Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Marketing

First Advisor

Cassie Mogilner

Second Advisor

Leaf Van Boven

Abstract

Can people use consumption to manage their social relationships? Across three essays, this dissertation explores why and how people make consumer choices that socially connect or distance themselves from others. Essay 1 examines how motives to signal social identity and uniqueness can lead people to make choices that both connect and distance them from other members of their social group. People are often conflicted between wanting to fit in and be different. This research demonstrates how consumers simultaneously satisfy competing motives for group identification and individual uniqueness along different dimensions of choice, thus allowing them to be similar and different at the same time. Essay 2 studies how consumers' gift choices can change how socially connected their recipients feel to them. This research examines actual and hypothetical gift exchanges in real-life relationships and reveals that experiential gifts (events recipients live through) make recipients feel more connected to their gift giver than material gifts (objects for the recipient to keep), regardless of whether the gift is consumed together. Experiential gifts have this connecting effect because of the greater emotion they evoke when consumed. Essay 3 investigates how the emotion that motivates gift giving can affect how connected or disconnected gift givers and recipients feel to each other. This research shows that the same situation of social inequity can elicit feelings of gratitude or guilt, and explores the downstream social consequences of gifts that say "thanks" versus "sorry." Gifts can help restore relationships, but with differential effects for gift givers and recipients. Gift givers report greater improvements in social connection when giving out of guilt, whereas recipients report greater improvements when receiving a gift given out of gratitude. By studying relationships between people, this dissertation provides a richer understanding of the role of consumption in people's social lives and offers guidance to help people foster closer relationships with others.

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