The Maintenance of Positive Self-Evaluations: in Search of a Motive Underlying Some Consumption Behaviors


Harish Sujan (1995) ,"The Maintenance of Positive Self-Evaluations: in Search of a Motive Underlying Some Consumption Behaviors", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 113.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995     Page 113


Harish Sujan, Penn State University

Social cognitive psychology has increasingly begun to investigate the motivational underpinnings of behavior and cognitions. Last year, in his address at ACR, Bagozzi (1993) urged an increased emphasis in consumer research on motivation and personality issues. This session was put together with the objective of furthering the goal of bringing motivation and personality research into the consumer domain.

Three presentations comprised the session. The first, taking about half the session time, was a presentation by Abraham Tesser, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, describing his theory on self-evaluation maintenance: an important goal that underlies human behavior. The second, taking about quarter the session time, was a presentation by Rick Bagozzi (work conducted with Hans Baumgartner and Rik Pieters) on the effect of emotions in motivating behavior directed at achieving weight loss goals. The third, taking about quarter the session time, was a presentation by Rik Pieters (work conducted with me) on differences in consumption by lonely and non-lonely people.

Abraham Tesser has proposed that people have a need to maintain a positive self-evaluation of themselves (Tesser 1988; Tesser, Millar and Moore 1988; Tesser and Cornell 1991; Tesser, Martin and Cornell 1993). A large number of theories exist relating to the selfCthere are so many theories about the self that one could call them a "self zoo"Cbut underlying several of these theories is the motive of protecting self-esteem. If one were to reason from Kurt Lewin's work on substitution, there are likely to be many alternative ways to achieve the higher order goal of maintaining positive self-esteem. Claude Steele's (1988) has identified external affirmation of one's important values (self-affirmation) to be a substitute for dissonance (a defensive reaction), that is under self-affirmation dissonance disappears. Steele has also identified that decreased learned helplessness reduces dissonance. Tesser's conclusion based on Steele's work is that apparently disparate psychological processes are guided by a higher order goal: self-esteem maintenance.

In research conducted with Dave Cornell (1991) he has extended Claude Steele's work by showing that unfavorable social comparison with a close other on an important attribute (self-esteem reduction) is compensated by self-affirmation (ratification of important personal values). Dave Cornell and he have also showed that favorable social comparison on an important attribute with a close other (self-esteem enhancement) reduces dissonance. This, they suggest, adds to evidence suggesting that qualitatively different processesClearned helplessness, social comparison, self-affirmation and dissonanceCare all in service of the same goal, maintaining a positive self-esteem.

While concluding his talk, Tesser raised the question: "What is the common currency underlying these disparate processes?" Acknowledging that some psychologists disagree with his point of view, he suggested that emotion is the common currencyCself-esteem maintenance is in service of staying in a positive affective state. So far his data has supported this hypothesis only for non-conscious affect (e.g., being exposed for milliseconds to facially expressed emotions); support had not been found for conscious affect or mood.

Rick Bagozzi, University of Michigan, (working with Hans Baumgartner, Penn State University, and Rik Pieters, Tilburg University), presented research on the role of goal-directed emotions in weight control behavior. He suggested that the goal of maintaining or reducing body-weight results in anticipatory emotions that motivate instrumental behavior. Using longitudinal data collected in the Netherlands he suggested a classification scheme for anticipatory emotions, and reported findings on the effect of these emotional dimensions on goal directed behavior, achievement of the goal and emotional reactions to the outcome. Linking his work with Tesser's self-evaluation maintenance theory, he suggested that anticipatory emotions provide information (on self-esteem?) that motivate weight-loss behavior.

Rik Pieters, Tilburg University, (working with me), presented research on the role of loneliness in object relations and consumption. He suggested that three nodes on a triangle are the self, another person, and an object, and substitution exists between the self's relations with objects and other people. Using data collected in the Netherlands, he demonstrated this substitution by identifying that materialism (increased relationship with objects) correlates positively with loneliness (decreased relationship with other people). In another demonstration of this principle, using data collected in the U.S., he reported that lonely people, relative to non-lonely people, feel less positive affect when asked to think about the prospect of spending two months abroad in a place where it is hard to make friends. They are, however, able to restore their positive affect through thinking about possessions that they would buy and take with themselves. The substitutability of object and person, he suggested, may be (in keeping with Tesser) a result of there being alternative routes to self-esteem maintenance.

In an attempt at integration, I described a few taxonomies that exist for alternative consumption goals. I then suggested that shifting from one goal to another may cause a shift in attribute choice, brand choice and even product category choice; and consumers may be persuaded to shift goals if they believed that the alternative goal would be just as effective as their current goal in maintaining positive self-evaluation.


Bagozzi, Richard P. (1993), "Personality, Motivation and the Self: New Directions for Consumer Research," ACR Fellow Address, Association of Consumer Research Conference, Nashville, TN, 8-11.

Steele, Claude M. (1988), "The Psychology of Self-Affirmation: Sustaining the Integrity of Self," in L. Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (vol. 21), NY: Academic Press, 261-302.

Tesser, Abraham (1988). "Toward a Self-Evaluation Maintenance Model of Social Behavior," Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 21, pp. 181-227.

Tesser, Abraham, Murray Millar, and Janet Moore (1988), "Some Affective Consequences of Social Comparison and Reflection Processes: The Pain and Pleasure of Being Close," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54 (No. 1), pp. 49-61.

Tesser, Abraham and David P. Cornell (1991), "On the Confluence of Self-Processes," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 27, 501-526.

Tesser, Abraham, Leonard Martin and David P. Cornell (1993), "On the Substitutability of Self-Protective Mechanisms," Rineberg Conference of Motivation and Action.



Harish Sujan, Penn State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22 | 1995

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