A growing number of consumers worry about not having enough money to pay for necessities. Even in a developed country like the United States, seven out of ten people report feeling stressed and worried about their ability to pay for monthly expenses. Situational factors such as the recent pandemic and rising income inequality have further exacerbated financial instability. Recent news reports and findings in economics suggest that financial scarcity is associated with a rise in extreme opinions on issues that bear directly on these concerns. For example, people might oppose an increase in immigration quotas because it might affect the number of jobs that are available for the local population. Or, they might demand an increase in the minimum wage. However, the causal relationship between these variables has yet to be established. More important, and relevant to this dissertation, is the lack of clarity surrounding the effects of financial scarcity on attitude expression on issues and topics that are unrelated to one’s financial condition. Examples of these issues include consumer concerns about data privacy, tracking of their behavior on social media, or how one feels about certain businesses and products. This topic is of obvious importance to marketing because consumers are often asked to express their opinion about different services, consumption experiences and issues related to company policy and the extremity of their attitudinal responses can (mis)guide company actions.
Financial scarcity can have negative implications for psychological well-being. In general, because financial scarcity diminishes an individual’s sense of self, attempts are made to restore it. In my dissertation, I suggest that people who lack money experience a sense of diminished self-significance and feel that they will not be considered seriously by others. This triggers a general motivation to be heard on various issues. Because attitudes are central to the self, this need to be heard manifests in extreme attitude expression on a range of topics that are not necessarily related to one’s financial condition.
Two pilot studies tested the fundamental assumption that financial scarcity diminishes individuals’ sense of self and triggers a heightened need to be heard. Next, findings from seven studies showed that this heightened need to be heard leads individuals who feel disenfranchised to express their attitudes extremely even when these issues are unrelated to their financial condition. This empirical work also demonstrated that the effects of financial scarcity on extreme attitude expression are not the result of other well-known precursors of attitude expression (i.e., cognitive deliberation or arousal), but rather are mediated by a heightened need to be heard. These effects occur when financial scarcity is experienced subjectively (i.e., when participants are asked to recall instances when they did not have enough money to pay for expenses) as well as objectively (i.e., when their income level is measured).
This research is important theoretically because it is the first to establish a causal link between experienced scarcity and the extremity of attitudinal response in unrelated domains. In addition, the identification of a different antecedent of attitude expression in the scarcity domain—a generalized motivation to be heard—has implications for how people respond to a multitude of marketing issues. Extreme attitude expression in reviews and surveys, for example, has a disproportionately large influence on other consumers. Thus, the identification of a segment of consumers who respond extremely is useful since marketers can focus on addressing their needs and mitigate the negative influence they could have on others. Certain policy implications are also noteworthy. For instance, the recent rise in extremism and social unrest among poorer sections of society might stem from people’s heightened need to be heard. Hence, processes that engage them and satisfy this need to be heard can help reduce the extremity of response and improve their well-being.