Individual Differences in Consumer Attitutes and Behavior

Sharon Shavitt, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
[ to cite ]:
Sharon Shavitt (1989) ,"Individual Differences in Consumer Attitutes and Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 51-55.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 51-55

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN CONSUMER ATTITUTES AND BEHAVIOR

Sharon Shavitt, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

[Gratitude is expressed to Thomas C. O'Guinn, Steven J. Sherman, and Louisa M. Slowiaczek for their helpful comments.]

The three papers in this session each deal with the role of individual difference variables in consumer responses. These papers, to be discussed below, take diverse approaches to investigating individual differences and have a variety of implications for future research in this area.

A discussion of these papers could focus on any number of issues. Because my primary research interests involve information processing and persuasion, what I find to be of particular interest in these papers are their implications for the role of individual differences in message processing and attitude change. I hope I shall be forgiven for dwelling more on these implications than on others.

RESEARCH GOALS

Before discussing the findings of the present papers, it is worthwhile to consider the goals of their respective research programs. The interesting thing about these three papers as a set is that, while they all focus on individual differences in consumer behavior, they could not be more different in their theoretical and operational approaches. Each is driven by a different research goal.

Haugtvedt and Petty's research takes a theory-driven approach. The goal is to test predictions about attitude persistence made by the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM, Petty & Cacioppo, 1981, 1986a). This approach incorporates the individual difference construct of need for cognition (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982; Cohen, 1957; Cohen, Stotland & Wolfe, 1955) into a process model (ELM) concerned with the likelihood that one will cognitively elaborate on a message as it is received. Within this model, individuals' need for cognition is seen as one of a number of factors influencing one's motivation to elaborate on a message.

By embedding their research on need for cognition into this broad theoretical framework Haugtvedt and Petty's findings provide a conceptual replication of findings regarding personal relevance (Petty, Cacioppo, Haugtvedt & Heesacker, 1986), another factor that influences one's motivation to elaborate and, thus, the persistence of one's attitudes. This replication provides further support for predictions derived from ELM (although the model is hardly lacking in empirical support; see Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a, 1986b, for reviews). More importantly, the context provided by other ELM research supports Haugtvedt and Petty's contention that it is the degree of cognitive elaboration of messages that mediates the present effects of need for cognition on the persistence of persuasion. Thus, besides demonstrating that need for cognition is associated with a particular outcome (attitude persistence), their theory-driven approach contributes to an understanding of the processes that underlie both need for cognition and attitude persistence.

Crowley and Hoyer's research also investigates the- need for cognition dimension, but it takes a rather different approach. This research is construct-centered. The primary goal is to explore the need for cognition construct itself and attempt to identify its key underlying dimensions, as well as the dimensions that underlie other individual difference constructs.

This research is less concerned with demonstrating the relation between individuals' need for cognition and various outcomes (e.g., their information processing strategies). Instead, Crowley and Hoyer's goal is to establish a broad "nomological network' of consumer-relevant individual difference factors by identifying their common dimensions. If successful, such an approach could be a valuable first step toward theory-building in the area of personality and consumer behavior. It would also introduce some parsimony and order to the diverse set of individual difference factors that are often a?plied independently to the understanding of consumer behavior.

The study by Hornik provides an interesting contrast to the research goals described above. Hornik's research is phenomenon-driven. It focuses on the complex and important social phenomenon of smoking, attempting to identify factors that can shed light on the determinants of smoking behavior. Individual differences are of interest in this research enterprise only to the extent that they can assist in understanding and dealing with this phenomenon.

Thus, the goal of Hornik's research is to arrive at a typology that differentiates smokers from nonsmokers and/or identifies different types of smokers. Ultimately, such an individual differences typology could increase the effectiveness of anti-smoking interventions by guiding the designing and targeting of interventions to those individuals who are most likely to be influenced by them.

In sum, the papers in this session illustrate the diversity of theoretical and operational approaches to studying individual differences, and the variety of research goals that can be served by these approaches. Each of these goals -- testing a theory, fleshing out a construct, or understanding a phenomenon -- is important. And each set of results has implications for understanding the role of individual differences in consumer behavior.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE PRESENT FINDINGS

Need for Cognition and Attitude Persistence -(Haugtvedt & Petty)

As the authors point out, persuasion theories and research have addressed a wide range of factors that can elicit initial attitude change. However, comparatively little theoretical or empirical attention has been paid to the temporal stability of attitudes. We know relatively little about what makes attitudes persist -- either in terms of individual difference factors or any other factors.

One important contribution of the present study, then, is its demonstration that individuals' need for cognition predicts the stability of their newly-formed attitudes. Individuals scoring high in need for cognition exhibited greater attitudinal persistence than individuals low in need for cognition. This fits in well with research indicating that the existing political altitudes of individuals high in need for cognition were more predictive of their voting behavior than the attitudes of individuals low in need for cognition (Cacioppo, Petty, Kao & Rodriguez, 1986).

Apparently, the reason for the present findings regarding message-based persuasion is that individuals high in need for cognition were more motivated to evaluate effortfully the arguments in the message, and thus tended to take the "central route" to persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986a). In fact, previous research has shown that individuals scoring high in need for cognition tend to be more influenced by the quality of messages arguments than individuals low in need for cognition (Cacioppo, Petty & Morris, 1983; Haugtvedt, Petty, Cacioppo & Steidley, 1987). Other research (Petty, Cacioppo, Haugtvedt & Heesacker, 1986) has shown that attitudes formed via this central route tend to be more enduring than attitudes formed via the "peripheral route" -- that is, attitudes based on simple cues in the persuasion context. Thus, individuals scoring high in need for cognition apparently formed their brand attitudes via the central route and, consistent with ELM predictions and research, these attitudes were more persistent over time.

As the above discussion indicates, one advantage of the need for cognition construct is that it postulates individual differences at the process level. That is, the need for cognition construct goes beyond a focus on the individual's chronic goals, interests or skills to describe how the individual processes social and consumer information. This specification of process allows for definitive predictions to be made about the relation of need for cognition to other outcomes that are influenced by the amount of elaboration in information processing. Also, it allows the construct to be fitted into an existing model (ELM) that specifies the effects of cognitive elaboration on message-based persuasion.

Studies such as this one have provided important information about some of the processing implications of need for cognition. However, there is still a great deal we do not know about what people who are high versus low in need for cognition do with attitude-relevant information, and about the nature of the mental representations relevant to their attitudes. Future research on need for cognition should focus on pinpointing some of the process implications of 'enjoying effortful cognitive activity."

For example, future research could explore the relation between need for cognition and attitude accessibility. Since individuals who are high in need for cognition tend lo form their attitudes based on a greater degree of cognitive elaboration and effort, one might expect them to form stronger associations in memory between attitude objects (e.g., products) and their evaluations of them. This associative strength would heighten the accessibility of their attitudes from memory (Fazio, 1986). If in fact individuals who are high in need for cognition have attitudes that are highly accessible, then this would provide a more specific process explanation for the persistence of their attitudes: An attitude that is highly accessible is likely to be spontaneously activated from memory upon observation of the attitude object. Once activated, the attitude influences one's immediate perceptions of the attitude object through a process of selective perception. In this manner, the attitude serves as a guide for behavior (Fazio, 1986). A number of studies have convincingly demonstrated that the accessibility of attitudes in memory is associated with the stability of those attitudes and the degree to which they guide behavior (e.g., Fazio & Williams, 198$; see also Fazio, 1986, and Fazio & Roskos-Ewoldsen, in press, for reviews). It would be useful to determine the extent to which the attitude accessibility of individuals who are high in need for cognition contributes to the temporal persistence of their attitudes.

An alternative, although certainly not competing, hypothesis is that attitudes that are based on extensive elaboration are more persistent because they are held with greater confidence. Individual differences in the certainty with which attitudes are held would also be useful to explore, and may shed additional light on the relation between need for cognition and attitudinal persistence (although there is some indication that individuals who are high in need for cognition do not necessarily display greater confidence in their existing attitudes -- see Cacioppo, et al., 1986).

Future research on the relation of need for cognition and attitude persistence could also investigate the implications of the enjoyment of effortful cognitive activity for cognitive processes that occur after attitude formation. For example, are individuals who are high as opposed to low in need for cognition more likely to access and ruminate about their attitudes after they are formed? Although this may not have occurred in the context of the present study (for attitudes toward answering machines), are there conditions under which such rumination would occur? If so then this mere thought, to the extent that it involves uniformly positive or uniformly negative beliefs, could cause the attitudes of individuals high in need for cognition to polarize over time rather than remain stable (see Tesser, 1978, for research on the effects-of mere thought on attitude polarization).

Resistance to counter-persuasion may be another form of attitudinal persistence that is conferred by a high need for cognition. Future research could address whether the elaborated thinking underlying the attitudes of high need for cognition individuals provides them with a more effective set of counterarguments with which to resist subsequent counter-attitudinal messages (e.g., ads for competing brands).

Need for Cognition and Other Individual Differences (Crowley & Hoyer)

This paper attempts to identify some of the key dimensions that underlie the need for cognition by determining how this construct fits into a larger network of individual differences. On the whole, this study provides some insights into the relations among disparate personality characteristics and into the common dimensions that underlie some of them. However, its contribution is limited by its choice of underlying dimensions to investigate, and by its somewhat arbitrary selection of personality factors to represent them.

The major difficulty is that the particular dimensions chosen for study (arousal seeking and internal/external focus), at least as conceptualized here, do not appear to be central to the need for cognition construct. One can see this in the low correlations obtained between need for cognition and each of the other individual difference factors representing those underlying dimensions. The strongest correlation involving need for cognition emerged with the color preference variable (r=-.20), accounting for only 4% of the variance Interestingly, this significant correlation was not one that was originally predicted.

Also, previous research on need for cognition does not point to arousal seeking as a key dimension underlying this construct. The general picture that emerges from the need for cognition research reviewed above (e.g., Cacioppo and Petty, 1982; Cacioppo, Petty, Kao & Rodriguez, 1986) does not portray the high need for cognition individual as an "arousal seeker" relative to individuals who are low in need for cognition. True, person who are high in need for cognition tend to engage in (and perhaps to be aroused by) effortful cognitive tasks. But that does not mean that they seek more arousal than others do -- only that they seek it in different ways.

The specific set of personality factors chosen to represent these underlying dimensions was also somewhat problematic. For example, although these factors are potentially relevant to consumer behavior, they were not necessarily chosen with one underlying dimension in mind. Factors like extraversion and color preference were expected to relate to both the internal/external dimension and the arousal seeking dimension. This made the authors' task of deriving hypotheses much more difficult, and sometimes led them to predict null results on the basis of complex sets of assumptions about the underlying dimensions canceling each other out. These assumptions may well be valid, but one cannot confidently draw conclusions about them based on null findings. In future research, it would be best to select personality factors that are expected to relate to only one of the underlying dimensions being investigated. In that way, clearer predictions can be made about what these factors should and should not covary with (i.e., convergent and discriminant validity can be demonstrated more convincingly).

These issues notwithstanding, Crowley and Hoyer's study offers some interesting findings about the interrelationships of various personality constructs (e.g., sensation seeking with other-directedness and with extraversion; inner-directedness with need for cognition). In particular, the finding that individuals who are high in need for cognition have a significant preference for cool colors is intriguing. Such findings suggest that it would be worth pursuing further research on the dimensions that need for cognition shares with other individual difference constructs. The results could have important new implications for the design of advertising messages targeted to those who are high versus low in need for cognition.

Temporal and Lifestyle Factors in Smoking Behavior (Hornik)

Hornik presents an analysis of cigarette smoking behavior that incorporates a range of individual differences -- demographic as well as personality factors. His study identifies a number of individual differences that predict one's likelihood of smoking and the intensity of that smoking behavior. The primary focus of this study is the dimension of "time preference" (e.g., Fuchs, 1982). This factor is based on economic assumptions about the ways in which consumers assess the trade-offs between current costs and future benefits.

Individuals are assumed to differ in their evaluations of such trade-offs -- that is, in the extent to which they discount future gains and favor immediate rewards. This appears relevant to the social psychological literature on individual differences in delay of gratification (e.g., Funder, Block & Block, 1983; Funder & Harris, 1986; Mischel, 1984; Mischel, Shoda & Peake, 1988). It would be useful to know the relationship between these two personality factors, since individual differences in temporal orientation are certainly important to consumer behavior. One can imagine a time preference analysis being profitably applied to many types of consumer decisions (e.g., the willingness to assume long-term debts in exchange for goods that provide immediate gratification).

However, there are a number of potential difficulties with applying a time preference analysis to smoking behavior. According to Hornik, consumers' decisions to smoke or not to smoke are based in part on their comparative appraisals of the present gains associated with smoking ("immediate pleasure from a cigarette") and the future gains associated with not smoking (improved health). One of the difficulties with this analysis is that it assumes a consensus about the desirability of smoking. But does this apply to nonsmokers? It is hard to imagine that nonsmokers view themselves as foregoing immediate pleasures by choosing not to smoke. The act of smoking may in fact be quite unpleasant for these individuals. Thus, their abstinence may not imply a delay of gratification at all.

Another difficulty involves the postulate that 'an individual chooses an amount of smoking/nonsmoking behavior" based on a rational analysis of the trade-offs involved. The assumption here is that smoking is a volitional decision, much like selecting an investment plan or choosing a refrigerator. But this is certainly not the case for many individuals (heavy smokers), for whom smoking has become addictive. And even though heavy smokers may be more acutely aware of the future health gains that they are foregoing by continuing to smoke (particularly if they are beginning to suffer from bronchitis, emphysema, etc.), they are less free to act on those concerns than casual smokers are.

Despite these difficulties, time preference analyses can shed light on the determinants of some smoking behaviors. The assumptions discussed above are only problematic when using individuals' time orientation to try to predict the behaviors of certain groups. If, as in the case of the present study, the participants range from nonsmokers to heavy smokers, the relevance of these individuals' time preferences may be relatively minor. Thus, it is not surprising that, in this study, time preference accounted for only a 7% increment in the variance explained by demographic and psychographic variables alone.

With a different sample, the predictive power of a lime preference factor may emerge much more strongly. If the sample consisted of, say, "casual" smokers and ex-smokers, individual differences in time orientation may account for more of the variance in their smoking behavior. Also, among heavy smokers, time preferences may serve as good predictors of individuals' intentions to quit smoking. These possibilities are worth pursuing in future research on the role of time preferences in smoking behavior.

As Hornik points out, a better understanding of the temporal and lifestyle factors associated with smoking could benefit health promotion efforts. In that regard, one of the interesting aspects of the time preference factor is its straightforward implications for the design and targeting of anti-smoking campaigns. One implication is that, if individuals who choose to smoke tend to be highly present-oriented, campaigns directed at them may be more effective if they stress the present costs of smoking (e.g., shortness of breath, high price of cigarettes, social ostracism) rather than its future costs (impaired health). Similarly, messages stressing the immediate rewards involved in quitting (greater stamina, saving money, clean-smelling clothes and hair) may be more persuasive for these individuals than ads focusing on future gains (e.g., increased life expectancy). The persuasion implications of such individual differences are among the many interesting directions for future research emerging from this session.

REFERENCES

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Petty, R.E., Cacioppo, J.T., Haugtvedt, C.P. and Heesacker, M., (1986). Consequences of the route to persuasion: Persistence and resistance of attitude changes. Unpublished manuscript, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO.

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