Self-Identity and Consumer Behaviour
Although early research tended to focus on broad conceptual issues surrounding consumers and heir sense of self, recent research takes a more granular approach, breaking down the relationship between identity concerns and consumption to look at the effects of specific self-related goals and of different aspects of self-identity on consumer behavior. For example, why would someone drive his Pries to work but drive his BMW to a blind date? Impression management? Value expression? Need for affiliation?
The current collection of articles on self-identity and consumer behavior (appearing over the last two years) complements and adds to a growing body of work that has already appeared in JAR. Five of these six articles focus on specific relationships between self-identity-related goals and consumer behavior, exploring needs such as affiliation and distinctiveness, self-verification, and self-affirmation. The sixth paper explores the effect of identity activation on memory. The experiments in these articles fall into two paradigms.
First, researchers threaten an aspect of self-identity to investigate how consumers engage in restorative behavior. In this paradigm, researchers may also allow consumers to bolster an aspect of self-identity to mitigate the need for elf-repair. Second, researchers measure or manipulate (prime) a particular aspect of self-identity or a particular identity-related goal to examine the effect on subsequent consumer behavior. Taken altogether, the papers in this collection provide us with a more nuanced understanding of consumer behavior as it relates to self-identity.
While this collection of recent articles moves us forward, the wide variety of self- identity goals and countless aspects of self-identity make this an extremely fruitful area for future research. The first article, by White, Argon, and Sensuous, finds that nonusers respond differently to self-threats depending on their self-construal. When independent selves are salient, a threat to the self activates the need to bolster self-worth through dissociation from identity-linked products, lowering preferences for such products.
When interdependent selves are active, self-threat activates the need to belong, which manifests itself in an increased association with identity-linked products, enhancing product preferences. These findings persist across many different oversimplifications of self-construal. Thus, how consumers restore their ensue of self after a threat depends on which self-goal is activated, which in turn depends on the consumers’ self-construal. Next, the article by Townsend and Sod explores how the choice of an aesthetically pleasing product can affirm a consumer’s threatened sense of self.
Rather than identify a specific social identity, the researchers link aesthetics to personal values. The choice of a highly aesthetic product can boost one’s self-esteem by confirming one’s value for beauty. The researchers snow that the choice tot a highly aesthetic product meets consumers’ deeds to self-affirm after a self-threat by replicating the positive effects of self- affirmation on a variety of downstream variables established in psychological research. For example, choosing a well-designed product increased openness to counterarguments and reduced commitment toward a failing course of action.
The third article, by Ward and Bronchiolar, also falls into the self-threat paradigm. Here, the threat arises from a naturally occurring consumer setting: gift giving. Identity- incongruent gifts to close friends threaten consumers’ sense of self, while incongruent gifts to distant friends do not. Close friends are incorporated into one’s sense of self, creating the self-threat from the purchase of incongruent gifts. In their studies, these researchers look at student affiliation and political identification as aspects of social identity.
Self-verification goals are activated by the self-threat, strengthening affiliation with the threatened identity and increasing identity- consistent product choices as consumers restore (or verify) their self-identity. The fourth article, by Chant, Berger, and Van Oven, examines how conflicting self-identity- elated goals, affiliation needs, and uniqueness needs can be reconciled in a single product choice. Here the researchers measure and manipulate social group membership both as the relevant self-identity and need for uniqueness.
They argue and find that consumers can meet both affiliation and distinctiveness needs by assimilating to in-groups on identity-signaling attributes, while differentiating themselves on the uniqueness attributes of the same product (and this effect is most pronounced for identity-signaling product categories). While the researchers are able o manipulate whether an attribute is perceived as identity signaling or uniqueness related, often the identity-signaling attribute is at the brand level (e. G. BMW), whereas the uniqueness attributes are more subordinate (e. G. , blue instead of the more popular red). The fifth article in the collection is by Kettle and HГ¤bulb. In line with the second self-identity research paradigm described above, these researchers identify a person’s signature as an effective self-identity prime. The social identity that is activated is based on situational cues afforded by the signing context. Once the identity is primed by the signature, consumers are motivated by congruence goals toward the activated identity.
These goals affect shopping engagement, identification with in-groups versus out-groups, and corresponding choice. The final article in the collection is a bit of a departure from the papers discussed thus far. Authors Mercuric and Forehand explore the role of self-identity activation on learning and memory rather than on goal activation and consumption behavior. The researchers find that how well information is learned and remembered follows an inverted-U function based on how closely related the information is to the active self- identity.
Priming an aspect of self-identity (here, gender) at encoding and retrieval is most helpful for moderately related information, which benefits from rich self- content associations. Highly related information automatically primes the self, so nothing is gained from an external prime at encoding, while unrelated information does not build self-associations regardless of whether the aspect of self-identity is active or not. References Bell, Russell W. (1988), “Possessions and the Extended Self,” Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (September): 139-168.