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I am afraid, so I buy it! The effects of anxiety on consumer assimilation and differentiation needs amongst individuals primed with independent and interdependent self-construal

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Individuals tend to satisfy their assimilation needs by purchasing products that bear a specific group identity. Such products might be preferred when an individual is threatened because anxiety increases affiliative needs. In contrast, individuals might be more attracted to unique-design products when they feel less anxious. We examined the impact of anxiety on assimilation and differentiation needs amongst consumers primed with independent and interdependent self-construal. We expected that anxiety would produce stronger assimilation needs and show a weaker preference for unique products. In Study 1 ( N = 110), we found that individuals in the anxiety-inducing condition decreased their evaluation of unique products and exhibited stronger assimilation needs. Independents who felt anxiety reacted with a reduced preference for group-linked products. Study 2 (N = 102) found that introducing an anxiety-decreasing agent (vanilla scent) after a social identity threat reduced differentiation needs and preference for unique products. Physiological data showed that the social identity threat increased sympathetic arousal, but the vanilla scent did not have a soothing effect on physiological reactivity. Overall, this work showed that both anxiety and vanilla scent reduced consumer need for differentiation. Furthermore, for independents, anxiety reduced assimilation needs. We found novel determinants of assimilation/differentiation needs with implications for advertising and retailing products with a unique design.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
I am afraid, so I buy it! The effects of anxiety
on consumer assimilation and differentiation
needs amongst individuals primed with
independent and interdependent
self-construal
Dariusz DrążkowskiID*, Maciej Behnke ID, Lukasz D. Kaczmarek
Faculty of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Wielkopolska, Poland
*dardra@amu.edu.pl
Abstract
Individuals tend to satisfy their assimilation needs by purchasing products that bear a
specific group identity. Such products might be preferred when an individual is threatened
because anxiety increases affiliative needs. In contrast, individuals might be more
attracted to unique-design products when they feel less anxious. We examined the
impact of anxiety on assimilation and differentiation needs amongst consumers primed
with independent and interdependent self-construal. We expected that anxiety would pro-
duce stronger assimilation needs and show a weaker preference for unique products. In
Study 1 (N= 110), we found that individuals in the anxiety-inducing condition decreased
their evaluation of unique products and exhibited stronger assimilation needs. Indepen-
dents who felt anxiety reacted with a reduced preference for group-linked products. Study
2 (N = 102) found that introducing an anxiety-decreasing agent (vanilla scent) after a
social identity threat reduced differentiation needs and preference for unique products.
Physiological data showed that the social identity threat increased sympathetic arousal,
but the vanilla scent did not have a soothing effect on physiological reactivity. Overall, this
work showed that both anxiety and vanilla scent reduced consumer need for differentia-
tion. Furthermore, for independents, anxiety reduced assimilation needs. We found novel
determinants of assimilation/differentiation needs with implications for advertising and
retailing products with a unique design.
Introduction
Some consumers buy an iPhone just because their friends already have one, which expresses
their need for assimilation with others [1]. At the same time, consumers also buy unique
smartphone covers, which none of their friends have, to express their need to differentiate
from others [2]. Indeed, differentiation and assimilation needs are independent [3]. Thus,
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Citation: Drążkowski D, Behnke M, Kaczmarek LD
(2021) I am afraid, so I buy it! The effects of
anxiety on consumer assimilation and
differentiation needs amongst individuals primed
with independent and interdependent
self-construal. PLoS ONE 16(9): e0256483. https://
doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256483
Editor: Camelia Delcea, Bucharest University of
Economic Studies, ROMANIA
Received: April 2, 2021
Accepted: August 6, 2021
Published: September 1, 2021
Copyright: ©2021 Drążkowski et al. This is an
open access article distributed under the terms of
the Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited.
Data Availability Statement: Data used in both
studies are available from the Open Science
Framework (https://osf.io/5kvup/?view_only=
2fd63096f87248b4890db80ce87d33d9).
Funding: Preparation of this article was supported
by National Science Center in Poland (https://www.
ncn.gov.pl/) research grants (UMO-2013/11/N/
HS6/01122 to DD) and doctoral scholarships from
National Science Centre in Poland (UMO-2019/32/
T/HS6/00039) to MB. The funders had no role in
individuals satisfy both needs simultaneously through consumer behaviors [4]. One factor
that influences the assimilation/differentiation need is emotions [5]. Emotions are central
to the actions of consumers and marketers [6]. In particular, anxiety is proposed to influ-
ence differentiation [7] and assimilation needs [8]. Since anxiety appeals is a common mar-
keting strategy [9,10] it is essential to determine how anxiety influences the intensity of
assimilation/differentiation needs observed in consumer behavior. Furthermore, the effects
of anxiety on assimilation needs depend on consumer self-construal. When anxiety is elic-
ited by social identity threat, individuals with independent (interdependent) self-construal
demonstrate decreased (increased) assimilation [5]. Thus, in this project, we aimed to
examine the effects of anxiety on evaluating products associated with assimilation (group-
linked products) and differentiation needs (unique products) among consumers with differ-
ent self-construal types. We aimed to integrate relationships between emotional (anxiety)
and self-related (self-construal) factors influencing assimilation/differentiation processes in
consumption.
Assimilation, differentiation, and consumer behaviors
Doing what is socially approved and belonging to groups are the basic human needs [1].
Assimilation with the group allows individuals to construct their social identities [11],
expressed via material possessions [12]. Consumers may also conform to other group mem-
bers’ choices due to the need to belong [13]. Thus, consumers incorporate the brands consis-
tent within-group into their self-concept [14].
Contrary, the need for uniqueness indicates consumers’ need to differentiate themselves
from others and be seen as one of a kind [15]. Consumers often stand out by buying products
to express their uniqueness [16] or to diverge from the outgroup [2]. Individuals with a high
need for uniqueness select products that are rarely chosen by others [17] and desire to possess
products that are unique [18], scarce [19], or unconventional [20].
Anxiety and differentiation
Emotions determine whether individuals prefer to assimilate or differentiate from others via
consumer choices [5]. The affect-as-information framework [21] states that individuals use
current emotions as sources of information when evaluating target objects because they per-
ceive these feelings to contain valuable judgmental information. Emotions can influence prod-
uct evaluation by having their source either in the target itself (e.g., being happy after
purchasing a discounted product) or in some irrelevant contextual factor (e.g., shopping while
being sad after watching a movie) [22].
Anxiety is a discrete emotion that influences assimilation/differentiation needs [7,8].
Anxious individuals display high uncertainty and strong motivation to protect themselves
[23]. Thus, anxious consumers prefer products that reduce risk and uncertainty [24] and
avoid products that would typically satisfy consumer’s need for differentiation [18], includ-
ing controversial [7,25], scarce [26], and extremely novel options [27]. According to the
affect-as-information framework [21], feeling anxiety (as a source of information) motivates
an individual to avoid uncertainty and to use risk-averse heuristics [24]. Since the process
of differentiation from other people is related to taking a risk and the individual cannot be
sure of social evaluation of his/her expression of the sense of uniqueness [15], it can be
expected that feeling anxiety inhibits differentiation processes. Therefore the following
hypothesis was proposed:
H1: Anxiety decreases consumers’ differentiation needs.
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study design, data collection and analysis, decision
to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
Anxiety, self-construal, and assimilation
Anxiety motivates individuals to connect with others to cope with a threatening situation [28].
Therefore anxious consumers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by social information [26,
29]. Anxiety also motivates consumers to choose products that demonstrate affiliation [1,30].
However, some individuals do not increase their assimilation needs when facing a threat
because the impact of anxiety on assimilation/differentiation needs depends on consumers’
self-construal [5].
Individuals can be divided into two groups according to their dominant type of self-con-
strual. Individuals with independent self-construal (independents) see themselves as autono-
mous, distinct from the group, and unique [31]. Individuals with interdependent self-
construal (interdependents) see themselves as connected to others and define their self in
terms of social roles, relationships, and group memberships. When social identity is threat-
ened, independents demonstrate decreased assimilation, which manifests as lower ratings of
group-linked products [5]. In contrast, threatened interdependents demonstrate increased
assimilation, which manifests as higher ratings of group-linked products [5]. Thus, indepen-
dents attempt to restore positive self-worth under social identity threat by avoiding association
with a threatened identity. At the same time, interdependents satisfy assimilation needs by
activating their social identities, including threatened ones, to satisfy social motive to belong.
A similar pattern of results was obtained by Vohs and Heatherton [32]. They showed that
under personal identity threat (i.e., ego threat), independents decreased assimilation tenden-
cies (i.e., they behaved in such a way that they were perceived as less likable). At the same time,
interdependents increased assimilation (i.e., their likeability increased). Thus, whether social
[5] or personal [32], identity threat is aroused, similar patterns in the responses of individuals
with different self-construal emerge, i.e., under identity threat, interdependents become more
interdependent with groups, and independents become more independent from groups. Since
both types of threat lead to increased anxiety [3335], we expect that anxiety may affect
changes in the intensity of assimilation processes. From the perspective of affect-as-informa-
tion theory, the self-construal may serve to direct the information resulting from experienced
anxiety. Individuals feeling anxious are motivated to seek safety. The research results on vari-
ous forms of identity threat discussed above suggest that interdependent individuals
experiencing anxiety might seek safety within the affiliation group, whereas independent indi-
viduals experiencing anxiety might look for security outside the affiliation group.
We propose the following effect of anxiety on the assimilation processes:
H2: Anxiety increases consumers’ assimilation needs for interdependents (H2a), and decreases
consumers’ assimilation needs for independents (H2b).
We do not expect that the self-construal moderates the intensity of the differentiation
under anxiety situation, even despite that independent’s goals are to differentiate from others
[36] and that they prefer more unique products than interdependents [37]. We propose that
both, independent and interdependent, anxious consumers reduce their differentiation need
as they are primarily motivated to reduce risk [24,25]. We did not find empirical ground to
suggest an increase in differentiation of independents in an anxiety situation. The assumption
that some individuals (independents) can simultaneously tend to decrease differentiation and
assimilation needs in an anxiety-provoking situation might be regarded counterintuitive
because these two needs are conflicting [3]. However, previous studies found that individuals
can simultaneously satisfy these conflicting needs in a single behavior. For instance, consumers
can assimilate to their group by choosing a brand symbolizing group membership while differ-
entiating by selecting a unique color of a product [4]. Since one behavior can satisfy high levels
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of both the assimilation and differentiation needs, the intensity of both needs can change
simultaneously in the same direction.
The present research
We conducted two multi-method studies to examine the influence of anxiety on assimilation/
differentiation needs differs among consumers with different self-construal types. In Study 1 &
2, we manipulated independent/interdependent self-construal with priming. In line with pre-
vious studies (e.g. 4, 5) we accounted for the assimilation needs with the intention to purchase
and preference for groups-linked products and the need to belong. We accounted for differen-
tiation needs with measures of intention to purchase and preference for unique products and
need for uniqueness. We elicited anxiety with film clips (Study 1) and social threat procedures
(Study 2). We measured self-reported and physiological responses to anxiety. We accounted
for physiological measures because anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system, mobiliz-
ing resources necessary for action [38]. This addresses recommendations to integrate psycho-
physiology with consumers’ experience and behavior [39]. Finally, in Study 2, we aimed to
elicit anxiety and reduce it in some participants using soothing olfactory cues (vanilla scent)
used in previous consumer research [10].
Study 1
The aim of Study 1 was to examine whether consumers’ self-construal moderates the effects of
anxiety on the assimilation/differentiation needs. Thus, the study had a 2 (anxiety vs. neutral
condition) ×2 (independent vs. interdependent self-construal) between-subjects experimental
design. We manipulated self-construal via a priming technique. We elicited anxiety with film
clips and monitored the effectiveness of the manipulation with self-reports and physiological
measures. We run two pilot studies to support the validity of the priming technique and sti-
muli related to assimilation/differentiation needs.
Materials and methods
Participants
The participants were 110 undergraduates (65 women) aged between 18 and 26 years old
(M= 20.35, SD = 1.74). Volunteers were admitted into the study on condition that they did
not meet any exclusion criteria: significant health problems, use of medications, prior diagno-
sis of cardiovascular disease or hypertension. Participants were instructed to avoid eating for
at least one hour before the experiment and to refrain from physical exercise and intake of caf-
feine, nicotine, alcohol, or non-prescription drugs for at least two hours before the experiment.
Each participant received a cinema ticket. The Institutional Ethics Committee at Faculty of
Psychology and Cognitive Science, Adam Mickiewicz University approved the study. Data
used in this study are available from the Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/5kvup/?
view_only=2fd63096f87248b4890db80ce87d33d9).
Procedure. Participants were tested individually in a sound-attenuated and air-condi-
tioned room. Upon arrival in the lab, participants provided written informed consent and
were told that they would be participating in two unrelated studies. The first study’s purpose
was presented as determining the relationship between language orientation and the psycho-
physiological reactions to film clips. The purpose of the second study was presented as evaluat-
ing consumer products. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions:
anxiety induction-independence priming (n= 28); anxiety induction-interdependence prim-
ing (n= 28); control-independence priming (n= 26); control-interdependence priming
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(n= 26). The biosensors were attached, and the experiment began with a five-minute resting.
The experiment was run in the e-Prime 2.0 Professional Edition environment (Psychology
Software Tools).
After baseline, participants’ university identity had been made salient by asking them to
respond to questions from a Collective Self-Esteem Scale [40]. Next, self-construal was manip-
ulated via the Scrambled Sentences Test. Participants created grammatically correct and mean-
ingful sentences using four words out of a set of five words presented in a random order [41].
There was one correct sentence for each set of five words. After creating the sentence in their
mind, participants typed the unused word. The mentally constructed sentences and the unused
words were chosen to prime a particular self-construal. For example, "very, am, isolation,
assertive, I" primed the independent self-description: ’I am very assertive’. There were 17 sen-
tences that activated independent self or 17 sentences that activated interdependent self. The
test also included three neutral sentences. The results of a preparation study indicated that this
test activated the independent and interdependent self-construal (S1 File).
After priming independent or interdependent self-construal, we elicited anxiety or pre-
sented a neutral material via validated film clips [42,43]. We elicited anxiety with excerpts
from movies’ The Blair Witch Project’ [42] and ’A Tale of Two Sisters’ [43]. For the neutral
condition, we used clips from ’The Lover’ and ’Three Colours: Blue’ [42]. Each sequence lasted
3:41 minutes. After the anxiety manipulation, participants reported a current level of social
needs.
Finally, participants evaluated six pairs of products. Each pair included one product
awarded for its innovative design and one product branded with the participants’ university
logo symbolizing group membership. We asked participants to evaluate each product for their
preference and purchasing intention. Photos of the products in each pair were presented
simultaneously in a counterbalanced order. The instructions indicated that both products
within each pair were matched for price and were intended for both women and men. We pre-
selected photos of products in a preparatory study (S1 File).
At the end of the experiment, participants retrospectively evaluated the anxiety manipula-
tion effectiveness, answered a probe question to determine whether they had guessed the
study’s true purpose (none had), and were debriefed.
Measures
Assimilation/differentiation needs. We assessed assimilation/differentiation needs by
measuring preference for products and purchase intentions. We used three 9-point bipolar
scales to assess preference for products. The scales’ left and right ends were labeled “unfavor-
able” vs. “favorable”, “dislike” vs. “like”, and “bad” vs. “good” [5]. We calculated the difference
scores obtained by subtracting the preferences for the neutral product (α= .84) from the pref-
erence for the unique (α= .85) or group-linked product (α= .89) within each pair [5]. Assimi-
lation was represented by a higher index of relative preference for university-linked products.
In contrast, differentiation was represented by a lower index of relative preference.
Participants also expressed their intention to purchase products by distributing ten points
between products from each of the six pairs. For example, 3 points to one product in a pair
implied 7 points allocated to another. With this method, we accounted for a relative purchase
intention to purchase unique (α= .64) and group-linked products (α<.50; due to low Cron-
bach’s alpha, we did not analyze this variable). Differentiation was represented by a stronger
intention to buy unique products.
Social needs. We measured the need for uniqueness with four items [44], e.g., "I prefer
being ____ different from other people" (participants insert one of the five presented adjectives;
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α= .87), the need to belong with three items scale [5], e.g., "I want other people to accept me" (α
= .60), and the need for self-worth with five items scale [5], e.g., "I feel I am not doing well" (α=
.87). The scales ranged from 1 = (not at all) to 7 = (extremely).
Emotions. For the manipulation check, we measured self-reported emotions and physio-
logical responses. First, we checked the anxiety manipulation effectiveness by asking partici-
pants to indicate retrospectively the extent to which they had felt “threatened”, “concerned”,
calm”, “nervous”, “upset”, “frightened”, “jittery”, and “uncertain” while watching the movie
clips. The scales range from 1 = (not at all) to 5 = (extremely) (α= .92). We used the scale as
the measure of threat.
Second, we tested whether induction of anxiety was successful using cardiovascular
activity and skin conductance. We measured cardiovascular activity using electrocardio-
gram (ADInstruments, New Zealand) and hemodynamic responses (Finapres Medical Sys-
tems, Netherlands). Electrocardiogram was recorded at 1000 Hz with BioAmp and
Powerlab 16/35 AD converter (ADInstruments, New Zealand). We used Ag–AgCl surface
electrodes placed on the chest and stored the signal on a computer with other physiological
variables using data acquisition and analysis system (LabChart 8.1; ADInstruments, New
Zealand). The signal was amplified and band-pass filtered at 0.1–40 Hz. We used the ECG
Analysis 2.0 module in LabChart to calculate heart rate (HR) based on the ECG signal.
Skipped or spurious beats were identified by flagging intervals larger than 1,200 ms or
smaller than 400 ms intervals. Next, we visually inspected the ECG signal and in some cases
inserted or removed R spikes as appropriate.
For hemodynamic responses, we recorded systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood
pressure (DBP), cardiac output (CO), stroke volume (SV), and total peripheral resistance
(TPR) continuously using Finometer MIDI (Finapres Medical Systems, Netherlands). Finger
arterial pressure waveforms were recorded with finger cuffs, recorded on digits III of the left
hand. The data were analyzed with BeatScope 2.0 (Finapres Medical Systems, Netherlands).
The BeatScope 2.0 provides values of SBP, DBP, CO, SV, and TPR, for each heartbeat, based
on the raw signal from Finometer MIDI. Finometer uses the volume-clamp method first devel-
oped by Penaz [45] to measure finger arterial pressure waveforms with finger cuffs.
We measured tonic skin conductance level (SCL) with the GSR Amp (ADInstruments,
New Zealand) at 1000 Hz and reported in micro siemens (μS). We used electrodes with a con-
tact area of 8 mm diameter filled with a TD-246 skin conductance paste attached with adhesive
collars and sticky tape to the medial phalanges of digits II and IV of the left hand. Signals were
zeroed for each participant before recording. We used initial baseline correction (“subject
zeroing”) to eliminate the impact of the participant’s absolute level of electrodermal activity.
We used HR, SBP, DBP, CO, SV, SCL, and TPR, to measure sympathetic arousal related to
emotional processing [46,47]. We calculated mean values for two 220-s intervals: 1) last 220-s
of baseline, and 2) the whole films which lasted 220 s. To operationalize physiological changes,
we used reactivity scores corrected for the resting state levels; thus, we subtracted the baseline
levels from the film clips. Using difference scores is a standard strategy for studying autonomic
responses to psychological factors [48,49].
Analytic strategy
Manipulation check. First, we compared the level of threat elicited by film clips with a t-
test. Second, to test whether anxiety film clips elicited greater physiological reactivity than neu-
tral film clips, we run series of analyses of variance (ANOVA) and calculated effect sizes (η
2
).
Main analysis. We analyzed the assimilation/differentiation process in three steps. First,
we run two-way ANOVAs 2 (Anxiety: present vs. absent) ×2 (Self-construal: independent vs.
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interdependent) separately for dependent variables (preference for unique products and for
group-identity products; self-worth concerns, need to belong, and need for uniqueness). For
significant interactions, we run simple effects analysis to test the effect of anxiety separately at
two types of self-construal. Simple effects would demonstrate significant differences between
anxiety and control condition for independents and interdependents. Finally, we run post-hoc
comparisons using the Bonferroni correction to test differences between the control condition
and the anxiety conditions separately for independents and interdependents. We also run a
standard t-student test to report value t for a more detailed post-hoc comparison description.
We ran the ANOVA analyses without assumption checks, as ANOVA is robust against the
non-normality of data [50].
Results
Manipulation check
We found that participants who watched anxiety film clips reported higher levels of threat
(M= 2.87, SD = 0.83) than participants in the control condition (M= 1.71, SD = 0.48), t(108)
= 8.91, p<.001, Cohen’s d= 1.71. Watching anxiety-provoking film clips elicited the targeted
physiological reactivity (Table 1). We observed greater increases in HR, SBP, SV, CO, and TPR
in the anxiety condition than in the control condition.
Main analysis
Descriptive statistics for self-reports are presented in Table 2. Participants in the anxiety-
inducing condition had lower need for uniqueness, F(1, 106) = 5.17, p<.05, η
2
= .05, lower
preference for unique products, F(1, 106) = 8.18, p<.01, η
2
= .07, lower intention to purchase
unique products, F(1, 105) = 7.00, p= .01, η
2
= .06, and higher need to belong, F(1, 106) = 6.17,
p<.05, η
2
= .06, than the controls. There was no significant difference between the anxiety-
inducing condition and the control condition for: need for self-worth, F(1, 106) = .50, p= .48,
η
2
= .01; preference for groups-linked products, F(1, 106) = .94, p= .33, η
2
= .01.
Independents had higher preference for unique products, F(1, 106) = 4.73, p<.05, η
2
= .04,
higher intention to purchase unique products, F(1, 105) = 3.76, p= .055, η
2
= .04), and had
lower preference for groups-linked products, F(1, 106) = 8.41, p<.01, η
2
= .07, than interde-
pendents. There was no significant difference between independents and interdependents for:
need for self-worth, F(1, 106) = .67, p= .42, η
2
= .01; need for uniqueness, F(1, 106) = 2.33, p=
.13, η
2
= .02; need to belong, F(1, 106) = .24, p= .63, η
2
= .002.
Table 1. Physiological reactivity to film clips—Means (M), Standard Deviations (SD), results of Analysis of Variance (ANOVA).
Measure Neutral Anxiety F df p η
2
M (SD) M (SD)
ΔHR [beats/min] -0.94 (4.08) 1.72 (6.71) 5.77 1, 96 0.02 0.06
ΔSBP [mmHg] 4.98 (10.49) 9.51 (8.49) 5.31 1, 93 0.02 0.05
ΔDBP [mmHg] 2.61 (5.92) 3.99 (7.51) 1.00 1, 93 0.32 0.01
ΔSV [ml] 2.16 (6.97) 8.42 (6.69) 19.69 1, 92 <0.001 0.18
ΔCO [l/min] 0.07 (0.69) 0.88 (0.96) 22.21 1, 92 <0.001 0.19
ΔTPR [mmHg.min/l] 0.04 (0.08) -0.05 (0.09) 21.88 1, 92 <0.001 0.19
ΔSCL [μS] 1.18 (1.69) 1.44 (1.51) 0.64 1, 96 0.42 0.01
Note. Δ= measures reported as the difference scores relative to baseline. HR = heart rate, SBP = systolic blood pressure, DBP = diastolic blood pressure, SV = stroke
volume, CO = cardiac output, TPR = total peripheral resistance, SCL = skin conductance level.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256483.t001
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There was an interaction of anxiety and self-construal for need for uniqueness, F(1,
106) = 7.12, p<.01, η
2
= .06. Planned contrasts showed that independents in the anxiety-
inducing condition reported lower need for uniqueness than did independents in the con-
trol condition, t= -3.52, p<.001. We also found an interaction between anxiety and self-
construal for preference for groups-linked products, F(1, 106) = 6.61, p<.05, η
2
= .06.
Independents in the anxiety-inducing condition reported a lower preference for groups-
linked products than did independents in the control condition, t= -2.19, p<.05. Signifi-
cant interaction results are presented in Figs 1and 2. An interaction of anxiety and self-
construal did not reach statistical significance for: need for self-worth, F(1, 106) = 2.19, p
= .14, η
2
= .02; need to belong, F(1, 106) = 6.61, p<.05, η
2
= .06; preference for unique
products, F(1, 106) = .61, p= .44, η
2
= .01; intention to purchase unique products, F(1,
106) = 1.41, p= .24, η
2
= .01.
Table 2. Descriptive statistics for self-reports in Study 1.
Anxiety Neutral IND - INTER -
Measure IND INTER Overall IND INTER Overall overall overall
(n = 28) (n = 28) (n = 56) (n = 27) (n = 27) (n = 54) (n = 55) (n = 55)
M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)
Need for self-worth 2.81 3.42 3.11 3.01 2.84 2.93 (1.33) 2.91 (1.36) 3.13 (1.46)
(1.18) (1.70) (1.48) (1.54) (1.10)
Need to belong 5.11 5.07 5.09 4.64 4.47 4.56 (1.90) 4.88 (1.07) 4.78 (1.22)
(0.97) (1.14) (1.05) (1.14) (1.25)
Need for uniqueness 2.46 2.66 2.56 3.31 2.59 2.95 (1.08) 2.88 2.63
(0.99) (0.90)(0.70) (0.83) (0.76) (1.06) (0.99)
Preference for unique products -2.71 -3.25 -2.98 (1.68) -1.33 -2.45 -1.89 (2.34) -2.03 (2.20) -2.86 (1.92)
(1.83) (1.49) (2.34) (2.24)
Intention to purchase unique products 3.25 3.04 3.14 (1.17) 4.36 3.46 3.91 (1.82) 3.81 (1.57) 3.24 (1.52)
(1.13) (1.23) (1.77) (1.82)
Preference for group-linked products -0.49 0.67 0.09 0.26 0.33 .30 -0.12 0.51
(1.67) (1.08) (1.51) (0.73) (0.69) (0.70) (1.34) (0.92)
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256483.t002
Fig 1. The effects of anxiety and self-construal on the preference for groups-linked products. Error bars represent
standard errors estimated using the bootstrap method (95%).
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256483.g001
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Discussion
We examined how consumers’ self-construal moderate anxiety’s effects on the consumers’
assimilation/differentiation needs. We found that consumers in the anxiety-inducing condi-
tion differentiated less as manifested in a reduced preference for unique products and lower
intention to purchase unique products. However, anxiety reduced the need for uniqueness
only in independents. Anxiety elicitation led to increased consumers’ assimilation, as indicated
by the increased need to belong. Independents reduced their assimilation after anxiety elicita-
tion, as indexed by the preference for group-linked products. These findings partially support
that self-construal moderates the assimilative reactions to anxiety [5]. These results suggest
that, under anxiety, independents simultaneously feel greater need to belong, avoid products
that symbolize group membership and have unique design, choosing products with a common
look without symbols of membership in any group. Moreover, we replicated the effects
observed in the previous studies [37] and found that consumers primed with independence
preferred unique products significantly more than those primed with interdependence. With
self-reports and physiological measures, we assured the effectiveness of anxiety elicitation with
film clips.
Study 2
In Study 2, we aimed to replicate and extend Study 1 by applying a different method to induce
anxiety and extending emotion manipulation by using methods that reduce anxiety.
In Study 2, we induced the anxiety with the social identity threat paradigm [51,52], which
influenced assimilation/differentiation needs in previous studies [5,53]. We applied social
identity threat to induce anxiety and we used evaluations of products symbolizing threatened
group membership as indicators of assimilation. This provides an opportunity to relate the
study results to previous research in which the self-construal moderated changes in preference
for products symbolizing threatened social identity [5]. Therefore, this study aims to extend
previous research by examining whether threatened social identity without experienced anxi-
ety leads to changes in preference for products symbolizing threatened social identity.
Study 1 showed that anxiety can change assimilation/differentiation needs in much the sim-
ilar way that social identity threat does. Since anxiety mediate the link between identity threat
and changes in consumer behaviors [54], reducing anxiety is likely to block consumers’
response to identity threat [52,53]. However, no previous study tested if a reduction of anxiety
Fig 2. The effects of anxiety and self-construal on the need for uniqueness. Error bars represent standard errors
estimated using the bootstrap method (95%).
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after social identity threat would block changes in assimilation/differentiation needs. We
expected that anxiety itself, and not the social identity threat, affects the intensification of those
needs. We aimed to reduce the anxiety by exposing participants to a vanilla scent. Vanilla
scent produces soothing effects that are likely to block consumers’ response to identity threat
[52,53]. Using vanilla scent as an anxiety reducer allows relating the research results to manip-
ulation of the store atmosphere as an element of retailing [55].
We predicted the following:
H3. Reducing anxiety after exposure to a social identity threat would inhibit changes in assimi-
lation/differentiation needs.
Thus study 2 had a 2 (vanilla vs. neutral aroma) ×2 (independent vs. interdependent self-
construal) between-subjects experimental design. We expected that consumers under social
identity threat in the neutral (no scent) condition would experience anxiety. In turn, they
would demonstrate lower differentiation than consumers in the scented condition, where anx-
iety would be reduced. We also expected that interdependents (independents) in the unscented
condition would demonstrate higher (lower) assimilation than in the scented condition.
Finally, we expected that social identity threat would increase anxiety as indicated by self-
reports and increases in physiological measures and that exposure to the vanilla scent would
decrease the anxiety.
Materials and methods
Participants
The participants were 102 undergraduates (63 women) from Adam Mickiewicz University in
Poland, aged between 18 and 26 years old (M= 20.27, SD = 1.79). We used the same exclusion
criteria and preparation guidelines as in Study 1. Each participant received a cinema ticket.
The Institutional Ethics Committee at Faculty of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Adam
Mickiewicz University approved the study. Data used in this study are available from the Open
Science Framework (https://osf.io/5kvup/?view_only=2fd63096f87248b4890db80ce87d33d9).
Procedure
Volunteers were told that they would be participating in two unrelated studies. In the lab, par-
ticipants provided written informed consent. Participants were randomly assigned to one of
four conditions: vanilla scent-independent (n= 25); vanilla scent-interdependent (n= 26);
control-independent independent (n= 26); control-interdependent (n= 25). Biosensors were
attached, and the experiment began with a 5-minute resting period. Next, participants com-
pleted the ’Oxford Test of Professional Competence’, which was described as "test which allows
with great accuracy to predict the future level of functioning on the labour market". They were
told that the test was used in the study conducted with 19,000 students whose professional
careers had been monitored. Then participants completed the same procedure as in Study 1 to
prime self-construal. Next, we induced a social identity threat by providing negative group
feedback based on performance on the Oxford Test of Professional Competence [56]. Partici-
pants were informed that students from their university had an average score of 13.1 out of 40,
while the overall average for students from all universities was 27.3. Finally, they received a
description of the characteristics associated with low scores. We supported this social identity
threat procedure’s effectiveness with pilot study (S1 File). Post-manipulation physiological
data (90 s) were collected while participants read the description of the characteristics associ-
ated with low scores.
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Next, the experimental group received materials treated with vanilla essential oil [52,53].
On one day, all participants received vanilla-scented questionnaires and pens (experimental
condition). On the next day, all participants received unscented materials (control condition).
The first page of the questionnaires assessed the social needs. Next, participants assessed the
same products as in Study 1, but this time products were presented as paper prints of photo-
graphs. Participants pressed ENTER on the keyboard after completing the questionnaire; this
triggered the third measurement of physiological responses (90 seconds). Finally, participants
answered a probe question to determine whether they had deduced the study’s actual purpose
(none had) and were debriefed.
Measures
Assimilation/differentiation needs. Participants reported the same measures as in Study
1, including intention to purchase unique products (α= .70), intention to purchase group-
linked products (α= .63), preference for unique products (α= .87), preference for groups-
linked products (α= .87) and preference for neutral products (α= .88).
Social needs. Participants reported the same measures as in Study 1, including the need to
belong (α= .70), need for uniqueness (α= .85) and need for self-worth (α= .87) scales.
Emotions. We measured the same physiological variables and used the same processing
procedures as in Study 1. Physiological measures were scored using 90-s ensemble averages
(last 90 seconds of resting baseline, 90 seconds after social identity threat, and 90 seconds after
vanilla scent manipulation).
Analytic strategy
Manipulation check. For the manipulation check, we tested whether the identity threat
elicited significant physiological reactivity in both vanilla and neutral aroma conditions and
whether the aroma condition influenced the recovery from the threat. Thus, we run 2 (Condi-
tion: vanilla, neutral aroma) x 3 (Time: baseline, identity threat, recovery) repeated measures
ANOVA with the experimental condition as the between-subjects variables, time as the
within-subjects variable, and physiological responses as dependent variables.
Main analysis. We used the same approach for running the primary analysis as in study 1.
We run two-way ANOVAs 2 (Condition: vanilla vs. neutral aroma) ×2 (Self-construal: inde-
pendent vs. interdependent) separately for dependent variables (preference for unique prod-
ucts and group-identity products; self-worth concerns, need to belong, and need for
uniqueness). Post hoc comparisons were completed using the Bonferroni correction with an
alpha level of .05
Results
Manipulation check
We found that the identity threat protocol elicited sympathetic arousal. Participants responded
to the social identity threat with increases in SBP, DBP, SV, CO, and SCL (Table 3). Next, we
observed physiological recovery in HR, CO, and TPR. Contrary to expectations, the physiolog-
ical recovery was not influenced by the vanilla scent, all ps>.35.
Main analysis
Table 4 presents descriptive statistics for self-reports. Participants in the vanilla-scent condi-
tion had lower need for uniqueness, F(1, 98) = 4.44, p<.05, η
2
= .04, and lower preference for
unique products, F(1, 98) = 4.02, p<.05, η
2
= .04, than the controls. There was no significant
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difference between the vanilla-scent condition and the control condition for: need for self-
worth, F(1, 98) = .20, p= .65, η
2
= .002; need to belong, F(1, 98) = .65, p= .42, η
2
= .01; inten-
tion to purchase unique products, F(1, 98) = 2.03, p= .16, η
2
= .02; preference for groups-
linked products, F(1, 98) = 1.22, p= .27, η
2
= .01; intention to purchase group-linked products,
F(1, 98) = 1.41, p= .24, η
2
= .01.
Independents had higher need for self-worth, F(1, 98) = 5.73, p<.05, η
2
= .06, higher need
for uniqueness, F(1, 98) = 4.44, p<.05, η
2
= .04, higher preference for unique products, F(1, 98)
= 3.90, p= .05, η
2
= .04, and higher intention to purchase unique products, F(1, 98) = 3.81, p=
.05, η
2
= .04, than interdependents. Independents had lower need to belong, F(1, 98) = 4.66, p<
.05, η
2
= .05, preference for groups-linked products, F(1, 98) = 4.67, p= .05, η
2
= .05, and inten-
tion to purchase group-linked products, F(1, 98) = 4.27, p<.05, η
2
= .04, than interdependents.
An interaction of vanilla scent manipulation and self-construal did not reach statistical sig-
nificance for: need for self-worth, F(1, 98) = .04, p= .84, η
2
<.001; need to belong, F(1, 98) =
.63, p= .43, η
2
= .01; need for uniqueness, F(1, 98) = .06, p= .80, η
2
= .001; preference for
unique products, F(1, 98) = .85, p= .36, η
2
= .01; intention to purchase unique products, F(1,
98) = .06, p= .81, η
2
= .001; preference for groups-linked products, F(1, 98) <.01, p= .99, η
2
<
.001, and intention to purchase group-linked products, F(1, 98) = .15, p= .70, η
2
= .002.
Table 3. Differences between experimental phases—Means (M), Standard Deviations (SD), results of Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance (rm ANOVA).
Measure Baseline Identity Threat Recovery Vanilla Recovery Neutral rm ANOVA Post-hoc
Bonferroni test(T1) (T2) (T3) (T3)
M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) F df P η
2
T1-T2 T2-T3
HR [beats/min] 81.45 (11.57) 81.78 (10.94) 78.36 (10.25) 80.37 13.11 2, 172 <0.001 0.13
-
��
(9.55)
SBP [mmHg] 115.18 (19.94) 122.43 (19.13) 119.98 (18.34) 124.4 (19.67) 20.17 2, 176 <0.001 0.19 ��
-
DBP [mmHg] 63.64 (11.38) 67.31 (11.36) 67.02 69.27 (13.36) 30.72 2, 176 <0.001 0.26 ��
-
(9.93)
SV [ml] 82.58 (20.16) 87.68 (19.04) 83.36 (16.95) 85.11 (18.03) 19.27 2, 172 <0.001 0.18 ��
-
CO [l/min] 6.59 (1.69) 7.06 (1.72) 6.47 6.78 22.20 2, 170 <0.001 0.21 ��� ��
(1.59) (1.41)
TPR [mmHg.min/l] 0.81 (0.18) 0.8 (0.18) 0.86 (0.2) 0.85 (0.20) 25.17 2, 170 <0.001 0.23
-
��
SCL [μS] 1.44 (1.61) 2.59 (2.22) 2.34 (1.97) 3.15 (2.77) 45.86 2, 172 <0.001 0.35 �� -
HR = heart rate, SBP = systolic blood pressure, DBP = diastolic blood pressure, SV = stroke volume, CO = cardiac output, TPR = total peripheral resistance, SCL = skin
conductance level.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256483.t003
Table 4. Descriptive statistics for self-reports in Study 2.
Vanilla Scent No Scent IND—overall INTER—overall
Measure IND INTER Overall IND INTER Overall
(n = 25) (n = 26) (n = 51) (n = 26) (n = 25) (n = 51) (n = 51) (n = 50)
M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)
Need for self-worth 3.71 (1.52) 3.07 (1.76) 3.38 (1.51) 3.64 (1.45) 2.88 (1.48) 3.27 (1.50) 3.67 (1.47) 2.98 (1.46)
Need to belong 4.28 (1.56) 5.09 (1.26) 4.69 (1.46) 4.72 (1.57) 5.09 (1.09) 4.90 (1.35) 4.50 (1.56) 5.09 (1.17)
Need for uniqueness 2.79 (0.87) 2.48 (0.64) 2.63 (0.77) 3.18 (0.90) 2.79 (0.92) 2.99 (0.93) 2.99 (0.90) 2.63 (0.80)
Preference for unique products -1.41 (1.88) -2.72 (1.62) -2.08 (1.86) -.92 (2.81) -1.40 (2.61) -1.15 (2.69) -1.16 (2.39) -2.07 (2.24)
Intention to purchase unique products 3.77 (1.20) 3.12 (1.09) 3.44 (1.18) 4.12 (1.99) 3.61 (1.53) 3.87 (1.78) 3.95 (1.64) 3.36 (1.34)
Preference for group-linked products 0.05 (1.60) 0.77 (1.86) 0.42 (1.76) -0.31 (1.43) 0.40 (1.77) 0.04 (1.63) -0.14 (1.51) 0.59 (1.81)
Intention to purchase group-linked products 5.07 (1.18) 5.68 (1.28) 5.38 (1.26) 4.88 (1.13) 5.29 (1.36) 5.08 (1.25) 4.97 (1.14) 5.49 (1.32)
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256483.t004
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Discussion
In Study 2, we aimed to test whether reducing anxiety by vanilla scent after exposure to a social
identity threat would inhibit threat-induced changes in assimilation/differentiation. However,
the vanilla scent did not effectively reduce anxiety arousal. Thus, we were unable to examine
one of the aims of Study 2, i.e., showing the relationship between anxiety reduction and assimi-
lation/differentiation needs. Despite the ineffective reduction of anxiety, consumers in the
scented condition differentiated less as manifested in a reduced need for uniqueness and pref-
erence for unique products. Moreover, interdependents demonstrated stronger group assimi-
lation (higher need to belong, preference for groups-linked products, and intention to
purchase group-linked products) than independents. We also replicated some previous find-
ings [37] by showing that independents had a higher need for uniqueness and evaluated
unique products more positively than interdependents.
General discussion
This project is the first to provide causal and multilayer evidence that anxiety influences assim-
ilation and differentiation needs among consumers primed with different self-construal types.
We focused on changes in evaluations of unique and group-linked products. To explain con-
sumer behavior, we integrated several theoretical perspectives into one research design,
including affect-as-information theory [21], self-construal theory [31], and need for unique-
ness theory [15]. In Study 1, we examined how anxiety modulates consumers’ needs for assimi-
lation/differentiation. In Study 2, we aimed to tested whether reducing anxiety by vanilla scent
after exposure to a social identity threat would inhibit threat-induced changes in assimilation/
differentiation needs. However, the vanilla scent did not effectively reduce anxiety arousal.
Therefore we were unable to meet this objective of the study. Still, Study 2 adds new insight
into identifying antecedents of differentiation need as vanilla scent reduced this need. In the
pursuit of evidence on causality, we successfully activated specific aspects of self, induced anxi-
ety, and manipulated the consumer environment’s olfactory characteristics. Advancing previ-
ous studies examining how anxiety influences consumers [25,26], we used several
physiological indicators of anxiety arousal to support emotion manipulations validity. Table 5
summarizes our findings.
This investigation contributed to several streams of research. Specifically, this research con-
tributes to work on the emotional determinants of assimilation/differentiation needs among
consumers. Our research extends the understanding of those needs’ emotional determinants
by demonstrating that under anxiety, consumers differentiated less. In Study 1, consumers in
the anxiety-inducing condition showed a lowered evaluation of unique products. According to
affect-as-information theory [21] participants used anxiety as a source of information during
the evaluation of unique products. Our findings provide new insight into the mechanism of
differentiation by suggesting that anxious consumers may differentiate less likely because of
risk-averse heuristics [24], which inhibit the evaluation of unique products. These findings
Table 5. Summary of results of Study 1 & 2.
Anxiety (study 1) Vanilla Scent (study 2)
Independents Assimilation #Differentiation #
Differentiation #
Interdependents Differentiation #Differentiation #
Note: The above results refer only to assimilation/differentiation expressed in differences in the products evaluations. #= decreased
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also contribute to the literature on consumer uniqueness seeking [15] by identifying a new
antecedent—anxiety. In line with previous studies [29], we observed that anxiety enhanced
assimilation, manifesting as an increased need to belong.
Our work contributes to research on the moderating role of self-construal concerning emo-
tion [5,52,57,58]. In Study 1, self-construal moderated some reactions to anxiety. As we
expected, self-construal differences occurred in assimilative reactions. In line with previous
studies, anxious independents showed a reduced preference for group-linked products [5].
However, contrary to previous findings, interdependents who felt anxiety did not change their
preference for group-linked products. This discrepancy suggests that in Study 1 interdepen-
dents feeling anxiety were not concerned to defend the group of belonging, which was not
threatened in previous studies [5]. Therefore we did not observe changes in their evaluation of
group-linked products. Under anxiety, the need to belong increased in both types of self-con-
strual. This means that independents in the anxiety-inducing condition showed both increased
need to belong and reduced preference for group-linked products. It suggests that indepen-
dents tended to cope with the anxiety by seeking to connect with others, but they seemed to
find it outside the group of belonging. We had not assumed that self-construal moderated dif-
ferentiative reactions to anxiety. However, we found that anxiety suppressed the need for
uniqueness for independents, but not for interdependents, which could be a consequence of
the fact that independents are more likely to rely on feelings and hence are more impulsive
consumers [59].
Study 2 contributes to the literature on olfactory effects on consumer behaviors. We found
that the need for uniqueness and the preference for unique products depends on the consum-
er’s olfactory experience. Consumers under social identity threat exposed to the vanilla scent
differentiated less. This contributes to an understanding of what kind of odors affect consumer
needs [10]. Our findings suggest a mechanism explaining the vanilla effect. Namely, previous
research suggested that vanilla scents affect consumer preferences via soothing effects, but they
did not control for physiological arousal [52,53]. In contrast, our results suggest that vanilla
suppressed differentiation without any meaningful physiological soothing effects. Emotions
are not the only mechanism by which ambient scent affects consumer behavior [60]. Scent
enhances recall of product information and generates associations with a product in memory
[61]. For instance, many individuals associate the scent of vanilla with home-baked cakes and
holidays [55]. Thus in our study, vanilla could have activated consumers’ communal orienta-
tion orthogonal to the need for uniqueness [15]. Our research adds to the olfactory literature
by suggesting that vanilla scent can affect unique products’ preferences via cognitive pathways
without affecting physiological arousal. However, we emphasized that our suggestions about
the mechanism of vanilla scent’s impact on the need for differentiation are limited to situations
of social identity threat and to feelings of anxiety accompanying this threat.
Practical implications
Our work demonstrates conditions under which consumers satisfy assimilation/differentiation
needs. Thus, some practical implications of these effects might be considered. First, we found
that anxiety discouraged consumers from purchasing unique products. It might be worthwhile
to screen sales strategies of unique products to ensure they do not elicit anxiety. To illustrate,
arousing anxiety caused by imaging a phone’s damage might be a counterproductive strategy
of selling unique-design phone covers. It appears that in the case of products purchased for
safety reasons (e.g., child safety seats), where anxiety is the leading purchase motivation [25], it
is better not to design them as unique. Our findings seem to suggest that marketers might
remove anxiety triggers during personal customization of products (e.g., by removing
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uncertainty about the technical aspects of the customization), fulfilling uniqueness needs [18].
Moreover, pro-environmental marketing might capitalize on the advantage of mixing anxiety
(e.g., aroused via presentation consequences of global warming) with the common design of
products instead of the unique one.
Second, we found that anxiety negatively affected the evaluation of group-linked products,
but only for independents. This suggests that advertising and sales strategies of group-linked
products (e.g., products with patriotic logos, clothes fashionable in peer groups) for target mar-
kets that are more independent (e.g., from highly individualistic countries) might avoid fear
appeals. Our results suggest that marketers creating a group identity link may backfire under
evoking consumers’ independent self-construal and arousing anxiety. Perhaps these condi-
tions are also unfavorable for using "top seller" taglines since this strategy could be interpreted
as a manifestation of assimilation [62]. We also replicated prior findings by demonstrating
that independents prefer more unique products [37] and interdependents prefer more group-
linked products [5]. As specialists might tailor advertising to influence consumers’ accessibility
of particular self-construal [63], it would be an effective strategy to increase the fit between the
type of the product and primed self-construal. For instance, to encourage the uptake of furni-
ture with a unique design, retailers might activate consumers’ independent self-construal by
using phrases such as "express your personal taste" or "furniture designed to fulfill your desires"
rather than "furniture for comfortable social gatherings."
Third, we found that when the vanilla scent was present, consumers were less likely to pre-
fer unique products over products with standard designs. However, great caution should be
employed in interpreting these results as the vanilla scent was present under conditions of
social identity threat, which represents unusual shopping situations. Despite these limitations
our results suggest that the vanilla scent does not affect unique products’ preferences through
soothing effects but rather through cognitive pathways. This suggests that stores should ensure
that the cognitive associations of particular scent are congruent with the associations of the
products being sold. For instance, vanilla scent, which is associated with traditional values
[55], is seemingly better suited to selling classic furniture than selling the latest electronics.
Limitations and future directions
There are limitations to these studies. First, we used a student sample. Thus our findings may
not be generalizable to less educated age peers or other age cohorts. Second, our experiments
were limited by using a priming technique to investigate the effects of dominating self-con-
strual. Third, in Study 2, we were interested in the soothing effects of vanilla, and so we did not
include a control condition with no exposure to social identity threat. Therefore, it is impossible
to ascertain that the social identity threat procedure induced anxiety and increased physiologi-
cal arousal. Fourth, the method of eliciting anxiety via the threat of a particular social identity
used in Study 2, may limit the conclusions of Study 2 for the evaluation of affiliation group
products to only the processes of responding to the threat of a particular social identity, and not
for anxiety responses in general. Therefore, the results of Study 2 can be only referred the social
identity threat situation. Fifth, in the context of social identity threat, positively assessing a prod-
uct symbolizing threatened identity may pose another threat to identity at the social level,
beyond the boundary of the threatened group. Sixth, some effects that we found in this project
might be difficult to interpret. For instance, low uniqueness needs and low preference for
group-linked products may be interpreted as contradictory. Further studies might aim to disen-
tangle these effects introducing different research designs or measurement methods.
Our research suggests several directions for future studies, which can avoid this study’s lim-
itations and point to new areas of research on assimilation/differentiation. First, future
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research could further explore the role of anxiety in assimilation/differentiation. We found
that anxiety increases the need to belong and does not affect the evaluation of group-linked
products, which suggests that assimilation was activated. However, it was not reflected by eval-
uating those products. Thus, future studies might examine if under anxiety assimilation could
be manifested in preference of products different than group-linked products, as products
favored by a peer [30]. Perhaps under anxiety, the need for belonging is better satisfies via a
product that other consumers use. Moreover, future studies may examine the risk-averse heu-
ristic [24] as one of the mediators between the anxiety-differentiation link.
Second, future research might consider how other emotional states, positive (e.g., gratitude)
and negative (e.g., sadness) emotions, affect assimilation/differentiation among consumers
with different types of primed self-construal. Mainly, since group-based emotions (anger
towards outgroup) increase group identification [64], they can also affect assimilation
expressed in consumer behavior.
Third, we found limited evidence for the understanding of how vanilla scents inhibit differ-
entiation. Future studies may use other scents that reduce anxiety (e.g., lavender scent, [65])
and compare their effects with vanilla scents. Study 2 is the first, which suggest that vanilla
scent impacts consumers without soothing physiological effects. Thus, future studies may con-
sider what cognitive associations are related to a particular scent and whether these cognitive
pathways explain the relationship between scent and differentiation. It would also be of inter-
est to examine potential moderators of vanilla scent effect on differentiation, e.g., scent inten-
sity and awareness, past experience, or scent preference [66].
Conclusions
This project’s strength was its focus on causal links (eliciting anxiety, priming self-construals)
in explaining consumers’ preferences and intentions. Moreover, we adopted a multilayer
approach towards the measurement of emotions and found that physiological measures pro-
duced different results than self-reports; evidence for their more extensive adoption in con-
sumer research. Our findings’ complexity indicates that systematic studies on consumers’
emotions are likely to reveal how psychological influences determine the choice of specific
products.
Supporting information
S1 File. Pilot studies. Development of the self-construal manipulation, product selection, and
social identity threat manipulation.
(DOCX)
Author Contributions
Conceptualization: Dariusz Drążkowski, Lukasz D. Kaczmarek.
Data curation: Dariusz Drążkowski, Maciej Behnke.
Formal analysis: Dariusz Drążkowski, Maciej Behnke.
Funding acquisition: Dariusz Drążkowski.
Investigation: Dariusz Drążkowski.
Methodology: Dariusz Drążkowski, Lukasz D. Kaczmarek.
Project administration: Dariusz Drążkowski.
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Resources: Dariusz Drążkowski.
Supervision: Lukasz D. Kaczmarek.
Validation: Dariusz Drążkowski.
Writing – original draft: Dariusz Drążkowski.
Writing – review & editing: Dariusz Drążkowski, Maciej Behnke, Lukasz D. Kaczmarek.
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... For each study represented in the dataset, we ran manipulation checks that contributed to the technical validation. We found that the stimuli produced expected affective and physiological responses in participants [33][34][35][36][37][38] . For instance, in Study 5, we found that individuals who watched the positive film clips reported more positive valence, whereas individuals who watched the negative film clips reported more negative valence, compared to individuals who watched the neutral film clips 36 . ...
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