The Roles of Emotion in Consumer Research

ABSTRACT - The aim of this paper is to describe and synthesize findings across three different sets of literature dealing with emotion: (1) the cognitive stream, (2) the hedonic consumption stream, and (3) the compulsive/addictive consumption stream. We present a model of emotion and suggest novel directions for future inquiry.


Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Barbara B. Stern (1999) ,"The Roles of Emotion in Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 4-11.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 4-11


Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Rutgers University

Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University


The aim of this paper is to describe and synthesize findings across three different sets of literature dealing with emotion: (1) the cognitive stream, (2) the hedonic consumption stream, and (3) the compulsive/addictive consumption stream. We present a model of emotion and suggest novel directions for future inquiry.


A decade and a half have passed since consumer researchers began attending to the roles of emotion in consumption (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982, Holbrook and Hirschman 1982); and over a decade has elapsed since Gardner’s (1985) integrative review of mood states. During this time period an extraordinary level of research has occurred within the boundaries of our discipline regarding emotion. Th aim of this paper is to describe and synthesize these findings and to present a inclusive model of emotion and its influence on consumer behavior.

In the course of this effort we will review three sets of literature dealing with emotion. These include (1) the cognitive stream, typified by inquiries regarding emotion’s role as the affective component of attitude (e.g., Aaker and Stayman 1989) or as a precursor to cognitive restructuring (Isen 1984); (2) the hedonic consumption stream as exemplified early on by the work of Holbrook and Havlena (Havlena and Holbrook 1986) and most recently by Celsi, Rose and Leigh (1993) and Arnould and Price (1993); (3) the compulsive/addictive consumption stream beginning with early work on impulse purchasing by Rook (1985) and evolving into more general models as exemplified by Faber and O’Guinn (1989), Hirschman (1992) and Rindfleisch, Burroughs and Denton (1997).


As shown in Figure One, we propose that every consumer has a personal emotional range which can move from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. While most consumers usually experience motions in the middle range, a significant proportion are likely to experience emotions which lie beyond the middle range (Larsen and Emmons, 1985). Indeed, if we view emotion as a normally distributed human variable, then approximately 30 to 50% of the consuming population probably experience emotions above or below the middle range on a regular basis (Larsen and Diener, 1987 a, b).

The model further proposes that current personal events of both a major and minor nature will have transient effects on adult consumers’ emotional states. A major negative event, such as job loss or divorce, or a major positive event, such as a job promotion or marriage, may cause long-term (say six months) emotional shifts beyond the middle range, while minor positive or negative events (say a helpful salesperson or an offensive advertisement), may only affect emotional states for a few minutes.

The model also proposes the direct influence of emotion on a variety of cognitive responses (such as attitude formation and recall) and, thence, on a broad array of consumption behaviors, such as impulse purchasing, consumption creativity, and innovativeness. It suggests that consumption behaviors may also feed-back into cognition and emotion; for example, a consumer may discover that a new restaurant’s food is delicious, causing a positive attitude to be formed and a happy feeling to occur. And cognitive responses may also feed-back into emotion; for instance, thinking about the death of a pet may cause the individual to become sad.

Finally, the model proposes that consumption behaviors occurring in response to consumers’ emotional states are shaped by prevailing cultural norms. For example, a white, middle class woman may 'treat’ her chronic unhappiness with compulsive shopping and bulimia, while a white, middle class man may deal with his depression by drinking alcohol, and a white, middle class teenager may respond to his/her 'blues’ by smoking marijuana. We begin a more detailed discussion of the model with the research stream most closely aligned with emotion in consumer research: cognitive psychology.

Cognitive Psychology and Emotion

An examination of this literature base rightly begins with Meryl Gardner’s comprehensive (1985) treatise, 'Mood States and Consumer Behavior: A Critical Review.’ Gardner’s review focused upon moods, defined as 'feeling states that are transient; ... particularized to specific times and situations (1985, p. 282).’ Thus, her review did not examine research on more intense levels of emotion or on personality dispositions, such as optimism/pessimism, that are relativelystable and enduring characteristics of the consumer. Indeed, as Gardner notes, exogenous mood effects are markedly short lived: 'The effect of a positive mood induction on the performance of a helping task has been found to last approximately twenty minutes’ (1985, p. 289). The findings summarized in her review would be relevant to the portion of our model titled 'Current Personal Events’ and include those minor events, such as exposure to a pleasing or offensive advertisement, which create a short-term shift in the consumer’s prevailing mood.

Mood and Advertising EffectivenessBSince the publication of Gardner’s review, six articles have appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research which examined the role of such short term moods in influencing advertising effectiveness. The first, by Holbrook and Batra (1987) sought to incorporate a wider range of emotional intensity in understanding consumers’ responses to advertisements and assumed homogenous responses on the part of consumers toward given, emotion-stimulating advertisements. The authors’ findings supported the earlier model of emotional content suggested by Mehrabian and Russell (1974) which categorized emotions according to their positive or negative valence and level of activation or arousal.

A second study, by Edell and Burke (1987), demonstrated that 'feelings generated by an ad are different conceptually from thoughts about the ad and both are important and contribute uniquely to explaining the effects of advertising’ (1987, p. 421). The significance of this study was that it demonstrated the independence of mood and cognition in influencing advertising response, as advocated by Zajonc (1980); whereas some cognitive approaches had argued that mood was merely a subset of cognitive response. Edell and Burke also found that individual consumers varied greatly in the types of emotional responses they had to particular advertisements, noting (p. 431) 'one person’s warm commercial may be another person’s cool commercial.’ This finding was contrary to Holbrook and Batra’s (1987) assumption that consumers would exhibit homogeneous emotional responses to given advertisements.



In another 1987 article, Goldberg and Gorn showed consumers a funny or sad television program to induce a positive or negative mood. They then showed them 'informational’ versus 'emotional’ commercials. Consistent with several other studies in the social psychology literature, they found that both types of commercials were rated as more effective when embedded within the funny program and that this effect was strongest for the emotional commercials. They also found that recall of material contained in the commercials was enhanced under the funny program viewing condition. These findings are consistent with an earlier study by Isen (1984), which suggested that a positive mood enhances information processing ability and recall.

Two closely related studies examined the effect of mood on attitudes toward the advertisement (Stayman and Aaker 1988; Batra and Stayman 1990). The first looked at three types of moodCwarmth, amusement, and irritationCand found that mood had a direct effect on brand attitude at low exposure levels, but that this effect appeared to be mediated by Aad at higher exposure levels. The second study reported that positive moods indirectly influenced consumers’ attitudes toward the brand by, first, reducing the number of negative thoughts generated and, second, by reducing total cognitive elaboration, making processing 'more heuristic than systematic’ (p. 213).

A 1991 study by Olney, Holbrook and Batra examined how mood responses to an advertisement affected viewing time of the advertisement. They found that advertising content influenced both the positive-negative and arousal dimensions of mood and, not surprisingly, that consumers spent more time watching advertisements with positive content, which created happy moods in the viewer.

To sum up, studies of the influence of mood on advertising effectiveness support the general categorization of emotions as positivenegative in valence and high/low in arousal. Multiple studies have found that a positive mood enhances the rating of an advertisement’s effectiveness, consumers’ information processing ability and recall. Perhaps the most controversial findings relate to the role of positive mood in enhancing information processing ability. Although Isen found that this ability is enhanced by positive mood, Batra and Stayman found that cognitive elaboration is reduced and processing is more heuristic in positive mood states. Thus, the relationship between mood and information processing skill is still not fully understood.

Mood Effects in Non Advertising ContextsBTwo studies have examined mild emotional responses, i.e., mood, to stimuli aside from advertisements. Swinyard (1993) investigated pre-existing mood states’ effects upon consumers’ shopping attitudes and intentions. Using hypothetical scenarios, Swinyard found that a positive/negative mood did not have any effect on reported shopping intentions directly, but did act through involvement level (high/low) to influence shopping intentions. Using mood also as a dependent variable, Swinyard found that a positive/negative shopping experience had a significant effect on mood. This was especially true for highly involved shoppers. As Swinyard (1993, p. 278) reports: 'For involved shoppers a good shopping experience is even better, and a bad shopping experience is still worse.’

A second study, Murry and Dacin (1996), investigated how various moods created by television programs affect consumers’ liking of the programs. As these authors note, 'Existing consumer theories offer little insight into why consumers seek out ... entertainment products such as music that evokes sadness, books that elicit fear, or movies that create anger (1996, p. 439).’ The authors found that a negative mood stimulated by a program had a negative effect on program liking, when the program was seen as personally relevant (e.g., 'could happen to me’) and realistic. However, programs causing negative moods could still be liked, as long as viewers saw them as irrelevant and unrealistic. Underlying these findings is the larger proposition that consumers will seek out scary or sad consumption experiences only so long as these are not seen as personally threatening.

This last study takes us to a different segment of the model shown in Figure One. Under Consumption Behaviors we have listed thrill seeking/risk aversion as a construct relevant to consumption choices. Murry and Dacin’s (1996) work suggests that consumers may seek out television programs that provide thrills, so long as genuine emotional risk is avoided. As we shall discuss subsequently, consumers’ willingness to take emotional risks is dependent upon what part of the emotional range they are functioning within. We will propose that consumers who have positive emotional states they believe to be durable will be willing to take more emotional risks. Conversely, those consumers who believe themselves to already be in substantial emotional jeopardy, i.e., are teetering on the edge of depression, will make choices aimed at reducing emotional risks.

Isen’s Research on EmotionBWe turn now to a subset of the cognitive literature on emotion which has justly had a large impact on consumer research investigation of this topicCthe work of Alice Isen. In 1985, Isen, Johnson, Mertz and Robinson examined whether positive affect could influence the contents and complexity of working memory. At the outset to their study, Isen et al. reviewed an extensive literature which suggests that when persons are in good moods, they are typically able to bring more extensive and complex material into working memory, to discern unusual relations between elements in stimulus materials, to have enhanced recall of distantly related items, and to be able to generate a larger number of unusual word associations. As Isen et al. point out, all of these behaviors are associated with creativity, and, indeed, some are even analoous to accepted measures of creativity (see e.g., Mednick and Mednick 1964). In keeping with this series of prior findings, the Isen et al. (1985) study found that 'the results of this study confirm that unusual [word] associations are to be found from persons who are feeling happy (p. 1418).’ These findings are supportive of the proposed model.

Several propositions Isen (1987) puts forward in a review of the literature are also consistent with the model we are proposing. First, she notes that a 'large body of research indicates that positive affect can influence social behaviorCin particular, sociability, cooperativeness in negotiation, and kindness (p. 206).’ Second, happy persons are more likely to be self-indulgent and to give themselves 'self gifts’ (Isen p. 210).

Thus from Isen’s work we find support for various portions of our proposed model. For example, we can support the notion that emotion influences cognitive responses, such as recall, working memory capacity and working memory complexity. We can also support the proposition that emotion, working through cognition, can influence behavior, for example, sociability, gift giving, and helping others.

Two additional studies by Isen in creative problem-solving were conducted with medical students and physicians. The first (Isen, Rosenzweig, Young 1991), found that medical students in a positive mood produced accurate patient diagnoses more rapidly than those in a neutral condition and also went beyond the assigned task to consider the medical materials more integratively, working with larger 'chunks’ of related information. In the second study (Estrada, Isen, Young 1995), physicians conducting diagnoses under positive affect conditions exhibited this same pattern and, additionally, were found to be less anchored to preliminary assumptions and more open to new information as a reasoning style, than controls. Thus, happy emotion stimulates rapid, accurate cognitive processing, increases the volume of relevant material being processed and enhances cognitive receptivity, all very valuable characteristics for consumers to possess.

We conclude this section on cognitive theory with an article by Kahn and Isen (1993) which segues nicely into our next set of literature. In this study Kahn and Isen proposed that (p. 257):

'The induction of positive affect in consumers carrying out brand-choice tasks may lead to their showing a greater preference for exploration and trying new things in safe and enjoyable contexts. This is because ... positive affect improves a person’s expectations about the likely outcome of anticipated neutral or positive experiences or events and also prompts people to engage in more elaboration and thinking about neutral things in which they are interested.’ And, over a series of three experiments, they found these expectations confirmed. Thus, a happy mood increases consumers’ efforts at variety seeking among safe, pleasant alternatives. We next consider the larger literature of which much variety seeking behavior is a partCthat of hedonic/experiential consumption.


In 1982 two papers appeared which encouraged consumer researchers to explore the experiential boundaries of consumption beyond the confines of cognitive psychology and utilitarian economics (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). Following this, several studies were conducted exploring various aspects of hedonic and experiential consumption. We will review five representative examples here. A 1986 article by Havlena and Holbrook compared two classification systems for emotion: Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974) paradigm and Plutchik’s eight emotional categories (1980). Using an elaborate series of multivariate procedures, they determined tht the three dimensional modelCpleasure, arousal, dominanceCproposed by Mehrabian and Russell was superior in representing emotion during actual consumption experiences.

A second study, by Allen, Machleit and Klein (1992) examined whether recollected emotions regarding an emotionally-mixed consumption experience (blood donation) could serve as incremental predictors (beyond attitudes) of behavior. They argue that emotion extends beyond attitude and encompasses 'a richer and more diverse domain of phenomenological experience (p. 494).’ They further propose that much emotional experience is likely stored in episodic memory, whereas attitudinal judgments are likely found in semantic memory. Using Izard’s (1977) emotional taxonomy the researchers found that 'emotion can have a direct influence on behavior that is not captured or summed up by attitude judgments (p. 500).’ This, of course, has implications for our model in Figure One and suggests that we should draw a causal arrow from Emotion to Consumption Behavior directly, as well as retaining the one which already passes from Emotion to Cognition to Behavior.

Toward the end of their article, Allen et al. (1992), write evocatively of the measurement problems inherent in using emotion measurement scales and recollected events (p. 502): 'While defending our selection of measures, we do not mean to suggest that "conventional" measures of emotion cannot be improved on for consumer research. If we are to do a better job of integrating emotive experience into consumer research, there are important improvements needed in the measurement area".

The next year, 1993, two articles appeared which went a great distance toward responding to these issues. What was needed was not only novel approaches to measurement, per se, but rather novel approaches in the methodology used to comprehend emotion within the consumption experience. We next examine two revolutionary efforts which did just this: Arnould and Price (1993) and Celsi, Rose and Leigh (1993).

The context of Arnould and Price’s research was whitewater rafting on the Colorado RiverCa consumption experience that usually evokes the gamut of emotions for most participants. In contrast to prior studies we have reviewed, the Arnould and Price article used a combination of ethnography and survey-scaling methodologies, creating a very rich and detailed data base from which to construct interpretations. As they comment, the consumers of the river rafting experience typically have emotional responses which are long-lasting and profound: Because of the nature of their methodology, Arnould and Price were able to trace sociological/anthropological aspects of the emotional experience which traditional measurement devices would have missed. Among these were the perception by several consumers of the experience as a pilgrimage/rite of passage and the growth of bonding among participants and between the participants and their guide over the course of the journey. The research project also shed light on rarely investigated emotions such as transcendence and ecstasy, which lie at the extremes of the positive emotional spectrum. Notably, many consumers did not want to translate their experience into cognitive material.

Similar findings resulted from the investigation of skydiving by Celsi, Rose, and Leigh (1993). The authors proposed that high risk consumer behaviors are 'motivated by a dramatic worldview (p. 2)’ , and discovered that participants’ motives varied from thrill seeking to social compliance (e.g., to accompany a friend or spouse) and that all participants saw it as involving some degree of risk acceptance. As with Arnould and Price’s consumers, these also cited personal mastery (i.e., 'I can do it’), transcendence/ecstasy and identity construction/renewal as significant outcomes of the behavior. And, as before, the participants felt a sense of communitas or bonding with other participants.

These latter researchers introduced another aspect of consumer desire for such high risk experiencesCthe addictive high resulting rom the adrenaline rush they provide. As they note, while the addiction model does not fully account for all aspects of the high-risk consumption experience, it does serve as a phenomenological explanation for much of it. It also serves as a bridging concept to take us to our next set of literature: consumer research conducted on compulsive consumption.


Rook’s 1987 article, 'The Buying Impulse’ was one of the first published in consumer research to investigate what is now termed 'compulsive consumption.’ The particular type of compulsive consumption Rook was studying, impulse purchasing, has important emotional and behavioral components. Impulse purchases are associated with happy emotional states, when the consumer is feeling self-indulgent, optimistic, enthusiastic, and venturesome. Indeed, much of the safe, pleasant variety seeking behavior as described by Kahn and Isen (1993) as well as novelty seeking behavior (Raju 1980) is likely to occur in an impulse purchasing contest (see Rook 1987, p. 194, 196).

A distinction can be drawn between impulse purchasing and compulsive purchasing, which O’Guinn and Faber (1989) describe as repetitive purchasing which is 'ultimately destructive financially and psychologically to the consumer, but which provides momentary relief from tension, anxiety or sadness (p. 148)’. Impulse purchases usually occur during 'high’ emotional states, while compulsive purchases usually occur as attempts to alleviate 'down’ emotional states. And, as O’Guinn and Faber (1989, p. 148) have described, compulsive purchasing is closely related biochemically, psychologically and behaviorally, to a host of other compulsive consumer activities: "These include substance abuse and extreme excesses in behavior, such as eating disorders and compulsive sexuality, as well as more marketplace-oriented behaviors, such as compulsive gambling and kleptomania".

In their study of compulsive buyers, O’Guinn and Faber combined depth interviews with survey data to construct a comprehensive portrait of the phenomenon. They found that most compulsive shoppers were female (supporting the portion of our model which proposes that cultural norms about gender help direct emotion-laden consumer behaviors, i.e., women are socialized to shop), and that compulsive buyers tended toward obsessive-compulsive traits, had lower self-esteem (both a cause and consequence of compulsive buying), had higher imagination levels and higher levels of envy and non-generosity (i.e., hoarding) than other consumers. And, of course, their behavior had a strong, emotional componentCelatedly high when it was occurring, depressingly low once one came to one’s senses.

In two later studies, (Faber and O’Guinn 1992; Faber, Christenson, De Zwaan and Mitchell 1995), these researchers and their associates developed a clinical screener for compulsive buyers and investigated the comorbidity (i.e., co-occurrence) of compulsive buying and binge eating. They found that both forms of compulsive consumption occur along a continuum from normal to moderate to severe, a point made by Rook (1987) and Hirschman (1992), as well. In discussing their findings, they reported that gender segregation was again apparent; that is, women tended toward binge eating, kleptomania and compulsive buying, while men predominated in pathological gambling and hard drug usage, further supporting the 'Cultural Norms’ segment of our model. They also reported results from other studies suggesting that compulsive buyers had greater mood swings in response to buying, than normal consumers: 'higher’ during purchase, 'lower’ after purchase.

In 1992, Hirschman used depth interviews with present and recovering drug addicts/alcoholics to construct a general model of compulsive consumption. Her research also included introspective accounts of the phenomenolog of compulsive consumption.

Hirschman (1992), like O’Guinn and Faber (1989, 1992, 1996), noted the serial and/or multiple outlet aspect of compulsive consumption. It is posited that because compulsive consumption is rooted in abnormal emotional reactivity, (see Larsen and Diener 1987 a,b) it is an ongoing feature of these consumer’s lives. Typically, they will use multiple forms of compulsive consumption or turn to a series of compulsive consumption activities over time to allieve anxiety, tension and/or depression. The type and pattern of activities these consumers engage in is often guided by social norms regarding what is appropriate for their gender, age, social class and ethnicity. And, as Rook and Fisher (1995) recently found, some types of impulsive consumer behavior may be held in check by social norms, as well.



In 1996, DeSarbo and Edwards published a large-scale, survey-based research study that distinguished between impulse purchases and compulsive purchasing. These researchers demonstrated that compulsive buyers react to stress by experiencing higher than average levels of anxiety, i.e., are emotionally reactive. To escape these anxieties, they may turn to compulsive buying, which temporarily provides positive emotions; in essence, compulsive consumers are self-medicating their anxiety with the emotional high of shopping.

DeSarbo and Edwards (1996) additionally found that persons coming from abusive and/or addictive families were more likely to become compulsive consumers, consistent with O’Guinn & Faber’s (1989) and Hirschman’s (1992) findings, and supporting the Parents and Childhood/Juvenile Environment segments of our model. Analogously, Rindfleisch, Burroughs and Denton (1996) found that young adults whose parents were divorced or separated exhibited higher levels of compulsive buying.


Our model proposes that adult consumers will exhibit a Personal Emotional Range. Our model additionally suggests that adult consumers will respond emotionally to both major and minor current personal events, such as job loss, exposure to advertising and salesperson encounters. The model further suggests that these emotional responses will be filtered through various cognitive activities (e.g., attitude change) and result in a wide-ranging set of consumer behavior, such as impulsive product purchases, variety seeking, and compulsive buying. Which specific behaviors are undertaken will be influenced by prevailing cultural norms regarding what is appropriate for one’s gender, age, race, and socioeconomic status.

We can also extend this model into a predictive set of propositions and a classification scheme as shown in Figure Two, which is adapted from Holbrook and Batra (1987). The Figure depicts four quadrants resulting from the orthogonal axes of positive-negative emotional valence and low-high emotional arousal.


Quadrant A contains the emotions typical of positive affect and low arousal: contentment, tranquility, serenity and placidity. Given what we have learned from prior research, this section of the emotional space may be labeled as containing Contented Consumers/Calm Consumption. It is likely that some consumers spend much of their lives in this range of emotional experience, and that all consumers experience these emotions from time to time (see e.g., Holbrook and Batra, 1987; Larsen and Diener 1987a). The following speculative propositions [We are skating on thin ice here, empirically.  Yet we optimistically anticipate these propositions will be confirmed in the near future.]  may be put forward regarding consumers/consumption in this portion of the emotional range.

1)  Consumers experiencing these emotions are contented with the present state of affairs. They are likely to be brand loyal, due to feelings of product/service satisfaction. Because of their low arousal levels, they do not have the energy or desire to be venturesome, innovative or variety-seeking, and they are unlikely to voice complaints or express dissatisfaction.

2)  Contented consumers are likely to be quite receptive to 'warm’ advertisements (e.g., Aaker and Stayman), as these would help maintain and reinforce their emotional tranquillity.

3)  Because Contented Consumers are in a state of low arousal and positive emotion, they may use heuristic processing to simplify decision tasks (see Batra and Stayman 1990), thus avoiding expending energy on cognitive activity.

Following from #3 above, it is likely that Contented Consumers will choose to avoid extended problem solving activities; in general, we expect that they will try to avoid activities that are cognitively or physically demanding, because these would disrupt their sense of serenity. These propositions are consistent with some mood experiments, which have found subjects unwilling to undertake activities that might threaten their positive affect, see e.g. Gardner 1985.

Happy Consumers/Active Consumption

As we move into Quadrant B, we reach feelings such as exuberance, delight, ecstasy and elation. These are the high arousal, positive emotions. Because, as Isen’s extensive work has shown, the mental conditions responsible for creating elation and joy are also linked to the stimulation of cognitive and physical activity, many consumers who experience strong positive emotions will feel physically and mentally energized, as well (see also Larsen and Diener 1987b for psychological empirical confirmation). We anticipate that such consumers will be optimistic about consumption endeavors and enthusiastic about acquiring pleasurable experiences. Thus, we propose that:

1.  Happy consumers will actively seek out new consumption information, experiences, and products, so long as these are deemed likely to provide pleasure. Following from Kahn and Isen (1993), we expect happy consumers to be innovative, novelty-seeking, and variety-seeking.

2.  Consumers who are experiencing delight and elation will have greatly enhanced cognitive abilities. They will be able to construct elaborate cognitive patterns, have increased recall and accelerated processing speed, consistent with Isen’s extensive research.

3.  As a result of 1 and 2 above, elated consumers should display high levels of consumption creativity: i.e., the ability to use products in novel and unusual ways in order to solve problems.

Sad Consumers/Passive Consumption

Moving into Quadrant C, we encounter consumers with low levels of arousal coupled with negative emotion: this space is aligned with emotions such as hopelessness, dread, melancholy and lethargy; these persons may be termed Sad Consumers who are likely to engage in Passive Consumption. This area of emotional response has been very little investigated in consumer research. Nonetheless from the literature on depression and dysthymia (see Isen 1985), we propose that:

Consumers who are experiencing the emotions of hopelessness and dread will be very risk averse and pessimistic about consumption activities. They will be unlikely to try new products or services and are at a low probability for variety seeking.

1)  Given 1, above, such consumers are likely to display brand loyalty and habitual purchasing patterns, because they lack the cognitive ability to process novel information or to combine existing information in novel ways.

2)  Decision-making by such consumers will be slow, hesitant and aimed toward minimizing possible disappointment. These consumers will stick with 'tried and true’ alternatives.

3)  Because they are physically and mentally lethargic, sad consumers will be less likely to express dissatisfaction or voice complaints, even when product performance is unsatisfactory. They are likely to believe that such activities are 'not worth the effort’ and would be futile.

4)  Sad consumers’ behaviors will be marked by simplicity, ritualism, passivity and resignation. They are based on the premise that 'things will never get any better than this.’

Decision-making by such consumers will be slow, hesitant and aimed toward minimizing possible disappointment. These consumers will stick with 'tried and true’ alternatives. Because they are physically and mentally lethargic, sad consumers will be less likely to express dissatisfaction or voice complaints, even when product performance is unsatisfactory. They are likely to believe that such activities are 'not worth the effort’ and would be futile. Sad consumers’ behaviors will be marked by simplicity, ritualism, passivity and resignation. They are based on the premise that 'things will never get any better than this.’

Angry Consumers/Hostile Consumption

As we continue toward Quadrant D, we cross-over into the high arousal/negative emotionsC anger, hostility, panic and paranoia are the feelings often experienced by persons here. It is likely that anger and hostility are the most commonly experienced consumption emotions within this portion of the spectrum; for example, a delayed flight, a malfunctioning car, or a botched repair job can sometimes provoke rage in consumers. Again, little empirical consumer research has been conducted on these emotions, but some speculative propositions can be made:

1.  Obviously, consumers with tendencies toward active dysthymia are those most likely to 'lose their temper’ in a provocative consumption situation, but all consumers occasionally find themselves in this emotional space. Loud, demanding, complaining behavior is likely to occur, perhaps even including physical damage to property or personnel (e.g., assaulting a waiter). Research on how to disarm such volatile negative consumer behaviors would be very valuable.

2.  Drawing from the compulsive consumption literatures (e.g., O’Guinn and Faber 1989), we propose that much drug and alcohol abuse, compulsive eating, compulsive shopping, pathological gambling and similar addictive/compulsive behaviors are undertaken by consumers who are attempting to self-medicate feelings of anger, anxiety and paranoia.

3.  We propose that it is likely at the juncture between the Sad and Angry positions on the emotional map that most compulsive consumption will occur: the consumer must feel unhappy, but still have the physical and mental energy (i.e., arousal) to get to the casino, liquor store, cigarette machine, shopping mall, or crac house in order to remedy his/her misery.


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Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Rutgers University
Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26 | 1999

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