The Subjective Experience of Process and Outcome Mental Simulations: The Role of Subjective Vitality

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    This research examines the effects of process and outcome mental simulations on consumers’ subsequent regulatory behavior.

    Consumers are often encouraged to mentally simulate their upcoming consumption experience. Supporting this strategy, many studies have distinguished process and outcome simulations as two distinct types of mental simulations (Pham and Taylor 1999), and has largely suggested that process simulation has more favorable effects than outcome simulation on outcome attainment (Escalas and Luce 2003; Pham and Taylor 1999; Taylor et al. 1998). However, this line of research suffers from some limitations. First, existing studies have primarily focused on the effects of the thought content generated from mental simulation; they have generally overlooked the subjective experience during mental simulation. In fact, a recent study by Thompson et al. (2009) considered the subjective experience resulting from mental simulation (i.e., the ease or difficulty of information processing) and found that in some instances, process simulation can increase decision difficulty and degrade subsequent task performance. Thus, process simulation may not be universally beneficial; considering the subjective experience of mental simulation may unveil some unknown effects. Second, existing studies have focused on the content-specific effects of mental simulation, that is, how the simulation of an outcome affects outcome-related responses. Little has been known about whether the effects of mental simulation can be extended to influence behaviors unrelated to the simulated outcome.

    In this research, we examine how the subjective experience of process and outcome simulations influences subsequent regulatory behavior in unrelated contexts. We employ a regulatory resource perspective and argue that process simulation can be depleting, whereas outcome simulation can be energizing. Process simulation directs consumers to the steps leading to a favorable outcome (Pham and Taylor 1999). It regulates consumers’ emotions and behavior in the simulated goal pursuit journey, and hence depletes the limited pool of regulatory resources and results in regulatory failure in a subsequent, unrelated context. Rather, outcome simulation simulates the benefits and enjoyment of outcome attainment, which provides consumers a sense of competence and hence a feeling of vitality (Ryan and Deci 2000). This feeling of vitality is carried over to subsequent, unrelated instances, fuels energy to execute regulatory behaviors, and leads to regulatory success.

    We also propose that the regulatory failure effect of process simulation hinges on the extent the simulated process activities for outcome attainment is extrinsically motivating (i.e., instrumental to outcome attainment), and the regulatory effect of outcome simulation is contingent on the extent the attainment of the simulated outcome reflects competence of the consumers. These boundary conditions indicate that our proposed effects are the result of the extent to which the simulated activities are depleting or energizing. In this proposal, we also present some preliminary findings that support our conceptualizations.

    This research contributes to the mental simulation literature in two ways. First, while prior studies have primarily focused on the cognitive influences of mental simulation, the current research investigates the subjective experience during simulation, that is, whether consumers feel energized or depleted, and examines how this feeling of vitality influences regulatory behavior in subsequent, unrelated contexts. On the basis of this regulatory resource perspective, we make predictions not predicted by the cognitive account. Second, this research extends the effects of mental simulation to thought–content–independent contexts. These content-independent effects will complement existing knowledge on the content-specific effects of mental simulation and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the effects of mental simulation.
    Effective start/end date1/01/1731/12/19


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