Products as affective modifiers of social identities: Managers and retirees with iPads and mustangs

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Do salesclerks seem better, more powerful and lively when they have iPhones? Previous research has considered what affective qualities encourage people to buy products (Reed et al, 2012), and how to design products with these qualities (Desmet and Hekkert, 2007), but little research asks about how products change the perception of individuals. Using an affect control theory framework of how traits and emotions alter affective impressions of social identities (Averett and Heise, 1987), we explore whether a select number of products modify people’s impressions of business identities. We seek to first determine if affective impressions of business identities are modified when they are associated with products, and then examine whether affect control theory’s trait modifier equations are predictive of the product amalgamated identities. Through Amazon Mechanical Turk, we collected usable data from 249 US participants (4 unusable) who each rated a subset of fifty concepts on evaluation, potency, and activity (EPA). We selected six business identities – Manager, Unemployed Person, Salesclerk, Retiree, Entrepreneur, and Scrooge. Products selected included four mobile phones, four personal computers, and four types of cars. Lastly, we measured 72 amalgamated concepts created by combining each business identity with each product (e.g., Manager with a Mobile Phone). We found that products systematically modified business identities. The influence of products on business identities were greater on the potency and activity dimensions, than on the evaluation dimension. We also found support for the utility of the current affect control theory trait modifier equations in predicting our observed product modified identities. Trait equation predictions were very similar on the evaluation dimension, and quite similar on the potency and activity dimensions. The findings from this initial study are supportive of additional research examining a greater range of identity and product concepts across the EPA space. This line of research could form a basis for incorporating product-identity modification into the affect control theory framework. More broadly, the research may provide sociologists, designers, and marketers with a way of exploring how products influence the way we are perceived, behave, and feel in social situations.
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