Data for: Self-object relationships in consumers' spontaneous metaphors of anthropomorphism, zoomorphism and dehumanization

Published: 26-04-2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/k92n65shtx.1
Katerina Karanika,
Margaret Hogg


Previous research discussed how consumers form relationships with their possessions and pursue identity goals such as approaching desired selves and self-augmentation or avoiding undesired selves and self-diminishment . However, previous research has left a gap in our understanding of consumers’ self-object relationships by neglecting to explore firstly consumers’ different attachment styles to their possessions and goods; and secondly conflicts and transitions between self-augmentation and self-diminishment in consumer-object relationships. As people use metaphors to express the self and describe their relationships and as consumers form relationships with brands because they have a tendency to anthropomorphize brands, consumers’ spontaneous metaphors of anthropomorphism, zoomorphism and dehumanization (AZD) in consumption have the potential to offer insights into consumers’ self-object relationships. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of humanlike physical or mental characteristics, emotions and intentions to inanimate objects or animals; zoomorphism the attribution of animal traits to objects or humans; dehumanization the attribution of animal or object traits to oneself or others. Hence our research question is ‘How do consumers relate to possessions and consumption goods and pursue identity goals through spontaneous AZD metaphors in consumption?’ Whereas previous studies primed and prompted AZD by focusing on consumers’ reactions to marketers’ AZD, we examined AZD metaphors which emerged spontaneously from our conversations with consumers in this phenomenological study. We identify 4 patterns that show how different attachment styles to consumer goods were combined with different types of AZD metaphors to provide different emotional benefits relating to identity goals. In addition, the paper contributes to understanding how consumers employ AZD as self-therapeutic metaphors to cope with unwanted feelings like guilt and ambivalence within identity conflicts, to approach and to feel closer to desired selves, to experience self-augmentation, and to cope with undesired selves and with self-diminishment in consumption. Moreover, in contrast to earlier research, we found that anthropomorphism can occur in relation to secure social affiliations and in order to protect interpersonal relationships and that consumers who are experiencing financial difficulties and may feel they are low in power also anthropomorphize their possessions to experience emotional benefits and they often experience their anthropomorphized possessions as desirable and not aversive. In contrast to earlier research, we also found that consumers with anthropomorphic beliefs about objects may want to replace these objects. Finally, extending earlier research, we found that anthropomorphism can moderate guilt in consumption directly through the explicit delegation of responsibility to the product and indirectly by helping to reason that possessions are worthy of love and care.