All Emotions Are Not Created Equal
The study of emotions as they drive consumer behavior is still a relatively new focus for market researchers. It seems important at this early point to begin clarifying the various options for this type of research – the various types of phenomena that can be called “emotions.”
By David Forbes, Ph.D.
Earlier this summer I attended the Insight Innovation Exchange conference in Philadelphia, where a broad range of market research scientists and professionals gathered to talk about techniques for emotional measurement and emotional research. As I look back on the three-day event, it seems that the most striking feature was the range of diversity in both the methods proposed for studying emotions, and in the types of phenomena under study – all of them called “emotion.”
The study of emotions as they drive consumer behavior is still a relatively new focus for market researchers. It seems important at this early point to begin clarifying the various options for this type of research – the various types of phenomena that can be called “emotions.” In our work, we focus on one particular type of emotional force that I heard very little about at IIEX – the type of emotional force that can pull someone from their armchair at home, move them to their automobile, and get them to a retail store to purchase a particular type of product, hoping for a particular type of outcome from that purchase. Psychologists typically call this type of emotional force “motivation.”
I believe that it’s important that the study of motivation occupy a central role in Market Researchers’ study of emotion – for several reasons.
Firstly, the emotional forces of Motivation are what we should be studying when we seek to uncover new business opportunities in the consumer lifestyle — because motivational drives which are unfulfilled in a consumer’s life represent emotional need states that can be targeted by new product ideas.
Secondly, the emotional forces of Motivation are also what need to be targeted by marketing strategists who wish to have a product story that is arousing and compelling. A new product concept is far more likely to succeed if it offers the promise of emotional benefits that speak to consumer lifestyle aspirations and frustrations. And finally the emotional forces of Motivation should be the target of communication impact for advertisers who want their messages to become a call to action.
Motivations vs. other emotions
Motivations can be distinguished from other types of emotion in part because they derive from forces inside the individual, rather than being primarily “reactive” to outside stimuli. We all carry around inside us two distinct forms of motivational forces. One type consists of aspirations that we have to make our experience of life better – a desire for outcomes which psychology calls “positive reinforcement.” The other type consists of frustrations that we experience in life which, drive us to seek relief – that drive for what psychology calls “negative reinforcement.” In my recent paper in the Review of General Psychology, I’ve attempted to summarize a great deal of research on these motives, developing a unified model that identifies nine distinct types of motivating emotional forces, each of which can be manifest as an aspiration for positive outcomes, or a search for relief from frustration of negative situations.
Clearly the concept of emotion can take several other forms aside from the emotions of motivation. We can study general states of arousal, we can study the various sensory-emotional states activated by experiences in life (like excitement), we can study emotion as a pattern of vascular activity through the technique of brain imaging, we can study physiological expression emotional states as expressed by the facial muscles (like happiness, or disgust). And based on my experience at IIEX, I suspect that all of these types of emotion will continue to play a role in the work of Market Researchers.
I only hope that enough of us decide to focus on the emotions that drive motivation, and seek to understand the aspirations and frustrations that drive consumer choices and actions in life.