Some Consequences of Vulnerability in Consumers' Life
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Under the label of consumer vulnerability, researchers have included a variety of studies that focus on consumers who face challenging situations in the marketplace because of consumers’ individual characteristics (e.g., age, income), external conditions (e.g., stereotypes, repression), or individual states (e.g., grief, mood). In this dissertation, we propose that consumers are vulnerable not only because they belong to a specific socioeconomic group, but also because they lack a combination of resources-control that makes them susceptible to marketplace harm. Moreover, we investigate psychological mechanisms behind vulnerability, and potential coping strategies consumers might use when dealing with vulnerability. In particular, we focus on three types of vulnerabilities: (1) lack of financial resources, (2) experience of physical pain, and (3) feeling observed and replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). In Chapter 1, we theoretically propose, and empirically test the negative effect of feeling financially constrained on participation in access-based services (ABS henceforth) across five studies. Based on previous findings, we predict that feeling financially constrained will reduce consumers’ willingness to use ABS for three main reasons. First, financially constrained consumers prefer lasting products over experiences. Second, financially constrained consumers tend to avoid behaviors that reinforce negative feelings about their financial situation. Third, the fear of being judged negatively by others for using “cheap solutions” as ABS would lead financially constrained consumers to favor the traditional option (buying) over the more innovative way of consumption (ABS). In Chapter 2, we build on previous research showing that lack of financial resources can affect individuals’ cognitive abilities. We propose that social capital can alleviate the financial concern of the poor and restore their cognitive capacity. Through social capital, individuals can experience different benefits: they can gain direct access to economic resources (i.e., subsidized loans, investment tips, protected markets); they can increase their cultural capital through contacts with experts or individuals of refinement (i.e., embodied cultural capital); or, alternatively, they can affiliate with institutions that confer valued credentials (i.e., institutionalized cultural capital). We believe that social capital is a resource the poor may use to compensate for the lack of financial resources. Three lab studies provide partial support for our hypothesis. In Chapter 3, we study how the presence of AI surveillance technologies affects citizens’ willingness to help in a public context. In particular, we build on recent findings to show that the presence of AI technologies can either increase or decrease citizens’ willingness to help. When people feel observed, people tend to act according to social norms and help more. However, according to the transhumanist narrative, when AI becomes more independent, people are more likely to delegate tasks to AI and help less others. In two studies, we show that citizens feel less responsible to intervene and help less when they perceive AI as able to help instead of them. Citizens tend to help more when they perceive AI as having lower agency. Finally, in Chapter 4, we examine the influence of physical pain on consumers’ willingness to conform to others. When people are in pain, they often feel threatened and look at others to feel reassured. Individuals who are in pain often experience lack of control and helplessness. Groups can serve as a resource to empower people who lack a sense of personal agency and control. Specifically, a threat to personal control increases people’s readiness to act as group members. Therefore, we expect that higher physical pain will lead to higher willingness to conform. To test our hypothesis, we are conducting a lab experiment with a heating circulator machine used to manipulate pain, and one online study.