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Research indicates that mindfulness is a consumer characteristic that influences the choice between green and non-green products. Therefore, the present study examines the effects of consumer mindfulness on green product choices and the moderating role of cognitive load in this relationship. The study predicts that consumer mindfulness leads to the choice of greener products and that this effect is attenuated by cognitive load. A between-subject experimental study was conducted with a sample of 128 students from Maastricht University. The research hypotheses were tested using a binary logistic regression. The findings revealed that mindfulness significantly predicted green product choices, suggesting that mindful consumers are more likely to choose green products than non-mindful consumers. Furthermore, this study found that cognitive load moderated the effects of mindfulness on green product choices. When cognitive load is high, consumers are less likely to purchase green products when they are mindful than when cognitive load is low. From the research results, it can be inferred that encouraging consumers to be mindful is beneficial in promoting the purchase of sustainable products when cognitive load is kept low. In addition, the study identifies limitations and gives recommendations for future research.
Keywords: mindfulness, sustainable consumption, green products, cognitive load
Past decades have seen rapid growth in the consumption of goods and services, with detrimental effects on the environment (Dhandra, 2019). As consumer behavior has a significant environmental impact, it is becoming increasingly important to encourage consumers to adopt more sustainable consumption patterns (Helm & Subramaniam, 2019). Purchasing environmentally friendly, so-called “green” products is one approach to more sustainable consumer behavior (Joshi & Rahman, 2015). In recent years, consumers have become more environmentally aware, which has led them to adjust their purchasing behaviors and demand more green products (Zhang & Dong, 2020). However, studies found a discrepancy between consumers’ positive attitudes toward green products and their actual purchasing behavior. Given the environmental benefits of these products, it is critical to understand how to turn consumer willingness to buy green into action (Joshi & Rahman, 2015). Research has indicated that consumer mindfulness is a potential source for promoting pro-environmental behaviors (Fischer et al., 2017; Helm & Subramaniam, 2019). Fischer et al. (2017) suggest that mindfulness can change consumption patterns by disrupting routines, reinforcing non-materialistic values, and encouraging pro-social behavior. Thus, mindfulness could help consumers translate their green attitudes into purchasing behaviors (Dhandra, 2019). However, research on the effects of mindfulness on green purchasing behavior is still limited. Most studies in this line of research examined mindfulness and its effects on green purchase intentions and self-reported behaviors, using a cross-sectional design (Dhandra, 2019; Dharmesti et al., 2020; Panno et al., 2018). To date, there have been very few experimental studies that have attempted to demonstrate causal relationships between mindfulness and sustainable behavior. Moreover, academic work has paid little attention to possible mediating and moderating variables in this relationship (Fischer et al., 2017). Therefore, using a between-subject experimental design, this paper aims to answer the following research question: To what extent does consumer mindfulness affect green product choices, and to what extent does cognitive load influence the relationship between consumer mindfulness and green product choices?
According to White et al. (2019), consumers’ mindfulness influences the extent to which they engage in environmentally friendly behaviors. Mindfulness can be defined as a mental state of focusing on the present moment and being aware of oneself, others, and the environment (Brown & Ryan, 2003). In the literature on consumer behavior, the concept of mindful consumption has emerged as a basis for explaining consumer decision-making. Bahl et al. (2016) note that mindful consumers carefully consider the consequences of their consumption and are non-judgmental, compassionate, and open-minded. When choosing products, they pay attention to attributes and integrate new information as well as different perspectives into their decision (Barber & Deale, 2014). Moreover, mindfulness helps individuals to become aware of their unconscious consumption routines, enabling them to overcome and alter non-sustainable consumption behaviors (Helm & Subramaniam, 2019). Therefore, I predict that more mindful consumers prefer green products over non-green products as they are more likely to consider the environmental impact of their purchasing decision. Thus, the first hypothesis is as follows:
H1: Consumer mindfulness leads to green product choices.
The question of whether cognitive load affects mindful consumption decisions remains unanswered in current literature. Consumer decisions are based on either intuitive or deliberate judgments (White et al., 2019). When cognitive resources are constrained, consumers tend to engage in intuitive and affect-driven rather than deliberate decision-making (Shiv & Fedorikhin, 1999). In a series of five studies, Pocheptsova et al. (2009) found that consumers use more simplifying heuristics and intuitive reasoning when they are cognitively challenged by a prior task. Similarly, Dhar et al. (2000) concluded that cognitive load inhibits conscious and deliberate decision-making processes, leading consumers to rely on intuition, emotions, and habits. However, mindful consumption implies choosing a product after consciously reflecting on the consequences of consumption, rather than deciding intuitively (Bahl et al., 2016). Thus, I assume that the consumers’ cognitive load mitigates the positive effects of mindfulness on green product choices as they lack the cognitive resources to deliberate on the environmental consequences of their choices. Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:
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H2: The effects of consumer mindfulness on green product choices are moderated by cognitive load; high cognitive load attenuates the effects of consumer mindfulness on green product choices.
A total of 128 UM students participated in the study to ensure sufficient statistical power (Cohen, 2013), which a mean age of 22.7 years (SD = 3.2) and a gender distribution of 51% female, 47% male, and 2% non-binary. They were recruited via email and received 0.25 course credit points for participating in the experiment, which took place on November 10th and 11th, 2021, at the BEElap at Maastricht University. The hypotheses were tested using a 2 (Mindfulness: low vs. high) X 2 (Cognitive load: low vs. high) between-subject experimental design with mindfulness as the independent variable and cognitive load as the moderator. Mindfulness was primed using a mindfulness-based audio recording developed by Hafenbrack et al. (2014). In the 15-min audio instruction, the participants were guided through a meditation exercise that focuses on breathing and body awareness. For manipulation checks, the study included items to measure the state of mindfulness. Following the study design of Pocheptsova et al. (2009), cognitive load was manipulated using the Stroop self-regulation task (Stroop, 1953). Participants were presented with colors names printed in different colors. One group was instructed to indicate the color of the font, not the meaning of the word, by clicking on a corresponding button. The other group was instructed to click on the button matching the color described by the word. In contrast to the latter, the first task has been shown to induce high cognitive load (Pocheptsova et al., 2009). The participants’ choice between green and non-green products was the dependent variable in this study. The study included age, gender, and education as control variables, as they have been shown to influence sustainable consumption behaviors (White et al., 2019). Participants made their decisions unobserved so that confounding effects of social desirability bias can be eliminated (White et al., 2019).
Students were randomly assigned to the four conditions, with 32 participants in each condition. They were asked to come to the lab in four groups with different time slots, where they were seated in cabins at computers. After agreeing to a privacy statement, the two groups in the mindfulness condition (n = 64) listened to the audio recording via headphones to evoke a state of mindfulness. Next, both groups completed the Stroop task, which should elicit high cognitive load in one group and low cognitive load in the other group. Time and error rates were measured for manipulation checks. They were then shown three different product types: a car, a household cleaner, and a dishwasher (Griskevicius et al., 2010). For each product type, a green and a non-green product were presented, along with a description of their main features, adopted from Griskevicius et al. (2010) (Appendix B). The participants were asked which of these two products they would buy if they were shopping for this type of product. They indicated their answer by checking a box under the product description. To not influence the participants’ decisions, the products were described only by text and not by pictures. In the following part, they answered questions indicating the extent to which they focused on their breathing and physical sensations and were in touch with their body while making the decisions. A 9-point Likert scale (1= Not at All to 9 = Very much) was used (Hafenbrack et al., 2014). Finally, they responded to questions related to the control variables. The remaining two groups (n = 64) did not listen to the mindfulness-based audio. They were also asked to perform the Stroop task and then decide between the green and non-green products. The group that received a low cognitive load represented the baseline (mindfulness = low; cognitive load = low).
Manipulation checks revealed that cognitive load and mindfulness were successfully manipulated. A one-way independent ANOVA showed that participants in the condition of high cognitive load had longer reaction times and higher error rates than participants in the low cognitive load condition. Furthermore, an independent-samples t -test demonstrated that the participants in the mindfulness condition scored significantly higher on the corresponding questions. To analyze the data, a binary logistic regression was performed in R, with cognitive load added as a moderator in the model to test for interaction effects. Consistent with Hypothesis 1, the logistic regression revealed a significant main effect of mindfulness on green product choices (p > 0.5). As illustrated in Figure 2, consumer mindfulness significantly predicted green product choices, suggesting that individuals in the mindfulness condition were more likely to choose green products than individuals who did not receive the mindfulness treatment. In line with Hypothesis 2, the logistic regression found a significant interaction between mindfulness and cognitive load, indicating that the effects of mindfulness on green product choices depended on cognitive load. When cognitive load was high, the mindful group and the control group differed less in their choice between green and non-green products than when cognitive load was low, as shown in Figure 3.
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Figure 2. Effects on Mindfulness on Green Product Choices (Appendix C) Figure 3. Green Product Choice as a Function of Mindfulness and Cognitive Load (Appendix D)
The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which consumer mindfulness affects green product choices and whether the effect is moderated by cognitive load. The findings show that mindfulness leads consumers to choose green products rather than non-green products. However, when mindful consumers experience high cognitive load, they are less likely to choose green products than when they experience low cognitive load. This study contributes to the literature by expanding experimental work on mindfulness and sustainable consumption, helping to establish more causal associations. In addition, it gives first insights into the moderating role of cognitive load in this relationship. Regarding practical implications, the findings suggest that fostering mindfulness among consumers is beneficial for marketing green product choices. When promoting sustainable products, it is useful to highlight the positive impact that the consumer will make by purchasing this product instead of a similar, non-sustainable product, such as saving trees in the rainforest. By providing the products' environmental attributes and impacts on the website or packaging, marketers can encourage consumers to reflect on their purchasing behavior and make decisions more carefully. Companies can also share this information with their customers in a weekly newsletter that additionally includes mindfulness exercises that can be used in everyday life. Moreover, marketers should focus on reducing cognitive load when designing stores or online stores. Excessive colors, too many options, and unnecessary signs and information should be avoided as they can lead to overstimulation. There are some limitations to this study. Null results could be due to unsuccessful manipulation of mindfulness and cognitive load, such as when participants were skilled in the Stroop task or did not follow the audio instructions. Future research could therefore replicate the study with different manipulations to make the results more generalizable. To this end, additional studies are needed that examine populations other than University students. It would also be interesting to explore how mindfulness affects other sustainable and health-related choices, such as food consumption, smoking, and physical fitness. Moreover, future studies could investigate other possible moderating and mediating variables in this relationship.
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