ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (7): 976-986.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.00976

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Effects of Cognitive and Affective Tags in Mental Accounting on Consumer Decision Making

LI Ai-mei;LI Bin;XU Hua;LI Fu-ling;ZHANG Yao-hui;LIANG Zhu-yuan   

  1. (1 Management School, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510632, China) (2Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China)
  • Received:2014-01-01 Published:2014-07-25 Online:2014-07-25
  • Contact: LIANG Zhu-yuan;LI Ai-mei


Mental accounting is the set of cognitive operations used by individuals and households to organize, evaluate, and keep track of financial activities. Mental accounting proposes that people utilize a set of cognitive labels to evaluate their financial activities, each of which is associated with different preferences to consume (Levav & McGraw, 2009; Kahneman & Tversky 1984; Thaler 1985, 1990). Mental accounting researchers have shown that windfall gains are spent more readily and frivolously than ordinary income. Consumers prefer to spend their windfall gains on hedonic consumptions but spend their ordinary incomes on utilitarian consumptions. Levav and McGraw (2009) suggested that emotional accounting, including people’s feelings about money, also influences consumer choices. When people have negative feelings toward windfall, they opt to make utilitarian expenditures. However, the process of how cognitive (windfall or ordinary income) and affective (positive or negative emotion) tags interact in consumer behavior was not explored. This study proposes that both cognitive tag and affective tags in mental accounting affect consumer decision making. The objective of this study is to explore the interactive effect of cognitive and affective tags in mental accounting on consumer decision through four studies. In studies 1a and 1b, the effect of cognitive and affective tags in mental accounting on consumer decision making behavior was measured. Study 1a showed that the positive tag of windfall income is preferred for hedonic consumption, whereas the negative tag of windfall income is preferred for utilitarian consumption. Both positive and negative tags of ordinary income are preferred for utilitarian consumption. Study1b utilized a field study to examine actual consumption behavior. The results showed that when people received 15 Yuan RMB as ordinary income, they prefer to spend it on utilitarian consumption regardless of the positive or negative emotion they feel. However, they receive 15 Yuan RMB as windfall income, they prefer to use it for hedonic consumption in the positive emotion and for utilitarian consumption in the negative emotion. Studies 2a and 2b attempted to explore the reason of negative emotion can make windfall income turn from hedonic to utilitarian consumption. Study2a found that when people expect to feel guilty about spending windfall income on hedonic consumption, they would avoid hedonic consumption. Study2b found that when people felt guilty about windfall income, they tend to avoid hedonic consumption. Compared with the low guilt level group, the high guilt level group prefers to use windfall income for utilitarian consumption. These results suggest that cognitive and affective tags influence consumer behavior. The influence of cognitive tag on consumer decision presents the “cognition match effect”, whereas the influence of affective tag on consumer decision presents the “affect match effect”. Both tags also have an interaction effect on consumer decision. Guilt may be a mechanism that results in the negative tag of windfall being preferred for utilitarian consumption.

Key words: 心理账户, 认知标签, 情绪标签, 内疚感, 享乐规避