Darren Dahl


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

Satisfied yet disloyal : a portrait of fickle consumers (2023)

In today’s marketplace where consumers have an abundance of options for most consumer services, many sources claim that consumer disloyalty is becoming the new norm. Although an extensive literature examines what marketers can do to generate a committed customer base, a possibility that has not been examined thoroughly by previous research is that certain consumers may be dispositionally less likely to become committed customers as their loyalties are harder to earn and sustain. Despite its relevance to consumer theory, there is little empirical research on the personality traits that may underlie the propensity for consumers to develop fleeting, or unstable relationships with service providers. To help address this gap, this dissertation proposes a new construct termed ‘consumer fickleness’, which captures the generalized tendency to remain uncommitted to a service provider and display a lack of consistency in patronage. Unlike many other consumer-brand relationship constructs that describe a consumer’s bond with a single specific brand (e.g., brand attachment, brand love), consumer fickleness is conceptualized as a generalized individual difference that affects a consumer’s stance toward all service providers across different contexts. A series of studies were conducted to develop a psychometrically reliable and valid instrument to measure this tendency, resulting in a 12-item scale with three factors where each factor reflects a distinct motivator of fickle consumer behaviour. After examining the convergent and discriminant validity of the Consumer Fickleness Scale (CFS), seven studies demonstrated its consumption-related consequences including frequent switching, loyalty card ownership, seeking alternatives despite being satisfied, preference for shorter-term subscriptions, and willingness to pay a price premium for flexible cancellation. An additional two studies showed that the CFS also predicted theoretically relevant outcomes in non-consumption domains such as organizational commitment and commitment to romantic partners. As a meaningful individual difference construct, consumer fickleness carries substantial managerial implications for marketers and service providers. Measuring fickleness enables managers to forecast which consumers are most or least likely to respond to marketers’ efforts to cultivate loyalty. The three distinct motivators underlying the measure also provide a richer segmentation opportunity that allows marketers to develop more targeted and efficient customer acquisition and retention strategies.

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From trash to treasure: how broken products lead to new ideas (2022)

Consumer products often break. When this happens, the consumer is confronted with a decision which will determine how the product is used from that point onward. In this dissertation, I examine the psychological processes at play when interacting with a product that is broken, as opposed to functional, and find that broken products (e.g., broken wagons) serve as excellent creative inputs for generating novel product uses. I provide a synopsis of key theories from the literature on creative problem-solving and argue that functional products facilitate functional fixedness, or fixation on salient or conventional product uses. I present findings from seven experiments examining the effects of interacting with broken products on novel use generation and disposal behavior. I use these findings to argue that functional fixedness is an artifact of a chunking process that occurs when interacting with objects during problem solving, and assert that contextual effects which disrupt this process attenuate functional fixedness and enable the generation of novel ideas. I find that broken products are less likely to be treated as coherent wholes (chunks) and more likely to be treated as disparate parts (decomposed chunks), which reduces functional fixedness and allows for the generation of uses which deviate from the norm. Furthermore, I find evidence that the chunking of functional products and the chunk decomposition of broken products impacts recycling behavior; broken products are recycled more readily as a result of being viewed in terms of their component parts, facilitating the sorting of product components into separate recycling bins. I conclude by discussing the theoretical and managerial implications of these findings and suggest that designing products with disassembly in mind may facilitate creative reuse and recycling behaviors, reducing the amount of waste caused by the rapid acquisition, consumption, and disposal of consumer products.

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How brand hatred shapes consumer perceptions and preferences (2019)

Consumers frequently experience negative feelings toward brands; yet existing research has predominantly focused on positive engagements with brands. The current dissertation examines one of the most extreme negative feelings—hatred—and explores how hatred for one brand affects competing brands. Many managers seem to believe that consumers’ hatred for a close competitor would not be harmful or might even be beneficial for their brand. Nine studies using qualitative, experimental, and field data demonstrate that in contrast to managers’ beliefs, hatred for a brand leads consumers to eschew close competitors from the same subcategory. Importantly, such preference shifts do not emerge when consumers are indifferent or dissatisfied. As feeling mistreated and exploited is central to hatred, it triggers concerns about self-protection, which results in avoiding close competitors. Several moderators (i.e., greater variance in consumer ratings and the usage of safety-inducing marketing cues) supporting the self-protection based account are identified. Taken together, this dissertation emphasizes that consumer relationships with brands do not operate in a vacuum. Documenting predictable shifts in preferences for competitors as a consequence of hatred for a brand underscores the importance of extending frameworks of consumer-brand connections to incorporate negative connections and account for effects beyond a focal brand. The findings of this dissertation also suggest that hatred – at least in a consumption context – tends to prompt individuals to be primarily concerned about protecting the self rather than annihilating the hated object (i.e., brand). When consumers experience hatred, self-protection concerns appear to be pivotal in shaping their preferences for subsequent consumption unless alternative motives might interfere and produce different preferences.

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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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The impact of fear on brand attachment (2014)

Throughout their daily lives consumers experience a vast array of emotions. At times these emotions are directly related to a consumption context, while other times these emotions are unrelated. While previous research on incidental emotion has generally found that negative emotions have negative outcomes for brands, the explicit effect of fear has been understudied. The present research explores the effect of fear on brand attachment.Across six experimental studies, this dissertation provides insight into the process by which consumers cope with fear and how this coping method has positive implications for brand attachments. This dissertation suggests that because people cope with fear through affiliation with others, in the absence of other individuals, consumers may seek affiliation with an available brand. This, in turn, will enhance emotional attachment to that brand. The first four studies of the dissertation highlight the basic process by which fear enhances emotional brand attachment. First, I show the basic fear-attachment effect (pilot study and study 1). Specifically, I show that a fearful experience, compared to a happy, sad, or exciting experience, results in higher emotional attachment to brands, even when consumers are unfamiliar with the brand. Second, I provide initial evidence for desire for affiliation, or perceived shared experience, as the underlying mechanism of the effect (study 1 and 2). Third, I provide stronger evidence for the process by ruling out simple increased consumption as an alternative explanation for the fear-attachment effect. In the last two studies, I examine factors that influence the fear-attachment process. First, I highlight the importance of product presence during the fear experience in order to allow for consumer coping (study 4). Second, I illuminate a distinction between two forms of brand attachment measurement: Thomson et al. (2005)’s emotional attachment and Park et al. (2010)’s more cognitive brand attachment. I demonstrate that a fear experience can facilitate initial emotional, but not cognitive, attachment without the necessity of time. In addition, this initial emotional attachment helps promote cognitive attachment over time (study 4). Third, I show that the fear-attachment process is unique to brands and not products in general (study 5).

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Insights into consumer-to-consumer punishment decisions (2013)

Social norms are common in our daily lives, and violations of these norms are just as prevalent. While the topics of norm violations and punishment have been studied in disciplines outside of consumer research (e.g., sociology, psychology), research efforts have not examined consumers’ reactions toward another consumer who violates well-established norms in consumption contexts. The present research seeks to fill this void by introducing and investigating the concept of consumer-to-consumer punishment. Across seven experimental studies, this dissertation first provides insight into how consumers make punishment decisions toward fellow consumers. It then sets out to understand the downstream effects of norm violations and consumer punishment decisions. Based on the conceptualization that violations disrupt social order, and that social order can be restored through the punishment of norm violators, the first four studies of the dissertation highlight three factors that are critical in consumers’ punishment decisions. First, when a third party in the consumption environment restores social order through punishment, consumers will refrain from punishing further (study 1). Second, punishment is mitigated when the norm violator faces an unjustified adversity, as punishment would create a further imbalance in social order (studies 2a and 2b). Third, the level of punishment required to achieve social order is reduced for a higher status norm violator (study 3). The next three studies explore how norm violations and punishment decisions can negatively impact consumers’ consumption experience. Not only do norm violations result in an increase in punishment behavior, they also result in more negative ratings of the products (study 4). Interestingly, the normative nature of the store policy in place (norm reinforcing vs. norm licensing) was not shown to effectively mitigate these negative consumption evaluations (study 5). The last study demonstrates how the negative ramifications from norm violations can be offset by the punisher. Specifically, evaluations of consumption experience improved when a third party (i.e., store employee) took on the role of the punisher (study 6). Finally, the dissertation discusses the theoretical contributions of the current work, identifies important managerial implications, and suggests multiple avenues for future research.

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Exploring the Role of External Rewards in Creative Cognition (2011)

Existing research examining the effects of external rewards on creativity lacks a clear consensus on the issue. While some research suggests that monetary (versus social) rewards are detrimental to creativity, other research has found that monetary rewards can enhance creative performance. These disparate findings seem to stem from extant literature’s lack of focus on cognitive processes through which external rewards affect creativity. In this dissertation I model the location and movement of ideas in an individual’s mental space and demonstrate that social rewards prompt a broader idea exploration leading to higher creativity. However, if a specific goal to be creative is made salient, focused idea exploration as induced by monetary rewards leads to even higher creativity.

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Consumers' Predicted and Actual Reactions towards Preferential Treatment (2010)

This research presents five studies, a mix of field experiments and scenario simulations, to demonstrate people’s intuition about as well as their actual response towards preferential treatment. I show that while people assume that only positive feelings would arise from receiving a preferential treatment, negative concerns do emerge when the treatment is actually experienced in a social environment, reducing the overall satisfaction and affecting purchase behaviors. I argue and find that impression concern and empathy underlies the negative influences of the social environment. In addition, I show that the failure to recognize these negative emotions when imagining the effects of preferential treatment is due to a tendency to overlook contextual information, i.e., the social environment, when people make predictions in a hypothetical scenario. Implications for theory and managerial practice are also discussed.

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Effects of obesity and social influence on the food choices of others (2009)

This research examines how the body type of consumers affects the food consumption of patrons around them. We present a parsimonious model based on anchoring and adjustment, where consumers anchor on the quantities others around them select, but these portions are adjusted according to the body type of the referent other. Study 1 documents the effect, showing that people choose a larger portion following another consumer who first selects a large quantity, but that this portion is significantly smaller if the other is obese than if she is thin. Study 2 replicates and extends the effect, identifying a backfire effect: when a confederate selects a small portion, participants choose and consume more when the other is obese versus thin. Study 3 shows further evidence of the process: namely that the adjustment process is more pronounced for consumers low versus high in appearance self esteem and is attenuated when cognitive processing resources are constrained. Implications for theory, policy and public health are also discussed.

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