Dealing with dying

June 02, 2005

In our post 9/11 world, Americans demand more--more food, more drink, more time with friends and family, and more time for religion. Research in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research examines how consumer behavior is affected by ideas of mortality--called mortality salience. In addition, the study explores the role of self-esteem in consumer responses to mortality salience.

"Events that remind individuals of death engender existential anxiety, leading to the use of two main coping strategies to alleviate this anxiety, defense of one's cultural worldview and attempts to bolster and enhance self-esteem," explain Rosellina Ferraro (Duke University) and her colleagues. "We focus on the strategy of bolstering/enhancing self-esteem as a buffer against existential anxiety."

For the study, the researchers analyzed two areas of consumer choice: food choice and charitable donation. Both are examples of socially conscious consumer behaviors that are representative of different aspects of self-worth.

The researchers conclude that "making mortality salient, whether via external events or in the laboratory, can have substantial effects on consumption behaviors. How people respond to events that make mortality more salient will depend upon which sources of self-esteem are most important and salient to each individual and how favorably or unfavorably that individual views him/herself on that source of self-esteem."
Let Us Eat and Drink, For Tomorrow We Shall Die: Effects of Mortality Salience and Self-Esteem on Self-Regulation in Consumer Choice. Rosellina Ferraro, Baba Shiv, and James R. Bettman. Journal of Consumer Research. June 2005.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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