Incidental Emotion as Antecedent of Attribution in Service Failure Context

  • SU, Lei (PI)

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    Can an emotion elicited by a seemingly unrelated event influence consumer attribution tendencies in the event of a service failure? On September 10, 2012, the Japanese government announced that it had purchased the Senkaku Islands from “private owners,” thus stoking conflict and animosity between Japan and China. The anger of the Chinese people was evident across the country, as they smashed Japanese cars, protested outside the Japanese Embassy, and reacted in anger at any mention of “Japan.” Recent data from the Beijing Consumer Association indicate a significant increase in consumer complaints across various industries in September, with 1605 letters of complaint received in September 2012 compared with only 1129 in August 2012 (source:

    Similarly, the earthquake in eastern Japan, which caused major damage to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, may have had parallel effects on the pattern of consumer attribution. The 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami disabled the reactor’s cooling systems, leading to the leakage of nuclear radiation and the establishment of a 30 km evaluation zone around the plant. Chinese people panicked about the radiation leakage, and many people stocked up on basic supplies in case of future food shortages and safety concerns. We acquired the Beijing Consumer Association complaints data from early 2011. Interestingly, the data show a significant decrease in consumer complaints in the period surrounding the earthquake, with 6741 complaint letters received in February 2011compared with 5390 in April 2011 (source:

    We surmise that the angry emotions evoked by the Senkaku Islands incident increased the tendency of consumers to attribute blame to Japanese companies. However, the fear sparked by the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident is more likely to have reduced the likelihood of consumers attaching blame to companies. If these intuitions are true, they indicate that incidental emotions evoked by an unrelated event influence consumers’ attributions of blame for an observed service failure. We consider that this potential finding may enhance our understanding of consumer reaction to service failure and broaden our knowledge of the role of emotion in the service context. The proposed research will investigate this important topic.

    According to cognitive appraisal theory, we propose that two common incidental emotions (anger and fear) produce different attribution tendencies. Specifically, an angry observer who witnesses a service failure affecting another consumer is more likely to blame the service provider (i.e., the company), whereas a fearful observer is more likely to blame the suffering consumer (i.e., the consumer who encountered the service failure). Moreover, coping strategies mediate the effects of emotions on attribution tendencies. While real market data provide initial evidence supporting our arguments, we propose five further studies to test our propositions.

    Effective start/end date1/11/1330/04/17


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