Katherine White

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not looking for graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows. Please do not contact the faculty member with any such requests.


Research Classification

Research Interests

sustainability, social influence and consumer behaviour, the self and consumer behaviour

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Research Methodology

experiments; surveys

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Two essays on perceptions of victimhood (2022)

In this dissertation I explore the consequences of perceptions of victimhood in two substantive domains: intergroup conflict between disadvantaged groups and consumer hostility toward firms. In the intergroup conflict domain, I examine competitive victimhood, which is seeing one’s own group as having suffered more than an outgroup (Young & Sullivan, 2016). In the domain of consumer/firm interactions, the service failure literature has considered consequences of service failures, such as consumer complaining behavior, and methods to recover from failures, but little work has considered the psychology underlying hostile reactions of consumers to firms following commercial interactions where service failure is absent. Hostile reactive attitudes prompted by victim framing provides a unifying framework with which I consider intergroup relations between members of disadvantaged groups and interactions between consumers and firms.Essay 1 explores the conditions under which disadvantaged groups engage in mutual derogation. Particular identities, often connected to perceptions of historical injustice or contemporary discrimination, suffuse social life, both in political discourse (Fukuyama, 2018; Schlesinger, 1998) and, increasingly, both the marketplace and the workplace. Historically, groups have mostly sought portrayal as powerful, as power signified virtue. However, in modern times, portrayal as a victim is one way to justify concern and extract resources, providing a benefit from competing for victimhood. I propose that competitive victimhood of this form emerges from a zero-sum perception that resources available are limited.Essay 2 identifies a practical consequence for firms and consumers of victimhood beliefs. Specifically, I investigate victim signaling behaviors (Ok et al., 2020), a stable individual difference. Across four studies, I demonstrate that victim signaling is positively associated with hostile reactive attitudes toward firms when service is neutral (compared to service failure). Essay 2 contributes to the existing literature on consumer reactions to service failure and individual differences in victim signaling behavior.Together, these two chapters show how victim framing influences intergroup relations and consumer to firm dynamics. I propose, and find evidence for, intrapsychic processes to explain the relationships between victim framing and competitive victimhood (zero-sum thinking) and between victim framing and hostile reactive attitudes (consumer perception of discrimination).

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Taking the road less travelled: two essays on encouraging uncommon prosocial behaviors (2021)

Encouraging prosocial consumer behaviors (i.e., behaviors that involve individual self-sacrifice for the benefit of others) can often be difficult, especially when such behaviors are uncommon. This dissertation illustrates how comparing low rates of descriptive norms (i.e., what people actually do) with other information can highlight the differences between desired and current states, thereby encouraging uncommon, but socially desirable behaviors. I demonstrate how these comparisons can encourage uncommon prosocial behavior in two different domains: charitable giving and organ donor registration. In essay 1 (7 studies, N = 2,739), I explore how charities that have made little progress towards their fundraising goals can raise funds more effectively by including comparisons with a different charity closer to its goal. I show that when charitable organizations are presented jointly, the comparison highlights relative need leading to greater giving to the organization further from its goal. I further demonstrate that this occurs only when communal norms are active, such as when donating to charities, but not when people focus on market exchange norms for businesses. I test the robustness of the effect by varying the level of goal progress, emphasizing the amount needed to reach the goal, and making it possible for the donor to complete the goal. Finally, I use a large dataset pulled from kiva.org to empirically demonstrate this effect on giving in real crowdfunding situations. In essay 2 (5 studies, N = 2,965), I demonstrate that combining low descriptive norms with high injunctive norms (i.e., what others think we should do), making salient the discrepancy between what people think they should do and what they actually do, results in greater organ donor registrations than communicating either descriptive or injunctive norms separately. I show that feelings of responsibility mediate these findings and that making the situation feel psychologically close increases responsibility and intentions to register for low descriptive and high injunctive norms alone, to the level of combined norms. Overall, this dissertation helps extend our understanding of how comparative messaging can indeed increase prosocial behaviors with low rates of prevalence.

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To have or to do? two essays on material and experiential purchases (2018)

Consumer researchers have documented that experiential purchases (i.e., those made with the primary intention of acquiring an experience) ultimately make consumers happier than do material purchases (i.e., those made with the primary intention of acquiring a tangible good or material possession; Van Boven and Gilovich 2003). Much of this research has focused on identifying the systematic differences between experiential and material purchases to understand why people drive greater benefits from acquiring an experience over a material possession (Caprariello and Reis 2013; Carter and Gilovich 2010; 2012; Van Boven and Gilovich 2003). However, less is known about when consumers tend to shift preferences toward experiential as opposed to material purchases, and how consumers make choices when choosing among options that are viewed as being more experiential versus material in nature. This dissertation is aimed at understanding situations in which consumers are particularly motivated to seek out experiential rather than material purchases and identifying a key factor that influences consumer choices between experiential and material purchases. Essay 1 investigates how thinking about one’s own death (i.e., mortality salience) influences consumer preferences for experiential versus material consumption. Specifically, I demonstrate that reminders of one’s own mortality lead consumers to seek to imbue their lives with a sense of meaning and to engage in more experiential than material consumption to fulfill their activated desire for meaning in response to mortality salience. In essay 2, I demonstrate that experiential (vs. material) consumption has the unique consequence of making consumers more attuned to the potential future affective consequences of their choice and more likely select options that are congruent with their ideal affective states (i.e., the qualitative type of positive affect that they would ideally like to feel, such as excitement or peacefulness). This tendency is enhanced when consumers are particularly motivated to regulate their affective states in ways that are consistent with ideal affect. Further, I show that consumers are more satisfied with their purchases over time when their choices are made in accordance with their ideal affect when the choice domain is experiential (vs. material).

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When 'I' belong I don't care about 'you': The role of self-construal and social inclusion in pro-social behaviour directed at animal out-group recipients (2018)

This dissertation is aimed at improving understanding of the mechanisms at play in prosocial behaviour, as a function of recipient group identity (i.e. in-group vs. out-group member), self-construal, and social inclusion. While some research has examined the impacts of self-construal on prosocial behaviour, as well as the downstream reactions to threats of exclusion, little research has looked at the impact that perceptions of inclusion may have on prosocial behaviour. Moreover even less research has looked at how promises, or reminders, of social inclusion may be specifically experienced by individuals with high independent self-construal, and how this may impact their subsequent prosocial behaviour towards out-group (vs. in-group) targets of concern. The goal of this dissertation is to explore the interaction between inclusion and independent self-construal, with a focus on the downstream consequences for prosocial behaviour directed at out-groups. Across five experimental studies I demonstrate that individuals with high independent self-construal may behave more prosocially towards out-group targets (more inclusively in two grouping tasks, and more prosocially in two donation tasks) under normal conditions, in comparison with individuals high in interdependent self-construal. I also offer evidence that following an affirmation of social inclusion status the pattern reverses and individuals with high independent self-construal behave less prosocially towards out-group targets. Furthermore, I provide some tentative evidence to support the argument that individuals with high independent self-construal may be motivated to behave prosocially towards out-group targets in order to maximise social connection potential, and that feelings of similarity may increase this. Finally, I demonstrate that feelings of connection to cause may mediate these mechanisms in the case of donation intentions. Taken together this dissertation builds on previous research, and then extends it to demonstrate that while individuals with high independent self-construal may behave more prosocially to out-groups under normal circumstances, promises or reminders of inclusion may reverse this pattern, decreasing prosocial behaviour. I provide some preliminary evidence that the increase (decrease) in prosocial behaviour is as a result of increased (decreased) motivation for social interaction.

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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.

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Once is Not Enough: Motivations Driving Initial and Subsequent Prosocial Behaviour (2015)

Previous research has demonstrated that the cost or effort of an initial prosocial action is a key predictor of consumer responses to subsequent support requests. Specifically, consumers who perform costly (costless) prosocial behavior are more (less) likely to behave prosocially in the future. Investigating the prevalent issues of slacktivism and charitable support allocation, this dissertation extends this model by introducing additional factors that moderate previously documented findings. In essay 1, I show that social observability is a key moderator that predicts when and why token support for a social cause leads to more or less support for the cause. Importantly, I document the existence of slacktivism, uncover the motivations driving the behavior, and suggest strategies to mitigate its consequences. In essay 2, I investigate the impact that charitable support allocation, the proportion of consumer support passed directly on to cause recipients, has on consumers after consumers have provided effortful, or meaningful support for the organization. Specifically, I demonstrate that low charitable support allocation reduces consumer prosocial identity, leading to lower subsequent support not only for the originally supported cause, but also for other unrelated causes. Importantly, I reconcile this identity-based consequence from previously proposed theoretical models. Finally, I identify potential avenues for future research and discuss the theoretical and managerial implications of the work.

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