“The Self-Conscious Consumer: Understanding and Mitigating Consumer Embarrassment”
by Nilüfer Aydınoğlu
Embarrassment is a pervasive emotion with much impact on everyday motivations and behavior, including consumption contexts. The purchase, consumption, and even disposal of certain ‘sensitive’ products (e.g., contraceptives, pornography, hemorrhoid cream, disease tests, etc.) often lead to feelings of consumer embarrassment with possible adverse consequences for the consumer landscape. Marketers have attempted to offer personal and/or undisclosed modes of purchase to help mitigate the negative effects of consumer embarrassment such as online purchasing or self-checkout systems. Such marketing practices reflect an understanding of embarrassment as a ‘public’ emotion, and do not fully mitigate embarrassment. We build on recent research in acknowledging the private aspects of consumer embarrassment as well, and examine how its adverse consequences for consumer well-being can be mitigated.
We adopt the view of embarrassment as a self-conscious emotion which is characterized by: i) awareness of the emotional state, ii) deliberation and cognitive elaboration; and iii) self-reflection. Accordingly, we propose and demonstrate through multiple experiments that cognitive load (i.e., reduced deliberation) dampens embarrassment. We also show process evidence for the effect of deliberation on embarrassment and behavioral responses through self-appraisal. In doing so, we offer a fuller model for consumer embarrassment that considers the nature of the consumption context with a focus on deliberation and appraisal. As such, we are able to provide important theoretical contributions to the conceptualization of embarrassment in consumer psychology, as well as suggesting directly usable managerial insight toward mitigating the adverse