Academic journal article Journal of Research for Consumers

The Divergent Effects of Mortality Salience of Self versus Mortality Salience of a Loved One on Materialistic Consumption

Academic journal article Journal of Research for Consumers

The Divergent Effects of Mortality Salience of Self versus Mortality Salience of a Loved One on Materialistic Consumption

Article excerpt

Marketing communications can prompt consumers to contemplate their own death, as well as the death of loved ones. For example, a TV ad of the Heart & Stroke Foundation may remind a viewer of his own mortality if he has a heart condition or of his father's mortality if the father has a heart disease. Past research has largely focused on thoughts about one's own death, which has been termed mortality salience (Greenberg, Solomon, and Pyszczynski 1997). In this research, we extend past research by arguing that there are two distinct types of mortality salience, namely mortality salience of self (MSS) and mortality salience of a loved one (MSLO), and further test their effects on materialistic consumption.

Past terror management studies have mostly focused on MSS, with only a few studies having explored the effect of MSLO (Greenberg et al. 1994; Davis & McKearney, 2003; Bonsu and Belk 2003). In these latter studies, it was assumed that MSLO would serve as a reminder of an individual's own mortality, thus MSLO individuals' response might follow predictably from the perspective of Terror Management Theory (Greenberg, et al. 1997). Past research has shown that MSS can lead one to lean on materialism as a means of coping with existential anxiety so MSS promotes pro-materialistic behaviour (e.g., Mandel & Heine, 1999; Arndt et al., 2004; Sheldon & Kasser, 2008). Thus, it could be that MSS and MSLO have convergent effect on materialistic consumption. However, bereavement research implied that MSS and MSLO may have divergent effects. Bereavement studies have revealed that after losing a loved one, the bereaved are more inclined to pursue intrinsic goals, including a greater appreciation of life, better relationships with others and a more conscious development of personal strengths (Niederland & Sholevar 1981; Tedeschi & Calhoun 1996). It is possible that MSLO individuals may also focus more on pursuing intrinsic goals. Past research has revealed that intrinsic and extrinsic goal content forms a bi-polar dimension (Ryan & Deci 2000; Grouzet et al. 2005), so the lack of compatibility between intrinsic and extrinsic goals suggests that MSLO individuals may become less overt in materialistic consumption.

We conducted four empirical studies to test the convergent assumptions derived from terror management studies and divergent assumptions from bereavement studies. The four studies showed that MSS and MSLO have divergent effects on materialistic consumption. …

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