Date of Award

Summer 8-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration - Marketing

Committee Director

Yuping Liu-Thompkins

Committee Member

John Ford

Committee Member

Harris Wu


Empathy is known to be the basis of all human interactions and an essential component of human psychology. Empathy includes a cognitive component (perspective-taking) and an affective component (e.g., emotional contagion). The two essays of my dissertation investigate how each of these components of empathy affect consumer responses to user-generated content.

Essay 1: Although both price and online review ratings are important cues in consumers’ product quality judgment, most previous studies have treated price and review ratings as separate inputs into consumer decision-making. The current research shows that the two cues are intertwined, such that consumers’ perception of the same review rating is different depending on the price of the rated product. Through four experimental studies with a variety of operationalizations, I show that consumers have the tendency to adjust the review rating of higher-priced products upwards compared with that of lower-priced products. For example, the same 4.0- star rating signals a higher-quality product when the price is $37 than when the price is $17, above and beyond the quality signaling effect of the price itself. This price-based bias in review rating perception is attributed to consumers taking the perspective of review writers and to the shared knowledge of review writers taking the price paid into consideration when rating a product. This research extends the existing literature on online reviews by introducing perspective-taking as a metacognitive mechanism that can influence consumers’ responses to online reviews.

Essay 2: Companies make significant efforts to encourage positive word-of-mouth (WOM) about their brands on social media. One common tactic is to encourage consumers to post a picture of themselves (i.e., a selfie) with the product on social media. The current research investigates the role of eye gaze in such social media messages in facilitating emotional contagion and its subsequent effects on consumers’ engagement with the content and attitude toward the associated product. Through five online experiments and one lab experiment using facial expression analysis, I show that the mere presence of direct (vs. averted) eye gaze facilitates the transfer of emotions expressed in a positive message, which in turn, leads to positive downstream consequences. I also explore two boundary conditions of this emotional contagion effect, the valence of emotion shown in the selfie and the concurrent cognitive load of the consumer. This research contributes to marketing research by extending our knowledge of eye gaze effects beyond the cognitive mechanisms and attentional effects typically considered in previous studies. It suggests a more primitive, automatic process through emotional contagion.


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