Are All Out-Groups Created Equal? Consumer Identity and Dissociative Influence
ABSTRACT Past research finds that consumers exhibit weak self-brand connections to brands associated with out-groups. We extend this work by demonstrating that products associated with dissociative reference groups have a greater impact on consumers' negative self-brand connections, product evaluations, and choices than do products associated with out-groups more generally. In addition, both situational priming and chronic identification with one's in-group moderate the avoidance of products associated with dissociative reference groups. Further, we demonstrate the conditions under which dissociative influence does not occur and discuss the implications of the research. (c) 2007 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc..
European Advances in Consumer Research
Volume 8, © 2008
Are All Outgroups Created Equal? Consumer Identity and Dissociative Influence
Katherine White, University of Calgary, Canada
Darren W. Dahl, University of British Columbia, Canada
Past research has largely focused on positive reference groups
(i.e., groups individuals wish to be associated with), identifying the
central role they can play in determining attitudes and behaviors.
Indeed, consumers often are influenced by members of their own
group (e.g., Bearden and Etzel 1982; Moschis, 1976) and those they
aspire to be like (Escalas and Bettman 2003). The current research
focuses on a relatively under-examined type of group—the disso-
ciative reference group—a group with which the individual wishes
to avoid being associated and feels a sense of disidentification. The
current research elucidates the role of dissociative reference group
in determining consumer self-brand connections, evaluations, and
Recently, Escalas and Bettman (2005) examined the differen-
tiation between ingroups and outgroups as reference groups related
to consumer self-brand connections. These researchers demon-
strated that consumers have stronger self-brand connections to
brands consistent with an ingroup than brands inconsistent with an
ingroup, and weaker self-brand connections to brands consistent
with an outgroup than brands inconsistent with an outgroup. These
effects were more pronounced for brands that were relatively more
symbolic (i.e., brands that communicated something to others about
the user’s self-identity). Escalas and Bettman demonstrated an
important point: Groups to which consumers do not belong can
have implications for consumer self-brand connections. We extend
this research by proposing that consumers are not always motivated
to avoid outgroup memberships, and that it is dissociative reference
groups in particular that will most strongly influence negative self-
brand connections as well as consumer evaluations and choices.
We believe it is necessary to differentiate dissociative refer-
ence groups from outgroups more generally because while there are
surely many outgroups that people are not concerned about (e.g., I
am not a soccer player, but that group does not have motivational
implications for me) and aspire to be members of (e.g., I am not a
model, but I wish I were), dissociative groups are outgroups people
are motivated to avoid being associated with (e.g., I am not a goth
and I wish to avoid being associated with that group). Thus, we
believe that, rather than examining outgroups more generally, it is
more telling to examine the effects of specific types of outgroups.
Past research does not elucidate whether certain outgroups
exert a greater influence on consumers than others. While Escalas
and Bettman (2005) looked at outgroups more generally, White and
Dahl (2006) have provided preliminary evidence that a specific
type of outgroup—the dissociative reference group—can influence
consumer evaluations and choices, in a context where self-presen-
tation concerns are relevant. In particular, men avoided the disso-
ciative associations of a product named the “ladies’ cut steak” when
it was to be consumed in public and this tendency was heightened
when the consumer was high in public self-consciousness. The goal
of the current research is to clarify and extend the results of Escalas
and Bettman (2005) and to integrate their findings with those of
White and Dahl (2006).
In study 1, participants self-identified brands that were either
associated with an ingroup, an outgroup, or a dissociative group.
They reported their evaluations and self-brand connections towards
these brands (along with neutral brands). Participants demonstrated
the most negative self-brand connections and evaluations related to
dissociative brands. Outgroups more generally, did not have as
strong implications for negative self-brand connections and evalu-
ations. In addition, we found that these dissociative effects were
more pronounced when the brand was viewed as being more
symbolic in nature (i.e., the brand communicated something about
the consumer’s identity to others).
Because White and Dahl (2006) and study 1 suggest that the
desire to present a particular image to others can motivate dissocia-
tive influence, in study 2 we wished to examine the role of the
private self. Specifically, we tested whether salience of ingroup
identity moderates dissociative influence. We predicted that disso-
ciative influence would be most pronounced when the consumer’s
ingroup identity is primed. We used Canadian identity as the
ingroup and operationalized a dissociative identity as being Ameri-
can. Participants evaluated pens that were associated with groups
that pretested as being dissociative (“American pen”), related to an
outgroup more generally (“Belgian pen”), or neutral (“Vintage
pen”). The results revealed that Canadians evaluated the dissocia-
tive option more negatively than the outgroup and neutral options,
and this was only apparent when their own ingroup identity was
In study 3 we examined the role of the private self in determin-
ing dissociative influence by examining the moderating role of
ingroup identification. Participants were more likely to avoid
choosing the dissociative option than a neutral option or an outgroup
option, but only when they were high in ingroup identification.
Further, these effects were mediated by a desire for private self-
disidentification, but not by public self concerns.
Finally, in study 4 we examined the conditions under which
dissociative influence does not occur. When situational constraints
were weak consumers showed a tendency to evaluate the dissocia-
tive option more negatively than the outgroup option. When situ-
ational constraints were strong (i.e., there was social pressure to
evaluate the dissociative option positively) consumers did not
differentially evaluate the dissociative and outgroup options. Par-
ticipants demonstrated somewhat more positive evaluations of the
dissociative option when situational constraints were strong rather
Across four studies we demonstrate that dissociative reference
groups have important implications for consumer self-brand con-
nections, evaluations, and choices. Consumers showed a greater
tendency to avoid products associated with dissociative reference
groups than with outgroups more generally. When products were
relatively non-symbolic in nature, participants only showed a
tendency to avoid the dissociative product when their own ingroup
identity was primed or when they were high in ingroup identifica-
tion. Finally, participants did not exhibit dissociative influence
when situational constraints were high. The implications of the
research for theory and practice are discussed.
Aaker, Jennifer L. (1999), “The Malleable Self: The Role of
Self-Expression in Persuasion,” Journal of Marketing
Research, 36 (1), 45-57.
Aiken, Leona S. & West, Stephen G. (1991), Multiple Regres-
sion: Testing and Interpreting Interactions, Thousand Oaks,
California, Sage Publications.
460 / Are all Outgroups Created Equal? Consumer Identity and Dissociative Influence
Argo, Jennifer J., Katherine White, and Darren W. Dahl (2006),
“Social Comparison Theory and Deception in the Interper-
sonal Exchange of Consumption Information,” Journal of
Consumer Research, 33 (2), 99-108.
Bearden, William O. and Michael J. Etzel (1982), “Reference
Group Influence on Product and Brand Purchase Decisions,”
Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (2), 183-194.
Crocker, Jennifer and Rene Luhtanen (1990), “Collective Self-
Esteem and Ingroup Bias,” Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 58 (1), 60-67.
Deshpande, Rohit and Douglas M. Stayman (1994), “A Tale of
Two Cities: Distinctiveness Theory and Advertising
Effectiveness,” Journal of Marketing Research, 3 (1), 57-64.
Escalas, Jennifer Edison and James R. Bettman (2005), “Self-
Construal, Reference Groups, and Brand Meaning,” Journal
of Consumer Research, 32 (3), 378-389.
Forehand, Mark R. Rohit Deshpandé, and Americus Reed II
(2002), “Identity Salience and the Influence of Differential
Activation of the Social Self-Schema on Advertising
Responses,” Journal of Applied Psychology, 87 (6), 1086-
Hogg, Michael A. and John C. Turner (1987), “Intergroup
Behaviour, Self-Stereotyping and the Salience of Social
Categories,” British Journal of Social Psychology, 26 (4),
Jackson, Linda A., Linda A. Sullivan, Richard Harnish, and
Carole N. Hodge (1996), “Achieving Positive Social Identity:
Social Mobility, Social Creativity, and Permeability of Group
Boundaries,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
70 (2), 241-254.
Lalonde, Richard N. (2002), “Testing the Social Identity
Differentiation Hypothesis: ‘We’re Not American Eh!’,”
British Journal of Social Psychology, 41(4), 611-630.
LeBoeuf, Robyn A., Eldar Shafir, and Julia Belyavsky (2006),
“The Conflicting Choices of Alternating Selves,” manuscript
submitted for publication.
Levine, Mark, Amy Prosser, David Evans, and Stephen Reicher
(2005), “Identity and Emergency Intervention: How Social
Group Membership and Inclusiveness of Group Boundaries
Shape Helping Behavior,” Personality and Social Psychology
Bulletin, 31 (4), 443-453.
McGarty, Craig and S. Alexander Haslam, Karen J. Hutchinson,
and John C. Turner (1994),”The Effects of Salient Group
Memberships on Persuasion,” Small Group Research, 25 (2),
Moschis, George P. (1976), “Social Comparison and Informal
Group Influence,” Journal of Marketing Research, 13
Sengupta, Jaideep, Darren W. Dahl, and Gerald G. Gorn (2002),
“Misrepresentation in the Consumer Context,” Journal of
Consumer Psychology, 12 (2), 69-79.
Tajfel, Henri and John C. Turner (1979), An Integrative Theory
of Intergroup Conflict, Monteray, CA: Brooks/Cole.
(1986), The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior,
Chicago, IL: Nelson.
Wallace, David S., Rene M. Paulson, Charles G. Lord, Charles
F. Jr. Bond (2005), “Which Behaviors Do Attitudes Predict?
Meta-Analyzing the Effects of Social Pressure and Perceived
Difficulty,” Review of General Psychology, 9 (3), 214-227.
White, Katherine and Jennifer J. Argo (2006), “Social Identity
Threat and Consumer Preferences,” manuscript submitted for
White, Katherine and Darren W. Dahl (2006), “To Be or Not Be:
The Influence of Dissociative Reference Groups on Con-
sumer Preferences,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 16