Marketing Jul 1, 2008

Emotion and Consumer Behavior

Can anger make us choose a hiking trip vacation?

Based on the research of

Derek D. Rucker

Richard E. Petty

When imagining a vacation, which resort do individuals prefer: a quiet retreat to relax at or an active destination to explore? Derek Rucker (Kellogg School of Management, marketing department) and Richard Petty (Ohio State University, psychology department) examined the influence of specific emotions on consumer choices and the implications of those influences for persuasion.

The study of emotion and persuasion has a long history, an important strand of which has been the role of the valence, a positive or negative charge, of an emotion and its influence on judgments and persuasion. Rucker and Petty build on this area and focus on emotions with the same valence. Previous research has shown that some negative emotions, such as anger and anxiety, involve a state of high psychological and physiological arousal (such as increased heart rate, increased left-prefrontal activity in the brain). Other negative emotions, such as sadness and depression, involve a state of low arousal. Using these facts, Rucker and Petty examined how the level of emotion activation affects persuasion. Since people use emotions as sources of information, emotions may signal what type of action is more appropriate or desired. The authors proposed that emotions with high arousal levels may signal that activity is desired and lead consumers to prefer action-oriented events. Emotions paired with low arousal levels may signal inactivity and lead consumers to prefer passive events.

… emotions with high arousal levels may signal that activity is desired and lead consumers to prefer action-oriented events. Emotions paired with low arousal levels may signal inactivity and lead consumers to prefer passive events.To test this hypothesis, Rucker and Petty conducted an experiment in which the participants, undergraduate college students, were induced into angry or sad moods through reading an emotion-evoking narrative disguised as a magazine article. They were asked to imagine the events being described as they read the article. The article used to induce anger described hatred and protests against the United States in the Middle East. The article used to induce sadness described the effects of a natural disaster on a small village in Africa.

Participants in the experiment were then presented with advertisements for two vacation resorts in Orlando, Florida, and were asked to rate their preferred vacation. One vacation advertisement described a relaxing resort (passive frame), while the other advertisement described an active resort (active frame). The passive frame characterized “a perfect place for people to relax and rest,” while the active frame characterized “a perfect place for people who want to actively explore.”

The results were consistent with the hypothesis, and the interaction between emotion and the framing of the message was statistically significant. Anger-induced individuals indicated a preference for the active resort. On the contrary, individuals that were induced to sadness showed a significant preference for the passive resort. This suggests that there is a matching effect between the consumer’s emotional state and the level of activity, passive or active, evoked by the location.

Can persuasion be increased, or consumer choice affected, by matching perceived activity level to a particular emotional state? Rucker and Petty would answer affirmatively and present this research to bolster that idea. They mention examples that put this result into practice: television marketers may decide to display a more passive activity in their advertisements following a drama show in order to connect emotionally with the audience. Car advertisements during a movie like “Fahrenheit 911” could benefit from focusing on the action of driving, while commercials aired during a sad movie such as “Hotel Rwanda” would be more effective featuring the relaxation and comfort of driving a car. These results are noteworthy for advertising, marketing, and business strategies in that advertisements can be designed to resonate with the activity level of emotions and thereby increase the effectiveness of the advertising.

Featured Faculty

Derek D. Rucker

Sandy & Morton Goldman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in Marketing, Professor of Marketing, Co-chair of Faculty Research

About the Writer

Azurii K. Collier, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University.

About the Research

Rucker, Derek.D. and Richard E. Petty (2004). “Emotion specificity and consumer behavior: anger, sadness, and preference for activity.” Motivation and Emotion, 28(1): 3-21.

Read the original


Editor’s Picks


Podcast: How to Be a Great Mentor

Plus, some valuable career advice that applies to just about everyone.


A New Way to Persuade Kids to Drink More Water and Less Soda

Getting children to make healthy choices is tricky—and the wrong message can backfire.


How Can Social Science Become More Solutions-Oriented?

A conversation between researchers at Kellogg and Microsoft explores how behavioral science can best be applied.


Buying a Company for Its Talent? Beware of Hidden Legal Risks.

Acquiring another firm’s trade secrets—even unintentionally—could prove costly.


Take 5: Tips for Widening—and Improving—Your Candidate Pool

Common biases can cause companies to overlook a wealth of top talent.


Everyone Wants Pharmaceutical Breakthroughs. What Drives Drug Companies to Pursue Them?

A new study suggests that firms are at their most innovative after a financial windfall.


4 Key Steps to Preparing for a Business Presentation

Don’t let a lack of prep work sabotage your great ideas.


Video: How Open Lines of Communication Can Improve Healthcare Outcomes

Training physicians to be better communicators builds trust with patients and their loved ones.


Here’s a Better Way to Schedule Surgeries

A new tool could drive savings of 20 percent while still keeping surgeons happy.

Politics & Elections

Why Economic Crises Trigger Political Turnover in Some Countries but Not Others

The fallout can hinge on how much a country’s people trust each other.


Building Strong Brands: The Inside Scoop on Branding in the Real World

Tim Calkins’s blog draws lessons from brand missteps and triumphs.


How the Coffee Industry Is Building a Sustainable Supply Chain in an Unstable Region

Three experts discuss the challenges and rewards of sourcing coffee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.