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.

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