The Causes and Effects of Inferences of Impression Management in Consumption
Pancer, Ethan Leigh
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Observers frequently make inferences of what consumers are like based on the products they use. The general view in social cognition is that the consumption behavior of others is taken at face value, where observers do not question the image being portrayed by product users. This assumption persists even though it is well known that consumers use products to manage the images they create. This dissertation aims to enrich our understanding of this issue by arguing that, under certain conditions, observers will make the inference that consumers use products to deliberately try to create certain impressions (i.e., perceptions as being phony, fake, or a poseur). Specifically, these inferences will undermine the impression, creating more negative attitudes towards the consumer. In fact, this dissertation argues that this inference can also play an important role in consumer decision making, impacting product evaluations directly (i.e., when consumers avoid products because they are concerned that others will infer they are impression managing). Five experiments examined elements of the product, the target, the situation, and the observer themselves to better understand the causes and effects of inferences of impression management. Taken as a whole, this dissertation highlights the central roles of the product’s contribution towards the target’s appearance, the attractiveness of their appearance, product functionality and feelings of observer threat in shaping impression management inferences. In doing so, it contributes to the impression management and impression formation literatures, both in marketing and more broadly, by offering an organizing theoretical framework for understanding the bases of impression management judgments.