The Impact of Stigmatisation on Consumers’ Emotions and Cognition: Inducing Changes in Brand Perception Through Appeals to Negative Emotions

Thomas Riis-Carstensen & Philip Raymond Hansen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The environment is suffering from years of relentless and negligent consumption. A new ‘tiny threat’ has emerged, namely microplastics (small plastic particles invisible to the naked eye). Using microplastics as a case study, this thesis explores whether an untraditional strategy – using stigmatization – can induce changes in emotions and possibly lead to behaviour change. People who engage in morally objectionable behaviour are commonly stigmatised on those grounds, making them subject to dislike and avoidance. Observing stigmatised people has been proven to elicit negative emotions in the observers. Based on this, the authors explore what impacts stigmatisation has on Danish women’s emotions and cognitive abilities, and whether the use of stigmatised persons can be utilized to induce a negative attitude towards products containing MP. Based on the assumption that humans pay more attention to negative entities and use emotions to guide their behaviour, the authors set up an experiment to test if it is possible for a stigmatised person to contaminate MP products and transfer his negative associations to the products he is in contact with. In lab experiments, 20 Danish women’s emotional reactions towards different stimuli (a pedophile, a kindergarten teacher, and MP products) are measured using facial expression analysis software. In addition, the influence on cognitive abilities is measured through embedded surveys that collect the answers and reaction time of the participants. Surprisingly, the participants exposed to a pedophile did not show significantly higher levels of negative emotions while observing him or when subsequently seeing the ‘contaminated’ products. However, the participants did express higher levels of negative emotions when hearing the taboo word ‘pedophile’. In addition, the participants showed high levels of anger when observing an environmentally-negligent behavior, namely intentional littering.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages143