JCR Research Curations
Spring 2013

Introduction: What are Research Curations?

JCR Research Curations are virtual collections of recently published JCR articles selected to highlight an important consumer research topic. Articles are curated by domain experts who identify links between JCR articles and assemble subject-related collections. The goal of these curated collections is to allow readers to explore a particular issue in depth and garner a deeper understanding of key consumer research topics. We hope the JCR community will find this initiative useful. Please share it widely with your colleagues and students.

Social Influence and Consumer Behavior

Curator:
Darren Dahl

The importance of understanding the role of social influence, how others affect our emotions, opinions, or behaviors, in consumption has a long and varied history in the fields of sociology, psychology, and marketing. As a topic area, social influence is incredibly broad, covering everything from mere presence effects and mimicry to more direct forms of social persuasion often seen in consumption contexts such as retail sales. Given this, early work in sociology and psychology defined theoretical frameworks for understanding and investigating social influence (e.g., Mead’s development of symbolic interactionism, Festinger’s social comparison theory) and provided effective starting points for consumer behavior researchers to build understanding of the role of social influence in consumption. The articles selected for this special collection are representative of this type of work, as they have added new insight into why the social milieu is both a critical and fascinating piece of the consumption puzzle. In each instance profiled, the authors have used an experimental approach to manipulate aspects of social influence, thereby enabling a greater understanding of how the nuances found in the social environment can affect the consumer. As a body of research, these papers validate the importance and complexity of social influence in consumption and hopefully inspire subsequent research questions and ideas in this exciting area of investigation.

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The first two articles in the collection focus on social influence that is overt in nature; that is, the social other is purposeful in the social behavior that influences the actions of the consumer. In the first article, White and Argo document the reactions of consumers being imitated or mimicked by other consumers (e.g., in product choice). While imitation is often described as the sincerest form of flattery, the authors show that, in some instances, imitation in the consumption context results in consumption behaviors that seek to preserve distinctiveness for the consumer—that is, consumers are seen to adopt disassociation behaviors from the social other. In a second article, Duclos et al. show that purposeful social exclusion of a consumer results in the pursuit of riskier financial opportunities on the part of the excluded consumer. The authors contend here that the increased financial risk taking is due to the potential benefits wealth can provide as a substitute for the lost popularity realized through social exclusion. Both of these articles document a reactionary consumer who changes consumption behavior in response to direct influence from the social other.

The collection continues with two articles that document more subtle forms of social influence—where consumers’ own social comparisons to noninteracting others are found to influence consumption behavior in surprising ways. Shalev and Morwitz show that dissociative others can be an important source of social influence in their own right. In this research the authors document how a “low status user effect” can exist when consumers observe a dissociative other using a desired product. In this instance, observing consumers are shown to question themselves with respect to the desired product, resulting in increased purchase intentions. The next article, by Ordabayeva and Chandon, shows that social comparison among consumers in a lower socioeconomic tier can create more status-enhancing consumption when the consumption is conspicuous. However, when the possession gap is narrow, consumption is reduced. Both of these articles show an active consumer who is mindful of the influence of social comparisons that are prevalent in the consumption context.

The collection concludes with an article by Wilcox and Stephen that investigates social influence in the context of online social networks. Here the authors find that social network use enhances self-esteem of consumers who focus on close friends in their browsing behaviors. They further document that this social influence results in less self-control in subsequent behavior. This article makes the argument that the social influence proffered by online social networks offers unique, new opportunities for theory development.

When Imitation Doesn’t Flatter: The Role of Consumer Distinctiveness in Responses to Mimicry

Katherine White
Jennifer J. Argo

In a series of four experiments, the authors examine the implications of one consumer's possession being mimicked by another consumer. The results demonstrate that when distinctiveness concerns are heightened, greater dissociation responses (i.e., possession disposal intentions, recustomization behaviors, and exchange behaviors) arise in response to being mimicked by a similar as opposed to dissimilar other. These effects are driven by threats to distinctiveness. Finally, these effects are mitigated when the imitated possession is nonsymbolic in nature and when a low degree of effort is exerted to initially obtain the possession. Implications for marketers and consumers are discussed.

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Show Me the Honey! Effects of Social Exclusion on Financial Risk-Taking

Rod Duclos
Echo Wen Wan
Yuwei Jiang

This research examines the effects of social exclusion on a critical aspect of consumer behavior, financial decision making. Specifically, four lab experiments and one field survey uncover how feeling isolated or ostracized causes consumers to pursue riskier but potentially more profitable financial opportunities. These daring proclivities do not appear driven by impaired affect or self-esteem. Rather, interpersonal rejection exacerbates financial risk taking by heightening the instrumentality of money (as a substitute for popularity) to obtain benefits in life. Invariably, the quest for wealth that ensues tends to adopt a riskier but potentially more lucrative road. The article concludes by discussing the implications of its findings for behavioral research as well as for societal and individual welfare.

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Influence via Comparison-Driven Self-Evaluation and Restoration: The Case of the Low-Status Influencer

Edith Shalev
Vicki G. Morwitz

Ample research shows that consumers accept influence from a source they identify with and reject influence from a source they wish to dissociate from. The current article moves beyond the well-established identification principle and delineates a new influence process. Influence via comparison-driven self-evaluation and restoration (CDSER) takes place when one observes a counterstereotypical product user and, as a result, questions one’s relative standing on the trait that the product symbolizes. In response to this threatening self-evaluation, the observer becomes more interested in the target product. To clearly distinguish CDSER from identification influence, the current investigation focuses on product users with a low socioeconomic status (SES). In contrast to the predictions of the identification principle, this article demonstrates that low-SES users can in some circumstances positively influence observers and increase their purchase intentions. The “low-status user effect” and the CDSER mechanism are demonstrated across multiple product categories in four studies.

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Getting Ahead of the Joneses: When Equality Increases Conspicuous Consumption among Bottom-Tier Consumers

Nailya Ordabayeva
Pierre Chandon

It is widely believed that increasing the equality of material possessions or income in a social group should lead people at the bottom of the distribution to consume less and save more. However, this prediction and its causal mechanism have never been studied experimentally. Five studies show that greater equality increases the satisfaction of those in the lowest tier of the distribution because it reduces the possession gap between what they have and what others have. However, greater equality also increases the position gains derived from status-enhancing consumption, since it allows low-tier consumers to get ahead of the higher proportion of consumers clustered in the middle tiers. As a result, greater equality reduces consumption when consumers focus on the narrower possession gap, but it increases consumption when they focus on the greater position gains (i.e., when consumption is conspicuous, social competition goals are primed, and the environment is competitive).

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Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control

Keith Wilcox
Andrew T. Stephen

Online social networks are used by hundreds of millions of people every day, but little is known about their effect on behavior. In five experiments, the authors demonstrate that social network use enhances self-esteem in users who are focused on close friends (i.e., strong ties) while browsing their social network. This momentary increase in self-esteem reduces self-control, leading those focused on strong ties to display less self-control after browsing a social network. Additionally, the authors present evidence suggesting that greater social network use is associated with a higher body mass index and higher levels of credit card debt for individuals with strong ties to their social network. This research extends previous findings by demonstrating that social networks primarily enhance self-esteem for those focused on strong ties during social network use. Additionally, this research has implications for policy makers because self-control is an important mechanism for maintaining social order and well-being.

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