Different degrees of power exist in consumers’ everyday life. It can arise from structural factors (e.g., hierarchical roles), cognitive factors (e.g., episodic recall), and physical factors (e.g., physical position). Despite the long-recognized value and experimental investigation of power in social science, until recently, scholars start to pay attention to the influence of power state on consumer behavior. However, the current research paid special attention to the effect of power state on a common but novel aspect in consumer behavior – the preference for consumption boundaries (that is, visual borders that separate and contain a focal object).
Prior literature suggests that state of relatively high power fosters an agentic orientation, which tends to express dominant acts and increases the desire for control. Moreover, one way that people gain personal control is by seeking order and structure in their consumption environment and choices, for example, seeking boundaries in their consumption environment. Thus we argue that as relatively high (vs. low) power state fosters desire for control, consumers in high (vs. low) power state prefer objects that are bounded over those that are unbounded.
The author conducted three experiments to examine whether and how power states affect consumers’ preference for consumption boundaries. In Study 1A and 1B, we manipulated participants’ power state by asking them to recall a particular incident in which they had power over another individual or individuals (or in which some else had power over them), and then asked them to indicate their preferred option from bounded and unbounded pairs. The results illustrated that feeling powerful (vs. powerless) led the consumers to prefer options (e.g., product display, picture display and brand logo) that were bounded (vs. unbounded). In Study 2, we further manipulated participants’ power state by role playing task (boss vs. employee), and then measured their desire for control, mood, arousal, attentional overload, as well as their preference for boundaries. The findings proved that the desire for control (especially the desire for control of one’s own life) mediated the influence of power state on boundary preference, and ruled out mood, arousal as well as attentional overload as alternative explanations.
In summary, the results of three studies reported in the present research demonstrated that one way high−power (vs. low−power) individuals express power is by seeking structured consumption, in other words, consumption boundaries in various forms. The findings theoretically enrich and advance our understanding of the impact of power state on consumer behavior from a novel perspective, and provide further knowledge about the role of control in the influence of power. Given the findings of this research, marketers should be more aware of the match between consumers’ power state and consumption boundary settings.