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Journal of Marketing Research (forthcoming)
How does interpersonal closeness (IC) – the perceived psychological proximity between a sender and a recipient—influence word-of-mouth (WOM) valence? The current research proposes that high levels of IC tend to increase the negativity of WOM shared, whereas low levels of IC tend to increase the positivity of WOM shared. Further, it is hypothesized that this effect stems from low versus high levels of IC triggering distinct psychological motives.
Low IC activates the motive to self-enhance, and communicating positive information is typically more instrumental to this motive than communicating negative information. In contrast, high IC activates the motive to protect others, and communicating negative information is typically more instrumental to this motive than communicating positive information. Four experiments provide evidence for the basic effect and the underlying role of consumers' motives to self-enhance and protect others via mediation and moderation. Implications for understanding of how WOM spreads across strongly versus weakly tied social networks are discussed.