Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Matthew Thomson & June Cotte


The purpose of this thesis is to introduce a role theoretic approach to the empirical study of the consumer role. To do this, I adopt a cognitive role theory perspective and propose that the consumer role is best conceptualized as a network of associations subject to the cognitive rules of availability and accessibility. When a consumer role prime (i.e., a tangible, external stimulus associated with being a consumer) is encountered, the network of associations should be activated and cognition, perception, and behavior should be shaped accordingly. This proposition is at the heart of my dissertation and is tested with six experiments.

Chapter 1 introduces the concept of the consumer role (including key assumptions and boundaries surrounding this construct) and why studying the consumer role is important. In chapter 2, the literature review, I provide a comprehensive review of role theory, including a discussion of the different perspectives within role theory and how they have been applied in marketing. In chapter 3 and 4, I examine the temporal orientation of the consumer role. Because of the strong association between consumerism and instant gratification, I propose the consumer role is present-oriented. This hypothesis and the mechanism behind consumer role impatience are tested in three studies. In chapter 5, I adopt a more comprehensive view of consumer role activation. Specifically, I explore whether a consumer role prime will activate a network of associations and whether this activation will spread outward through the network, beginning with more proximal associations and extending to more distal associations. In chapter 6, I examine the consequences of consumer role activation on outcomes more typically associated with the citizen role––voting intentions and actual voting behavior in the 2012 American Presidential Election. In chapter 7, contributions to role theory and consumer research are discussed.

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