Egocentric Categorization: Self as a Reference Category in Product Judgment & Consumer Choice
Faculty Advisor: Gita V. Johar
Be it a shiny sports car or a luxury watch, consumers are predisposed to approach appealing objects. However, rules of modern society restrict consumers from touching or taking objects based on a mere desire to do so. Instead, consumers must have a legal connection to an object--ownership--in order to have mastery over it. What are the cognitive implications of the transparent boundaries that society draws between consumers and objects that they do not own? Can these boundaries affect the way consumers mentally represent owned and unowned objects? How do such potential differences between mental representation of owned and unowned objects affect object evaluation and consumer choice? Addressing these questions, my dissertation suggests that the social and legal criteria that divide objects into 'mine' and 'not-mine' may lead consumers to classify objects as 'me' or 'not-me,' as internal or external to the category "self," namely to"egocentrically categorize" objects. Egocentric Categorization is suggested to be a cognitive "tool" that segments, classifies, and orders inanimate objects in consumers' environment, and thus guides consumers' appraisals of objects as well as consumers' judgment of the "self." Although ample research asserts that a consumer's possessions are associated with his or her "self," the possibility that people use the "self" as a reference category for products has not been examined. Addressing this gap in the literature, my dissertation introduces Egocentric Categorization as a new theoretical account and begins investigating implications of Egocentric Categorization for consumer judgment, behavior and choice.