The Preference for the Aesthetic Middle: A Perceived Risk Based Explanation and the Moderating Role of Aesthetic Expertise and Product Confidence
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Consumer and Design Sciences
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In the context of the aesthetics of consumer products, this study proposed an explanation for the preference for the aesthetic middle based on the psychological construct of perceived risks. The study proposed two research models and 17 hypotheses grounded in three theories of aesthetics: Theory of Thresholds (Berlyne, 1974), Processing Fluency Theory (Reber, Schwarz, & Winkielman, 2004), and Information-processing Model of Aesthetic Experience (Leder, Belke, Oeberst, & Augustin, 2004). The first research model expected that perceived risks will explain the preference for designs closer to the aesthetic middle. In the second research model, individual differences in aesthetic expertise and situational differences in consumer product confidence were expected to moderate the aesthetic middle effect. The proposed models and hypotheses were empirically tested among 120 female U.S. consumers (ages 21 to 41) through a quasi-experimental online study. Two consumer groups, recruited through a national survey company, with low and high levels of aesthetic expertise were exposed to products with three different levels of design aesthetics (low, medium and high), either with or without consumer product ratings in an online-store setting. The stimuli were followed by dependent measures of perceived risks and purchase intentions. The key proposal of this study, identifying perceived risks as a psychological explanation for consumers’ preference for designs closer to the aesthetic middle, was confirmed. Aesthetic middle designs led to lowest risk perceptions and highest purchase intentions as compared to products with low or high design aesthetics. Further, this ii study revealed that perceived risks (psycho-social, financial, and functional risks) mediate the effect of design aesthetics on purchase intentions. Additionally, this study revealed that individual differences in aesthetic expertise and situational differences in consumer product confidence moderate the effect of design aesthetics. For consumers with high aesthetic expertise or with high product confidence, high design aesthetics as compared to low design aesthetics led to lower risk perceptions and higher purchase intentions. Contrary to this, for consumers with low aesthetic expertise or with low product confidence, moderate design aesthetics led to lowest risk perceptions and highest purchase intentions. Numerous theoretical, methodological, and practical implications are discussed based on the findings of this study.