Cognitive dissonance and self-concepts under new consumption era

  • Zi WANG

    Student thesis: PhD Thesis


    Cognitive dissonance has served as a theoretical cornerstone in consumer studies, imposing a significant impact on psychology and marketing contexts. Extensive literature has investigated consumers’ decision making, behavioural pattern under the influence of dissonance at different consumption stages (e.g., buyer’s remorse, anticipate guilt). However, the knowledge about the underlying mechanisms of how dissonance drive or hinders consumption pattern remains limited.
    In this research, we introduce self-concepts as the footholds in luxury consumption supported by cognitive dissonance theory. This research has also addressed the moderating role of narcissism on dissonance, to see if personality trait exerts certain influence across contexts. Together three independent studies are conducted.
    In the first study, starting from looking at the antecedents which causes cognitive dissonance, we drew on self-congruity theory to investigate how different self-concepts might potentially serving as the psychological underpinnings that influences sustained luxury consumption tendency (customer loyalty). Most literature suggests that dissonance is mainly caused by self-discrepancy and consumers are motivated to reduce anticipated dissonance by behaving in a self-congruent manner, namely self-congruity effect. However, previous research offers confined evidence on the underlying mechanism of such effect and is limited to single cultural context in luxury consumption. Therefore, to examine how self-congruity effects drives customer loyalty in luxury consumption across cultures, we conducted a comparative study between China and US by applying SEM analysis. The four underlying self-concepts (e.g., self-esteem, self-consistency, social consistency, social approval) are examined and how they influence customer loyalty are varied between the east and the west. We find that: luxury symbolism positively influences self-consistency, social consistency, social approval, and self-esteem, and subsequently impacts self-affirmation and customer loyalty.
    However, for US consumers, self-esteem and social approval have significantly negative impacts on self-affirmation, while for Chinese consumers, social approval has no significant impact on self-affirmation. In additional, self-construal plays a significant impact on self-concepts in luxury consumption. For example, interdependent self-construal positively moderates the relationship between luxury symbolism, and social approval and social consistency. Independent self-construal positively moderates the relationship between luxury symbolism and self-consistency, and
    negatively influences the relationship between luxury symbolism and self-esteem. This study helps us to uncover the underlying mechanism of self-congruity effect in luxury consumption and highlight the cultural difference. Based on these findings, we asked ourselves to what extent does luxury consumption intertwines with self-concepts and whether there are wider self-dimensions being neglected by current literature. Given the novel context of pandemic which transforms mass luxury perceptions greatly, we therefore conducted the following study to further explore luxury perceptions and cognitive dissonance theory.
    In the second study, we adopt an exploratory approach to decode the mass luxury meaning and argued that traditional luxury consumption which is normally considered as dissonance-induced behaviour does no longer dominate the market. Meanwhile the major transformations of mass luxury are identified from theoretical perspectives and the important role of self-orientation is addressed. By conducting in-depth interviews covering wide demographic features, we find four self-as mass luxury dimensions: self as content, self as process, self as context, self–other and further developed masstige theory by arguing psychological consonance as the ultimate luxury under pandemic impact. In terms of cognitive dissonance theory, this study contributes to both its antecedents and coping literature, specifically advances new mass luxury as a novel process for dissonance mitigation instead of passive coping. Such process resolves the inherent dissonant backfire on the hedonic essence of the luxury experience through altering intrinsic luxury perceptions, which improves consumers’ well-being. However, after acknowledging how situational factors and personal factors influences dissonance level based on the first two studies, we were interested to see if there are other individual factors potentially influence dissonance response in apart from luxury context. Given the function of personality characteristics which normally indicate consumers’ regular behavioural pattern and the high theoretical relevance with cognitive dissonance, narcissism is identified as another vital variable which has long been neglected, therefore conducted the next study.
    In the third study, we chose the younger segmentation in the new technology adoption context to examine the moderating effect of narcissism on cognitive dissonance and subsequent behaviour. Previous literature states that people with narcissistic tendencies like to manipulate others by creating cognitive dissonance also they are the ones who demonstrate superior valence on self-concepts through different social platforms. In this study, we seek to fin d out whether people with narcissistic trait encounters dissonance in new technology adoption and how different types of narcissism vary. To be
    specific, we look at the customizability sector enabled by AI and machine learning techniques, which facilitates narcissists self-promotion motivations on social media. By developing a SEM model illustrating the antecedent and behavioural consequences of cognitive dissonance in the adoption of technology customizability, we find that vulnerable narcissism has a significant moderating effect on technology dissonance, which is specifically induced by privacy concerns, whereas the other type – grandiose narcissism does not make an impact on the dissonance level under the given context.
    Through the three studies, we extend the extant literature on self-concepts and cognitive dissonance. First, we fill the literature gap by revealing the psychological underpinnings of self-congruity effect originating from cognitive dissonance theory in luxury consumption and extends the current literature by introducing self-construal as important moderators on self-congruity effect. Second, we present comprehensive self-as dimensions to redefine the meaning of mass luxury in the new era underpinned by psychological consonance and contributes to cognitive dissonance literature, which nourishes the knowledge of masstige concept. Third, we advance our knowledge of the interaction between narcissism and cognitive dissonance in new technology context and extends the trade-offs of customizability among younger generation. Importantly, we disclose the psychological myth of ‘self’ related to dissonance process. Besides the contributions to cognitive dissonance literature, we also advance the theories applied in the research, such as self-congruity theory, self-affirmation theory and masstige theory. Practically, we offer a few managerial implications for marketers to stand closely with what consumers’ desires and come up with timely adjustment on strategy making. Taken together, we contribute to relevant fields in both theoretical and practical dimensions.
    Date of AwardJul 2022
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Nottingham
    SupervisorMartin Liu (Supervisor), Russa Yuan (Supervisor) & Jun Luo (Supervisor)


    • Cognitive dissonance
    • Self-concepts
    • Luxury consumption

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