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Clarifying the Effects of Anthropomorphism on Consumer Behaviour

Li, Zaichen (2021). Clarifying the Effects of Anthropomorphism on Consumer Behaviour. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Anthropomorphism, the endowment of humanlike traits to nonhuman entities, has become ubiquitous because it leads to desirable marketing outcomes, such as positive product evaluations and favourable brand attitudes. In the past two decades, a rapidly expanding body of research on this topic has examined how consumers relate to anthropomorphised entities. Since empirical studies often use a heterogeneous set of operationalisations, various suggestions have been provided on how to achieve a clear and precise conceptual understanding to explain how anthropomorphism influences consumer responses. However, the question of how to effectively elicit anthropomorphism and manipulate it to influence consumer responses remains unanswered.

To address these key questions, my thesis aims to systematise the effects of various anthropomorphism manipulations on the elicitation of this construct and downstream consumer responses in a comprehensive conceptual framework. More specifically, in Chapter 2, I categorise existing manipulations into visual and verbal, and test their efficacy on measures of perceived anthropomorphism. To this end, I consider two key dimensions of anthropomorphism often used interchangeably in existing literature, which are humanlike physical appearance and humanlike mind, as distinct from each other. I map these dimensions onto their corresponding manipulation methods and measures and highlight the independent routes through which they elicit anthropomorphism. Combining findings from three experiments and a meta-analysis, I find that visual and verbal manipulations elicit different dimensions of anthropomorphism. That is, visual manipulations heighten the perception of a humanlike physical appearance, while verbal manipulations heighten the perception of a humanlike mind.

In Chapter 3, I examine the downstream consequences of anthropomorphism using different manipulation methods, by systematically comparing the relative effectiveness of visual, verbal, and combined manipulations on consumer responses. Accordingly, I consider that various manipulations affect different facets of anthropomorphism, which in turn could affect consumer responses in different ways. More specifically, building on findings from the human-to-human communication and advertising literature, I expect that verbal manipulations would convey the target products’ humanlike mind, leading to stronger consumer responses as compared to visual ones that convey their humanlike physical appearance. In addition, I expect that combined manipulations would elicit similar effects to verbal ones due to the visual redundancy effect. Utilising a multi-level multivariate meta-analysis, the findings provide
evidence in favour of the first prediction but not the second, as verbal manipulations dominate both visual and combined manipulations in the degree to which they affect consumer responses, while the latter two show statistically similar effects.

Overall, this thesis contributes to the literature on anthropomorphism. First, this research demonstrates the differential impact of anthropomorphism manipulations on the elicitation of anthropomorphism by examining their relationship with the key dimensions, providing clarity on this focal construct. Second, this research shows the differential impact of anthropomorphism manipulations on consumer responses, providing evidence that they affect consumers in different ways.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
Departments: Bayes Business School
Bayes Business School > Bayes Business School Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of PhD Thesis_ Zaichen Li.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
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