Association of Marketing Theory and Practice Proceedings 2013

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Conference Track

Marketing Research/ Demographics/ Consumer Behavior

Publication Date



Using Festinger and Tesser’s work on social comparison as the theoretical framework, this study investigates how consumer spending is influenced by atypical spending in comparative reference groups. Specifically, two experiments examine how and why consumers, who exhibit either high or low tendencies to compare themselves with others, will alter their spending when they observe their aspirational (i.e., more affluent) and dissociative (i.e., less affluent) reference groups spending money in ways that are atypical. To test the strength of the influence of these comparisons, participants are asked to make consumer decisions with regard to public products (those used in front of others) and private products (those used in relative isolation). These experiments reveal that neither low nor high SCOs can be socially influenced to change their spending on private products. When purchasing public products, however, high SCOs will increase their spending if they discover that the dissociative group is spending more than expected, but they will not alter such spending if they find that the aspirational group is spending less than expected. In contrast, low SCOs will not alter their spending on public products when making downward comparisons and will increase such spending when making upward comparisons.

About the Authors

Magdoleen Ierlan, Ph.D. received her doctorate from Binghamton University and is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director of Marketing at the Madden School of Business at LeMoyne College, Syracuse, NY.

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