by Mark Travers, PhD
In addition to fluency, the focus of my previous article, another new and promising idea influencing the way we understand consumer behavior is emotion.
While almost anyone would be eager to tell you how and why emotion is a central part of their decision making process, it took psychologists a long time to warm to the idea that emotion is an important topic of study. However, over the past decade, there has been a mini-renaissance in the field of emotion, or affective, science. With such research has come a greater understanding of the ways emotion influences judgment and choice, and the implications this has for consumer behavior.
At a broad level, researchers have identified two classes of emotions as they relate to judgment and choice. The first class of emotions is referred to as integral emotions. Integral emotions are those that result as a direct consequence of the choice task at hand. For instance, when a parent is planning her child’s first journey to college, she may become sad to see her child leaving. This sadness may cue some parents to put off taking their child to college for as long as they can. In this case, the emotion (sadness) that occurred as a direct response to the decision task (planning a college trip) ultimately influenced the decision that was made.
The other class of emotions, incidental emotions, refers to cases in which decisions are influenced by emotions that are not directly related to the decision task at hand. Think, for example, of a time when an argument you had in your personal life influenced the way you responded in a work meeting.
Such a classification of emotions holds actionable insights for marketers. For example, showing an empathetic situation may make an individual more likely to make a donation to a charitable organization, or reminding consumers of concerns about the safety of their loved ones may make them more likely to extend their home security system contract. These would be examples of ways incidental emotions can influence consumer decision making.
And it gets even more fine-grained than that. In one study, researchers induced people to feel angry or fearful by asking them to write about autobiographical experiences that evoked anger or fear. They then asked those same people to rate the likelihood that they would experience various positive and negative future life events such as an embarrassing job interview or good health when they turned 60. Because fear is associated with low personal control and high uncertainty while anger is associated with high personal control and low uncertainty, people who were induced to feel fearful rated the likelihood of negative, uncertain events higher, and people induced to feel angry rated the positive events as more likely to happen to them (Lerner and Keltner, 2000, 2001). It seems that even minor nuances in emotional experience can differentially influence judgment and choice, suggesting that marketers need to understand how to provide the right emotional context/experience to get the results they desire.
Similarly, understanding the role of integral emotions may help marketers understand purchase triggers. Consider one study conducted by psychologists Chris Hsee and Yuval Rottenstreich in 2004. In their study, they asked respondents to indicate how much money they would donate to help save pandas in a remote region of Asia. They varied whether the pandas were represented by dots or pictures on a map. The researchers found that respondents indicated they would donate more money when the pandas were displayed as pictures versus dots—presumably because of the compassion stirred up by the cute and cuddly panda pictures.
Perhaps the more interesting part of this experiment came from the observation that making the scenario more emotionally evocative through the use of pictures resulted in almost complete “scope” insensitivity. In other words, it didn’t matter how many (or few) pandas were to be saved, respondents in the picture condition were willing to pay about the same amount to save them. When the pandas were represented by dots, however, people acted more “rationally”—paying more to save more pandas, and less to save fewer pandas.
Emotion, it seems, can help marketers engage consumers in more profound ways and is one of the main reasons the study of emotions has become a rapidly growing research field.
Check back soon for part three of the changing face of marketing where I’ll focus on construal level theory!
As a member of the Decision Science team at Burke, Inc., Mark Travers helps clients across a range of business sectors discover data-driven consumer insights. Mark has served on the editorial staff of the journal Motivation and Emotion and has also served as an ad-hoc reviewer for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Hsee, C. K., & Rottenstreich, Y. (2004). Music, pandas, and muggers: on the affective psychology of value. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,133(1), 23.
Lerner, J., & Keltner, D. (2000). Beyond valence: Toward a model of emotion-specific influences on judgment and choice. Cognition and Emotion, 14, 473–493.
Lerner, J., & Keltner, D. (2001). Fear, anger, and risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 146–159.