When Sadness Comes Alive, Will It Be Less Painful? The Effects of Anthropomorphic Thinking on Sadness Regulation and Consumption

Fangyuan Chen, Rocky Peng Chen, Yang Li

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Prior consumer research has studied the impact of anthropomorphism on product perception and evaluation. This research explores how anthropomorphic thinking influences people's experience of emotions and subsequent consumption behavior. Based on research on emotion regulation and the psychological process of detachment, we show that individuals instructed to anthropomorphize sadness (i.e., think of sadness as a person) report less experienced sadness afterward (Studies 1 and 2A). The same result is observed for its opposite, happiness, such that anthropomorphic thinking dilutes happiness (Study 2B). We argue that this reduction of emotion occurs because anthropomorphic thinking increases the perceived distance between the self and the anthropomorphized emotion, thereby creating a feeling of detachment. Evidence for a detachment process is found via measurement (Studies 3 and 4) and a theory‐guided moderation, with the effect lessening when sadness is seen as a dependent (vs. independent) person (Study 3). These findings have implications for consumer behavior. When sadness is ameliorated by anthropomorphic thinking, people tend to display better self‐control in subsequent consumption, as manifested by a greater likelihood of choosing a healthier or more practical product (Studies 4 and 5).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-295
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Anthropomorphic thinking
  • Detachment
  • Emotion regulation
  • Self-control in consumption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Marketing

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