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Identity changes and well-being gains of spending money on material and experiential consumer products

Moldes, Olaya ORCID:, Banerjee, Robin, Easterbrook, Matthew J., Harris, Peter R. and Dittmar, Helga 2019. Identity changes and well-being gains of spending money on material and experiential consumer products. Journal of Economic Psychology 72 , pp. 229-244. 10.1016/j.joep.2019.04.003

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Recent research determined that buying experiences, rather than material items, leads to higher levels of well-being, perhaps because experiences are more connected to the sense of self. However, little is known about which of the identity-related functions (IRFs) that a purchase can serve – such as gaining autonomy and control (effectiveness), acquiring individuality (distinctiveness), repairing a perceived identity deficit (self-esteem), fostering symbolic affiliation to close ones or social groups (relatedness), or displaying wealth and higher status to others (projected identity) – might be driving the effects on well-being. The present research tests Motivated Identity Construction Theory (MICT) in a consumer setting by systematically analysing how material and experiential spending choices are thought to transform the identity of the buyer and how those changes are linked to expected or perceived well-being before and after purchasing. Two studies, one experimental (n = 329) and one repeated measures (T1 n = 370; T2 n = 183), suggested that experiential purchases are overall better at satisfying the IRFs of effectiveness, distinctiveness, self-esteem, and relatedness. In fact, effectiveness and self-esteem were consistently found to predict well-being across samples and time frames, indicating that gaining a higher sense of autonomy and control over one’s environment, and moving closer to an ideal self, are sources of hedonic value for consumers. The function of projected identity was found to be satisfied by both material and experiential purchases and was linked to lower well-being. The IRFs of distinctiveness and relatedness presented variations between samples suggesting that the links between identity construction processes and well-being gains in consumption might be individually and socially constructed and, that further research across different social groups and life stages is needed. Finally, the satisfaction of the IRF of self-esteem and relatedness increased after a purchase was made, and the identity motives satisfied by consumer products explained overall more variance in well-being judgements from past purchases than from future ones suggesting differences between past and future spending choices in identity and well-being evaluation processes.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS)
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0167-4870
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 January 2020
Date of Acceptance: 10 April 2019
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2023 17:20

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