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Emotion and Reason in Consumer Behavior

Marketing and advertising practitioners have always used emotional and rational appeals in promoting ideas, goods, and services. Learn how to create effective campaigns in this chapter download from Emotion and Reason in Consumer Behavior. This text provides new insights into the effects that emotion and rational thought have on marketing outcomes.


Excerpted with permission from Butterworth-Heinemann, a division of Elsevier. Emotion and Reason in Consumer Behavior by Arjun Chaudhuri. Copyright 2006. For more information about this book and other similar titles, please visit

The Nature of Affect

Although feelings are intrinsic to human beings, the study of affect (Emotion III) in specifically market persuasion situations has only recently begun. There was some interest during the 1950s and 1960s regarding emotional exploitation in advertising, but, in general, the role of affect in marketing applications did not begin to be studied until the early 1980s. This was probably because affects or feelings are difficult to assess because they are not amenable to control and evaluation as are the more often mentioned thoughtful, rational processes.

Since then, the marketing literature has established that affective executions of ads lead to more favorable attitudes for the product, because the liking for an advertisement gets conditioned onto the brand itself and becomes part of the attitude to the brand (Gorn, 1982). This may take place in the total absence of rational beliefs and product attributes. Some social psychologists disagree with this and consider affects to occur after rational processing has taken place (i.e., affects are dependent on reason because they occur after and as a result of rational processing). On the other hand, work done in the field by Zajonc (1980) bears out the independent nature of affective judgments. Zajonc has shown that affects may indeed precede rational processing. Moreland and Zajonc (1977) exposed subjects to Japanese ideographs and recorded a variety of recognition and liking judgments. Experimental evidence was obtained to show that reliable affective discrimination (like-dislike ratings) can be made in the total absence of a rational process such as recognition memory. Characteristics of the affective component as described by Zajonc (1980) are:

  • Affects are primary. They govern our first response to the environment and determine out subsequent relations with it. Very often we delude ourselves that we have arrived at a decision in a rational manner, whereas in reality, the decision has been made on an "I like it" basis. We may justify our choices by various reasons but it is the affective that has proved decisive.
  • Affects are basic. Affective responses are universal among the animal species, irrespective of language or reason. Affects existed before language was evolved and before rational abilities were developed.
  • Affects are inescapable. These experiences of affect occur with little control over them on our part. We may control the expression of emotion but we cannot escape the experience itself.
  • Affects are irrevocable. Once an evaluation is formed on the basis of an affective response, it is not readily revoked. There is permanence to affect as, for example, in the abiding nature of our first impressions of people. Affective judgments are irrevocable because they "feel" valid and we believe them to be "true." Feelings may then well represent basic reality.
  • Affects implicate the self. Affects identify the state of the person with relation to the object.
  • Affects are difficult to verbalize. The communication of affect relies largely on nonverbal channels. Expressions of surprise, anger, delight, and serenity are very similar across cultures.
  • Affects may become separated from content and still remain. The feelings caused by a book or movie are often readily accessible, though the contents may have been forgotten.

    The last point indicates Zajonc's main tenet that affective reactions need not depend on cognition. In the 1977 experiment mentioned before, Moreland and Zajonc showed 20 slides to pairs of subjects for 2 seconds each and at varying frequencies (0, 1, 3, 9, 27). Affect and recognition ratings were then taken. A strong path (.96) from stimulus exposure directly to subjective affect, independent of recognition, was found. Affective reactions to a stimulus may then be acquired by virtue of experience with that stimulus, even if not accompanied by a rational process such as recognition of the stimulus. In contrast to reason, affects are the first reaction to stimuli, are made without perceptual "encoding," and are made with greater confidence and more quickly. Thus it is not necessary to "know" something before liking it. However, all rational cognitions are accompanied by affects despite parallel yet separate and independent systems.

    To quote Zajonc (1980, p. 153) on the pervasive nature of emotions, he says, "There are practically no social phenomena that do not implicate affect in some important way. Affect dominates social interaction and it is the major currency in which all social intercourse is transacted." For instance, one cannot meet a person without feeling some inner attraction or revulsion. Affective reactions are thus important because we do not simply see things as they are, but instead, we provide affective interpretations of them (e.g., not just a sunset, but a "beautiful" sunset).

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