Clean sheets on a nicely made bed. A shower after a stressful day. Maybe even a new pair of sunglasses. For many, a fresh start is the first building block to future success. But how does believing a fresh start is possible extend to other areas of people’s lives?
Professor of marketing and Philip H. Knight Chair Linda Price and her coauthors examine the consumer and societal connections to the concept of a fresh start mindset in “The Fresh Start Mindset: Transforming Consumers Lives,” forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.
In it, Price, Robin Coulter of University of Connecticut, Yuliya Strizhakova of Rutgers University, and Ainslie Schultz of Providence College define a fresh start as “a belief that people can make a new start, get a new beginning, and chart a new course in life, regardless of past or present circumstances.”
Through multiple studies, the authors measure, define, and validate the fresh start mindset. They also show how, when activated and accessible, the fresh start mindset predicts consumers’ efforts and choices directed at self-transformation and helping vulnerable others make a fresh start. The fresh start mindset is related but distinct from optimism, goal perseverance, and the concept of a growth mindset. A fresh start mindset is a belief that one can is start over without the baggage of past or present circumstances, whereas the growth mindset is the personal belief one can actively grow and improve his or her intelligence, talent, or skills. A fresh start mindset is also associated with consumption habits—including variety seeking—and growth mindset is not. Growth mindset also requires the acquisition of knowledge or understanding, while a fresh start mindset does not.
The authors used surveys, collages, expert judges, and experiments embedded in surveys to develop a six-point scale to measure the fresh start mindset.
They found religious affiliation (compared to no religion) to be the only significant demographic link to a stronger fresh start mindset. Unemployment rate, percent of households receiving food stamps, and racial composition of the neighborhood influence whether individuals believe a fresh start is possible, Price said. For example, the fresh start mindset is stronger for neighborhoods with low unemployment, regardless of racial composition. The percentage of households on food stamps impacts the fresh start mindset negatively in predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods, but has a positive impact in predominantly non-Caucasian neighborhoods. Crime rate index had no effect. Price speculates that when local conditions make it seem like the economic ladder is broken, individuals may stop believing a fresh start is possible.
Another study within the set supports the authors’ theory that a fresh start mindset is a predictor of participants’ efforts related to budget and other malleable lifestyle habits such as eating habits and consumption efforts, including trying new brands. Growth mindset does not predict engagement in these efforts, Price said. But both fresh start and growth mindsets predict selective support of transformative programs for vulnerable populations, such as homeless youth, at-risk teens, low-income families, and ex-offenders.
Of course, not everyone surveyed had a fresh start mindset, and some folks don’t believe it’s possible for themselves. Phrases like “I’m stuck in this job/marriage/town” signaled this belief. The authors found the fresh start mindset can be strengthened or weakened.
The concept of a fresh start is deeply culturally ingrained. In the United States, where the survey respondents lived, the drum beat of a fresh start is loud and frequent, from political candidates to laundry soap. Yet some languages, such as Russian and French for example, do not have an equivalent phrase, Price said.
In the end, the researchers invite scholars of consumer culture as well as policy makers to “consider how the fresh start mindset can be proactively tapped to improving consumer well-being—helping consumers set new goals, change habits, and transform their lives.”
But are fresh starts truly possible? Does the “rags to riches” Cinderella story play out in the real world with any measurable reliability? That’s a topic for another study.