How Stereotypes Shape Consumer Behavior
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Since the cognitive ability to process information is limited, people often rely on stereotypes to help them make sense of their social environment. These knowledge structures allow people to utilize past experiences and social learning to infer the characteristics and behaviors of individual group members. Stereotypes provide their holders with scripts, specifying how to interact with members of specific social groups (e.g., what products to choose or avoid and how certain actions may be interpreted). Despite the prevalent use of stereotypes in daily life, little research in consumer behavior has examined the role of stereotypes from this perspective. I propose that consumers use stereotype knowledge to navigate interpersonal interactions through adjusting their self-evaluations and product choices to match the needs of the social situation. My research suggests that both the stereotypes applied to the self and those applied to others have implications for how consumers strategically leverage this socially shared knowledge when interacting with others.
In Essay 1, I examine how consumers use stereotypes to guide their self-evaluations when preparing to interact with someone who may stereotype them. Most interestingly, consumers are selective in what aspects of the stereotype they take on, depending on whether they have more interdependent or independent self-construals. In three studies, I demonstrate that individuals with more interdependent self-construals engage in selective self-stereotyping and that these shifts in self-evaluations are specifically tailored to the preferences and expectations of the interaction partner. However, I find that individuals with more independent self-construals engage in selective counter self-stereotyping in order to distance themselves from the constraints of the stereotype and also to rebuff the expectations of the interaction partner.
Essay 2 examines the various impression management concerns that arise when consumers choose products to share with others. I find that when the consumer has little information regarding his consumption partner, stereotypes related to the consumption partner's social group are used to guide product choices. Whether the chosen products are stereotype consistent or inconsistent depend on the consumer's social goals and the consumption partner's expectations. Across four studies, I take both the perspectives of the consumer making the choice and the consumption partner to examine the various strategies adopted for making joint consumption choices and also to evaluate the interpersonal consequences of these strategies.
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