Consumer Behavior Research Paper
“The Urge to Splurge: A Terror Management Account of Materialism and Consumer Behavior” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14 (3), 2004, p. 198-212
The modern society is characterized by the dominance of materialist culture which determines practically all aspects of social life. In fact, material values are of a paramount importance for people. At the same time the effects and reasons of such emergence of materialism was thoroughly researched and the forecasts of specialists concerning the future of the materialist civilization are often far from perfect. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the research conducted by Jamie Arndt, Sheldon Solomon, Tim Kasser, Kennon M. Sheldon “The Urge of Splurge: A Terror Management Account of Materialism and Consumer Behavior”, which focuses on the analysis of the terror management theory and the understanding of the fact how human awareness of death affects human materialism. In fact, the research is really important since it actually focuses on the problem which remains under-researched.
First of all, it should be said that the research is conducted by specialists whose qualification may be considered to be quite high. In this respect, it should be said that all authors are experienced and have a profound knowledge of the terror management theory by means of which they actually attempt to answer the major question of the study how the awareness of death affects human materialism. It is worthy of mention that Jamie Arndt and Kennon M. Sheldon work at the University of Missouri, Sheldon Solomon works at Skidmore College, and Tim Kasser works at Knox College. All the author have already worked on the problem discussed in this particular research but this is the first time when the authors united their efforts to study the problem. For instance, J. Arndt is known for his works in this field among which it is possible to single out “”Traces of Terror: Subliminal Deaths Primes and Facial Electromyographic Indices of Affect”. Basically, the authors are well-qualified and experienced this is why it is possible to presuppose that they are able to conduct a reliable research.
On analyzing the research proper, it is necessary to underline that the authors attempt to analyze the problem of on the basis of the terror management theory. This fact is very important because in the research of the problem of the impact of human awareness of death on their materialism and consumption the application of the terror management theory seems to be quite logical and perfectly meet the main goal of the research. In fact, the authors’ message is the spread of materialism and increasing consumerism as a reaction of consumers to the perspective of death. The authors attempt to persuade the audience that life is not endless and, eventually, material values are useless at the end of the life. This is why it is important to pay attention not only to material but also spiritual values.
Basically, the authors argue the fact that in the current situation the materialist culture defines consumption habits of customers and stimulates people to acquire material values regardless their actual significance in moral or spiritual aspect. At the same time, they reveal that death expectation and the awareness of the end of human life can affect the consumer’s behavior. The research of the problem of interdependence between this awareness and consumer’s behavior is the major goal of the study. The authors attempt to show that material values are still significant for human beings even in face of death, but, on the other hand, they want to reveal the shift in traditional preferences of consumers in their consumption habits when the awareness of death increases or when consumers face the real threat of upcoming death. To prove their position, the authors refer to the researches (Shi 1985) which reveal the fact of the increasing consumption after terror attacks, such as those on September 11.
Initially, the authors presumed that the pursuit for wealth and material prosperity is determined not only by their desire to occupy a higher social position or improve their social status, but it was also motivated by the desire of people to protect themselves from existential anxieties. What is meant here is the fact that the researchers viewed the problem of death awareness as a serious challenge to human consciousness and they realized the fact that, as a rule, human are afraid of death and their innate instincts force them to struggle for the survival. In such a context, as the authors found out, human attempt to preserve and accumulate some material values and commodities is basically determined by the desire of people to find some illusionary commodity that can prolong their life. In other words, the acquisition of commodities and material values was viewed by the researcher as the natural desire of people to find some escape on psychological level from the inevitable perspective of death.
In this respect, the reference of the researchers to the appeal of George Bush to go shopping after the tragic events of September 11 seem to be quite symbolic since this was probably the most tragic event in the history, or at least in the modern history of the US, and the authors view the solution suggested by the President as quite noteworthy. Basically, they explain the power of acquisition of material values by the fact that it distracts people from the death expectation and, what is more, they even argue that such an irresistible desire of people to die is often provoked by an attempt to acquire some supernatural commodity that can help them escape from death. It should be pointed out that the researchers have found certain evidences of this fact since in their research they underline that people that face a threat of death can change their material and consumerist habit and focus on the commodities and subjects that possess some sacred value. At the same time, such commodities and subject are traditionally highly valued, even though people do not really disturbed by the problem of death.
Furthermore, the authors attempt to understand what actually make people pertain and strive for the acquisition of material values and commodities even though they are conscious of fact that they can die. In other words, such accumulation of commodities and material values is determined by the overwhelming desire of people to support their existence with some material values. The researchers have revealed the fact that basically this desire and strife for consumption is, to a significant extent, determined by their intention to enhance their self-esteem. In practice, this means that human consumerism contributes to the increasing self-esteem of people. The authors argue that through the acquisition of commodities and material values people attempt to increase their significance and, therefore, make their existence more meaningful not only for themselves but also for their social environment. As a result, consumer’s behavior may change, for instance, the shift of interests in favor of some sacred objects may be observed, but, nevertheless consumerism accompanies people till the end of their life.
Eventually, the authors conclude that consumerism constitute an essential part of the worldview of Americans. They underline that intrinsic values dominate in the contemporary society, which though is one of the key factors of success and prosperity of American society. They view consumerism as a protection from existential anxieties and this is why more and more people tend to such escape from the apprehensions concerning death and mortality of humans by means of consumerism. On the other hand, the researchers underline that terminally ill patients, for instance, are often conscious of the fact of the useless of the material values. However, it is necessary to underline that the latter is viewed by the authors as the important area for the further researches while the current study touches this problems only superficially. In fact, this may be viewed as a serious limitation of the research because, in actuality, the authors focused on the problem of human awareness of death but this awareness basically referred to people for whom death was rather hypothetical perspective that was distanced in the future but not the real perspective of the nearest future. This is why it is possible to presuppose that they can hardly adequately assess the possible shift in consumers’ behavior if the position, preferences and interests of people who really face the perspective of death are not fully taken into consideration.
Naturally, it is necessary to agree that there are some attempts to refer to such people, for instance the reference to Yalom’s discussion of a former senator monologue in face of death in which the latter realizes the vanity of material wealth and high social position and its significance in relation to the perspective of death. However, such references are rather exceptional than common that proves the fact that the authors are unwilling to focus on this part of the problem, while the impact of death awareness of people on their consumerism remained central that is naturally insufficient for the profound understanding of this interdependence without taking into consideration the position of all people, including such categories as terminally ill patients. Consequently, this may be viewed as a limitation of the research.
Nevertheless, the research is really important since it contributes to the better understanding of consumers’ behavior and complements other studies conducted in this field, which also attempted to focus on the same problem. Basically, the research is quite interesting and conducted in a proper way, though it is possible to emphasize that the research lacks the support of the facts and ideas of the authors by statistical evidences, while their conclusive appeal to shift from materialism to honoring spiritual values seems to be quite idealistic and rather resembles an hypothetical suggestion than a concrete way to change the current situation and the domination of materialism and consumerism. At the same time, the researchers attempt to highlight the position of others specialists and they often refer to other researches which reveal important facts related to the current study.
In general, it should be said that this problem remains under-researched and this is why the research conducted by the authors is very important in understanding of human awareness of death and their consumerism which, according to the authors, is motivated by the desire to enhance self-esteem and distract people from apprehensions of upcoming death. In such a way, the researchers raised an important problem that need to be researched further and it is possible to agree with their definition of the future of the researches due to which it will be possible to fully reveal the effects of human consciousness of mortality. At the same time, the article has a great value for consumer behavior/marketing management because it helps better understand the psychology and motivation of consumers and the basic causes of their consumption, which is quite spontaneous and determined by subjective factors such as the fear of death and attempts to prolong physical existence through accumulation of material values.
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