The psychology of sharing : essays on joint consumption and consumer lending



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Sharing is a fundamental aspect of consumer behavior. Individuals share their products, experiences, money, decisions, goals, and sometimes even businesses with others. In fact, sharing allows societies to grow even with limited resources (Belk, 2014)—leading to a potential increase in accessibility, sustainability, and efficiency. With the growth of digital media, the types of items individuals can share and the people they can share with have expanded. This dissertation examines how sharing can impact consumers’ decision-making and evaluation behaviors—specifically studying how consumers account for others, and their preferences, when making choices or evaluations. I begin my dissertation by synthesizing how multiple disciplines discuss and study sharing behaviors. From there, I create a 2X2 conceptual framework that groups sharing behaviors into one of four categories based on whether a) the sharing occurs concurrently with others or asynchronously and b) the sharing occurs with using the same or different unit object. This framework highlights the vast knowledge researchers have on sharing behaviors yet illuminates gaps or unknowns with how sharing might influence an individual’s psychology. In Essay 1, I explore when individuals make unilateral decisions for joint consumption. Specifically, I study the information consumers use to make these decisions independently. In this essay, I predict that when consumers are motivated to avoid appearing selfish to others (i.e., have an impression management goal), they prioritize avoiding options that give them greater benefit than their partner. I term this type of option ‘favorable inequity’ and show, using seven experimental studies, that consumers are more likely to avoid these favorably inequitable options when one’s motivation to avoid appearing selfish in heightened, even when the option is most beneficial for all. This essay extends work on decision-making as it explores an unidentified decision strategy that consumers use when making unilateral choices for joint consumption. In Essay 2, I explore how consumer lending influences an individual’s evaluation of their belongings. First, using past research, I predict how lending can influence ten different psychological mechanisms that may impact one’s product valuations. Then, I explore four of these mechanisms, and their impact on product valuation, empirically. Fourteen exploratory studies examine how lending impacts one’s valuation of their lent-out possessions and which mechanisms explain the valuation shifts best. I end the chapter with future research ideas and larger scale research avenues that this work fits into.



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