination of hedonic and functional attributes requires a tradeoff between two types of goals. One set of goals that are fulfilled by hedonic attributes and the other set of goals that are fulfilled by functional attributes. Based on regulatory focus theory (Higgins 1997), it is suggested that hedonic attributes help meet promotion focus goals of "aspirations and advancement" and functional attributes help meet prevention focus goals of "security and responsibility". When the goals of security and responsibility are compromised, it leads to a discrepancy between "ought to behave" vs. "actual behavior". This discrepancy generates feelings of guilt (Roseman 1991; Higgins 1989). On the other hand, when the goals of aspirations and advancement are compromised, it leads to a discrepancy between "ideal state vs. actual state". This discrepancy generates feelings of sadness (Roseman 1991; Higgins 1989).

Marketing literature provides conceptual support for the idea that the utilitarian and hedonic dimensions capture important aspects of product differences (e.g., Batra and Ahtola 1990; Dhar and Wertenbroch 2000; Holbrook and Hirschmann 1982). However, little research pertains directly to the emotional and behavioral impact of making decisions involving trade-offs between utilitarian vs. hedonic attributes. The focus of this research is on the emotions induced by decisions involving trade-offs between utilitarian vs. hedonic attributesCwhich refer to the functional (utilitarian) and aesthetic (hedonic) aspects of products, respectivelyCand the effect of these emotions on purchase behavior. For example, it is unclear, from previous research, whether and to what extent negative emotions are induced in decisions involving a choice between, say, a highly functional computer that does not look good and one that is low on functionality, but is aesthetically pleasing. Based on a suggested correspondence between functional attributes and prevention focus, and hedonic attributes and promotion focus, it is expected that, 1) trading functionality for hedonics will generate feelings of guilt, 2) trading hedonics for functionality will generate feelings of sadness (Higgins 1997).

In this research, we report findings from three experiments that were conducted to test for emotional and behavioral consequences of making such trade-offs. In the first experiment, the consumers were asked to consider choosing between a hedonically superior (functionally inferior) cell-phone and a functionally superior (hedonically inferior) one. They were asked to report the level of guilt and sadness with the choice of each cell-phone in the choice set. The results from the first experiment show: 1) consumers feel significantly higher level of guilt with the choice of a hedonically superior and functionally inferior product, 2) they report greater sadness with the choice of a hedonically inferior and functionally superior alternative. In the second experiment, the moderating influence of functional needs (cut-offs) on the intensities of guilt and sadness was tested. The same choice set was used, but the subjects were treated to two different conditions. In the first condition the subjects were told that they need high level of hedonics and functionality in their cell-phone. In the second condition, the subjects were told that they need low level of hedonics and functionality. The results from the second experiment show: 1) intensity of guilt is lower with a hedonically superior product when it meets functional cut-offs compared to when it does not meet functional cut-off, 2) intensity of sadness is higher with the choice of a functionally superior product, when the hedonically superior alternative in the choice set meets functional cutoffs compared to when it does not. In the third experiment, we wanted to show that relative intensities of guilt and sadness with each product choice in the choice set can explain consumer choice behavior. In this experiment, the subjects were asked to report the level of guilt and sadness with each product choice and were also asked to choose one of the two products from the choice set. The results show: 1) choice of a functionally superior alternative is mediated by the higher intensity of guilt compared to sadness with the hedonically superior alternative, 2) choice of a hedonically superior alternative is mediated by the higher intensity of sadness compared to guilt with the choice of a functionally superior alternative. Together, these results suggest that designers and marketers must monitor the intensities of emotions and design products with an optimal combination of hedonic and functional attributes that minimize guilt and sadness with a product choice compared to the alternative.

Overall, our results suggest that manufacturers should focus on satisfying functional "cut-offs" first, and that, once this goal is met, focus should shift to maximizing the hedonic appeal of their offerings. This recommendation, however, may be easier said than done, given that consumers’ perceptions of what they think is an acceptable (cut-off) level of functionality is likely to evolve. In general, it is reasonable to assume that consumers will expect and "need" higher and higher levels of overall qualityCincluding functional performanceCwith the passage of time. A recommended strategy would, therefore, be to make a conservative prediction of the level of functionality consumers will find acceptable in the future and ensure that this level of functionality is provided. Thereafter, attention should be directed to enhancing the hedonic appeal (e.g., by incorporating better designs, color schemes etc.).

REFERENCES

Batra, Rajeev, O. T. Ahtola (1990), "Measuring the Hedonic and Utilitarian Sources of Consumer Attitudes." Marketing Letters, 2(2), 159-170.

Dhar, Ravi and Klaus Wertenbroch (2000), "Consumer Choice Between Hedonic and Utilitarian Goods," Journal of Marketing Research, 37 (1), 60B71.

Higgins, E. Tory (1989), "Self-discrepancy Theory: What Patterns of Self-beliefs Cause People to Suffer?," in Leonard Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 22, pp. 93B1 136, New York: Academic Press.

Higgins, E. Tory (1998), "Promotion and Prevention: Regulatory Focus as a Motivational Principle," in Mark. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 30, pp. 1B46, New York: Academic Press.

Holbrook, Morris B., and Elizabeth C. Hirschman (1982), "The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 9(2), 130-142.

Luce, Mary Frances (1998), "Choosing to Avoid: Coping with Negatively Emotion-laden Consumer Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, 24(4), 409-433.

Luce, Mary Frances, James R. Bettman, and John W. Payne (2001), "Emotional Decisions," in Deborah Roedder John (Ed.), Monographs of the Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 1, University of Chicago Press.

Luce, Mary Frances, John W. Payne, and James R. Bettman (1999), "Emotional Trade-off Difficulty and Choice," Journal of Marketing Research, 36(2), 143-159.

Roseman, Ira J. (1991), "Appraisal Determinants of Discrete Emotions," Cognition and Emotion, 5(3), 161-200.

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Authors

Ravi Chitturi, Lehigh University, U.S.A.
Raj Raghunathan, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.
Vijay Mahajan, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2005



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