Products as Affective Modifiers of Identities

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Sociological Perspectives, 2017, 60 (1), pp. 186 - 205
Issue Date:
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© The Author(s) 2015. Are salesclerks seen as better, more powerful, or more active when they drive Mustangs? What about entrepreneurs? What about driving a mid-sized car? Intuitively, we have ideas about these, but much of the research on the affective nature of products is on purchasing, desires, and self-fulfillment. Drawing on symbolic interactionism, we argue that people's association with products has some basis in the impression management of their identity. For this to occur, there must be some cultural consensus about the way that products modify identities. Drawing on affect control theory's (ACT) methodology and equations, we measure the goodness, powerfulness, and activeness of several products, identities, and the associated product-modified identities to explore how products function as affective modifiers of identities. We find consistent effects across several types of technology products, whereby products pull the modified identity in the direction of the products' affective qualities. Support is established for the ACT equations that predict how traits modify identities as also having utility for predicting how products modify identities. This suggests that the opening questions can be answered empirically by measuring cultural-specific sentiments of the identity and the product and by developing equations to predict the identity modification process.
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