ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (7): 880-890.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00880

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Consumers’ power states and impulsive buying

JIN Fei1; ZHU Huawei2   

  1. (1 Guanghua School of Management, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China) (2 Economics and Management School, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China)
  • Received:2015-09-03 Published:2016-07-25 Online:2016-07-25
  • Contact: ZHU Huawei, E-mail:


Power has long been a common and fundamental component of social systems and organizations and it is also a psychological state of individuals. The circumstance around us can change our current power state at any moment. The influence of power on human behavior and the underlying mechanism have been pervasively examined in the psychology and other sociology literatures. These literatures suggest that power is an omnipresent force which can affect humans’ cognition, preference and behavior. However, it has been largely neglected in consumer behavior research. Prior research has been focused on product preference, consumption utilities and brand switch behavior. Based on current literatures, we explored the relationship between power states and impulsive buying which is very common in consumer behavior but underexplored. We proposed the impulsive buying was largely due to a fluency effect derived from match between different power states and product categories. Given this finding, the authors then demonstrated an important boundary condition by priming powerful participants’ hedonic goals. Three studies were conducted to check the propositions. Experiment 1 supported the interaction effects of power and product categories on impulsive buying through 2 (power: high vs. low) × 2 (product category: utilitarian vs. hedonic) between-subjects design. 123 university students participated the experiment. Study 2 primed power states via role play. A total of 168 participants completed a study with a 2 (power: high vs. low) × 2 (product category: utilitarian vs. hedonic) between-subjects design. In this study, we utilized a new product (i.e. a smart watch) to enhance the external validity. Further, we aimed to check the underlying mechanism. Based on extant research, we tested the role of fluency and deservingness. In study 3, we changed the product presentation mode to assess the basic proposition and the moderating role of hedonic goals among participants in high power state. 115 undergraduate students participated the 2 (power: high vs. low) × 2 (hedonic goal: stimulate vs. no stimulate) × 2 (product categories: utilitarian vs. hedonic) mixed design, with power and hedonic goal between-subjects design and product within-subjects design. The results of these three studies provided supports for our theorizing: (1) Participants in high power state showed more impulsive intention in utilitarian condition, whereas those in low power state prefer hedonic product. (2) Study 2 provided robust evidence for the interaction effects and the underlying mechanism of processing fluency when participants in different power states faced different product types. (3) Participants in high power state preferred the hedonic product when they were stimulated hedonic goals. However, such effect was not applied to participants in the low power state which confirmed our basic proposition that the power states and the product categories affected impulsive buying again. The research concluded by discussing the theoretical contributions of our findings and managerial implications for practice. Firstly, we propose a new means to broaden the understanding of power and consumer behavior, which enriches the relevant research on power. Secondly, by showing the relation between power and impulsive buying and that processing fluency plays a mediating role in this effect, our research offers a new explanation to understand impulses. Last but not the least, the result makes beneficial supplement to Approach-Inhibition Theory by showing the powerless may buy hedonic product impulsively. Beyond the theoretical implications, this article offers critical insights for marketers.

Key words: impulsive buying, power, fluency, hedonic goals.