skip to content

How Uncertainty Shapes Conservatives’ and Liberals’ Hedonic (vs. Utilitarian) Consumption

This research examines how consumers’ political identity shapes their preferences for hedonic (vs. utilitarian) consumption. Complementing prior research showing that conservatives are generally less interested in hedonic consumption than liberals, the present research proposes that political ideology may interact with perceptions of uncertainty in the external environment to shape hedonic (vs. utilitarian) consumption. Specifically, high (vs. low) uncertainty bolsters conservatives’ preference for hedonic consumption because it increases conservatives’ reliance on feelings. In contrast, liberals are less sensitive to perceptions of high (vs. low) uncertainty in the environment. Mitigating perceptions of threat associated with uncertainty through framing uncertainty in a positive light or bolstering consumers’ temporal focus on the present moment attenuates the effect. Studies combining different methodologies, primary and secondary data, real and hypothetical behavior, and different product categories provide converging evidence for the phenomenon, its underlying mechanism, and boundary conditions. The results have relevant implications for firms operating in turbulent environments.