Feeling Bad for the Self, Feeling Bad For Others: Two Essays on Emotional Responses in Consumer Behavior (2016)
This research is aimed at deepening our understanding of the positive consequences of negative emotional states, in particular guilt and empathy. While past research has suggested that negative emotional experiences create aversive states that motivate actions aimed at addressing the source of the negative emotion, the current work shows that affective responses arising out of negative experiences can, at times, have positive implications for consumer behavior. The aim of this dissertation is to extend our understanding of the influence of such negative emotional experiences on consumer behavior in two separate domains—when feeling bad for the self (i.e., guilt) and when feeling bad for others (i.e., empathy). I do so by articulating conceptual frameworks for when each emotional state will lead to positive consumer consequences and by identifying novel mediators and boundary conditions for the observed effects. In essay 1, I show that guilt, the negative emotion stemming from a failure to meet a self-held standard of behavior, leads to preferences for products enabling self-improvement, even in domains unrelated to the original source of the guilt. Importantly, I demonstrate that only guilt—not other negative emotions (i.e., shame, embarrassment, sadness, or envy)—has the unique motivational consequence of activating a general desire to improve the self. This desire for self-improvement subsequently spills into other domains and spurs self-improving product choices. In essay 2, I propose that negative reviews, when perceived as undeserved, can trigger positive consumer responses towards the firm. Importantly, I demonstrate that such positive responses from undeserved negative reviews occur because consumers can experience empathetic feelings for firms being wronged. Overall, I bring light to novel downstream consequences of two emotion experiences, guilt and empathy, in consumer behavior. I conclude by identifying potential avenues for future research and discussing the theoretical and managerial implications of the work.