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Dissociative threat: underperforming to distance the self from undesirable groups

Mohammed El Hazzouri (Department of Marketing, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada)
Sergio W. Carvalho (Rowe School of Business, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada)
Kelley Main (Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 23 September 2020

Issue publication date: 26 February 2021




This study aims to introduce the concept of dissociative threat, which is the fear of being associated with an undesirable (dissociative) group as a result of demonstrating ability in a domain that is stereotypically linked to that group. Consumers experiencing dissociative threats use inability signaling as a self-presentational strategy in which they present themselves as lacking ability in the dissociative domain.


Five experimental studies were conducted to test whether consumers experience threat in dissociative domains and to examine factors that influence this threat.


Results showed that dissociative threat adversely affects consumers’ performance at tasks that require using products linked to dissociative groups. Threatened participants reported intentions to perform poorly and train for a longer time in preparation for such tasks, thus signaling low ability in dissociative domains. Additionally, when participants who were experiencing dissociative threats received confirmation that they lacked ability in that domain, their performance at these tasks improved.

Research limitations/implications

This study expands the knowledge on strategies, including inability signaling, that consumers use to avoid being linked to dissociative groups.

Practical implications

The findings suggest to marketers that stereotypes that link their products to certain consumer segments can threaten other consumers. Factors that shape and alleviate this threat are identified, which may help companies who are marketing such products.


This study extends the current understanding of stereotype threat and proposes a new self-presentational strategy, that has not been documented yet in the literature (i.e. inability signaling), that consumers use to deal with the dissociative threat.



The authors would like to thank Joey Hoegg, Naomi Mandel and Lena Horne for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. The financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is gratefully acknowledged.


El Hazzouri, M., Carvalho, S.W. and Main, K. (2021), "Dissociative threat: underperforming to distance the self from undesirable groups", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 55 No. 3, pp. 814-839.



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