The Use of Seals of Approval in Consumer Decision-Making As a Function of Cognitive Needs and Style

Thomas L. Parkinson, University of Delaware
[ to cite ]:
Thomas L. Parkinson (1975) ,"The Use of Seals of Approval in Consumer Decision-Making As a Function of Cognitive Needs and Style", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 133-140.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 133-140

THE USE OF SEALS OF APPROVAL IN CONSUMER DECISION-MAKING AS A FUNCTION OF COGNITIVE NEEDS AND STYLE

Thomas L. Parkinson, University of Delaware

[Thomas L. Parkinson is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the University of Delaware.]

The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of two individual-difference variables, cognitive style and need for cognitive clarity, on the use of seals of approval in a consumer decision-making situation. Specifically, it is hypothesized that the use of seals as informational sources will be positively related to the individual's need for cognitive clarity, and that the Kelman-Cohler (1959) hypothesis concerning the interaction of cognitive needs and style will be in evidence.

To test these hypotheses a simulated shopping experiment was designed and administered to 198 adult female residents of Northern Delaware. During the course of this experiment each subject was asked to "purchase" four common household products from an array of unfamiliar but similar brands, some of which had a seal of approval and some of which did not. The choices made during the shopping experiment were then evaluated relative to the cognitive needs and styles of the subjects, and the hypotheses were supported.

The consumer decision process may be viewed primarily as being a problem solving activity involving the acquisition, processing, and transmission of information. During the decision-making process the consumer is exposed to informational cues from both personal and impersonal sources, each of which in turn may be classified as either advocative or independent depending on their predilection (Andreasen, 1965). Research finding concerning the role played by advocate personal sources (primarily salesmen), advocate impersonal sources (primarily advertisements), and personal independent sources (family, friends, and associates) in the consumer decision process, while not ample, may be found in the marketing literature. Included in this research are a number of studies which examine the influence of such individual-difference variables as cognitive needs and style on consumers' acquisition and use of information from these sources.

However, published research concerning the role of impersonal independent sources (neutral) of information has been largely limited to studies of the role of Consumer Reports (Beem, 1951; Beem and Ewing, 1954; Hempel, 1966; Sargent, 1959). Until recently, there has been virtually no published academic research, and only a limited amount of governmental and proprietary research concerning the role played by seals of approval in the consumer decision-making process (See Parkinson, 1972, pp. 4-24). Moreover, with the exception of a brief exploratory study by Cox (1967), there has been no research concerning the influence of various individual-difference variables on information acquisition from neutral sources.

It is the purpose of this study to investigate the influence of two individual-difference variables, cognitive style and need for cognitive clarity, on the use of seals of approval in a consumer decision-making situation.

Cognitive Needs and Style

The results of Cox's (1967) study of the information handling of two consumers, and his follow-up study concerning information handling in making product evaluations (Cox, 1967a), suggest that the individual-difference variables, cognitive style and need for cognitive clarity are related to consumer information processing. Need for cognitive clarity can be considered a measure of the individual's need for certainty. Cognitive style refers to an individual's characteristic mode of resolving cognitive unclarity or uncertainty. Two types of cognitive style have been identified. One type, "clarifiers," have been found to react to unclarity by seeking new information and understanding. The other type, "simplifiers," attempt to reduce uncertainty by avoiding incongruous information thus simplifying their environment (Kelman and Cohler, 1959). Based on his initial findings, Cox (1967a) further investigated the effect of these variables on information handling, and found that consumers with a high need for cognitive clarity (certainty) were more likely to utilize available information when evaluating products. He was unsuccessful, however, in reconfirming the Kelman and Cohler result which attributes a reduced role to cognitive style when the need for certainty is low. However, Cox did observe this result in his exploratory research.

Based on these findings, the following hypotheses can be formulated:

1. In a consumer decision-making situation, the use of seals of approval as informational sources will be positively related to the individual's need for cognitive clarity.

2. In a consumer decision-making situation, the effect of cognitive stole on the use of seals of approval as informational sources will be related to the individual's need for cognitive clarity as follows:

a. When need for cognitive clarity is high, cognitive style will have an effect on the use of seals with clarifiers making greater use of them than simplifiers.

b. When need for cognitive clarity is low, cognitive stole will have no effect on the use of seals.

METHODOLOGY

The two hypotheses were evaluated by means of a simulated shopping experiment. During the course of this experiment each subject was asked to "purchase" four common household products (an appliance, a dishwashing detergent, a child's undershirt, and a steak) from an array of unfamiliar but similar brands, some of which had a seal of approval and some of which did not.

The subjects taking part in the experiment were female adults drawn from a number of civic and church organizations in Northern Delaware which were selected with the objective of obtaining a representative cross-section of the population. The subjects were told,through their leaders, only that they would be participating in a marketing study. In return for their cooperation, the groups were paid $1.50 per participating member. In all, 198 subjects successfully completed the data gathering procedure.

Measures

Use of seals and certifications as information sources. Since the consumer decision-making experiment involved the choice between similar products with and without various types of seals or certifications, the selection of a product bearing a seal or certification was interpreted as evidence that the individual had used the information provided by the symbol in making her decision. The validity of this interpretation was substantiated by means of a post-decision question concerning the reasons for the choices. This post-decision measure asked the subjects to indicate in their own words the reason for their selections during the experiment. In over 86% of the instances in which a seal-bearing product was selected, the presence of the symbol was given as the reason for the choice.

Cognitive style. Each subject was classified as either a "clarifier" or a "simplifier" based on her responses on the twelve item "Statements of Personal Preference Test" utilized by Cox (1967a). This measure consisted of a series of statements such as, "There is more than one right way to do anything" with which the subjects were asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed.

Need for certainty. Need for certainty was determined for each subject based on her responses to the eight item "Situational Response Test" previously used by Cox (1967a). This measure consisted of a series of statements concerning incidents involving cognitive uncertainty and the subjects were asked to indicate how frequently they would act in this manner. For example:

X is on a motor trip through the country. As evening approaches he finds himself in an unfamiliar area, lost and without maps or other guidance. He also finds that he is becoming terribly hungry. He decides to eat first and worry about finding his way later. You would act this way:

Always _ Often _ Sometimes _ Once in a while _ Never _

Procedure

The research was conducted in a number of church, civic, and university meeting halls in and around Newark, Delaware. The simulated shopping experiment was set up on a large table separated into four decision stations by a divider. At each decision station four brands of each product were displayed. In the cases of all products but the steaks, the brands included were comparable private label merchandise from outside of the Delaware Valley. Each brand was identified by a letter from A to P which appeared on small cards placed in front of each position. Three of the four brands at each decision station had one of the three seals shown in Table 1 while the fourth had no seal at all. Each seal thus appeared only once to each subject. Furthermore, the brand-seal combinations, and the positions of the products on the table were rotated throughout the experiment to minimize any interaction effect due to these factors.

TABLE 1

SEALS INCORPORATED IN THE CHOICE EXPERIMENT BY PRODUCT CATEGORY

The subjects participated in the shopping experiment in groups of four. Following the verbal instructions of the experimenter, they were first asked to position themselves in front of one of the four decision stations, to inspect the products without touching them, to decide which one they would purchase, and then to mark their selection on the form provided. Then they were instructed to move clockwise around the table to the next decision station and to repeat the procedure for the next group of products. This process was repeated until the subjects had each made four "purchases."

Upon completion of the experiment, the subjects were asked to immediately sit down in an adjacent classroom area and to indicate on the bottom of their choice form the reasons for their selections. When this form had been completed, the subjects were asked to complete the cognitive style and need for certainty measures, and were excused.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

In order to test the hypotheses, the subjects were first cross-classified with respect to their cognitive styles and need for cognitive clarity. A median split of the scores on the eight item "Situational Response Test" was made and each subject was classified as being either "high" (high scores) or "low" (low scores) in need for cognitive clarity. Then the subjects were classified with respect to their cognitive style based on their responses on the twelve item "Statements of Personal Preference Test." Again a median split of the scores was made with low scorers being classified as "simplifiers" and high scorers as "clarifiers."

Once the subjects were cross-classified in this manner, mean use scores for the subjects in each cell were calculated based on the number of seal-bearing products selected during the simulated shopping experiment and are shown in Table 2. Then using the same two-way classification, an analysis of variance with unequal cell sizes was carried out and the results are shown in Table 3.

TABLE 2

COMPARISON OF USE SCORED AS A FUNCTION OF COGNITIVE NEEDS AND STYLES

TABLE 3

ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE RESULTS: USE SCORES AS A FUNCTION OF COGNITIVE NEEDS AND STYLE

Results. Hypothesis 1 which examines the relationship between the subjects' use of seals of approval and their need for cognitive clarity is supported by the results of the analysis of variance. The variation in use scores resulting from differences in the subjects' need for cognitive clarity results in an F-ratio (12.44) which is significant at the .05 level. This result coupled with comparison of the mean use scores shown in the right hand column of Table 2, indicates that those subjects who indicated a high need for cognitive clarity made significantly greater use of seals and certification as informational sources than those low in this need, and Hypothesis 1 is therefore supported.

Hypothesis 2a and 2b can be evaluated by comparing the mean use scores in the center of Table 2. These results,coupled with the significant interaction indicated by the analysis of variance, give support to both of the hypotheses. As hypothesized,when the need for cognitive clarity among the subjects is high, cognitive style has a significant effect on the use of seals and certifications as informational sources with clarifiers using them more. Therefore, Hypothesis 2a stands supported.

On the other hand, when the need for cognitive clarity is low, there is little difference in use scores relative to cognitive style and therefore, Hypothesis 2b concerning the role of cognitive style when need for cognitive clarity is low is also supported.

Discussion. These results basically confirm the Kelman-Cohler hypothesis concerning the interaction of cognitive needs and style in affecting the way people handle an ambiguous situation such as the choice experiment. It appears, even in the present experimental situation, cognitive clarifiers tend to utilize available informational cues and to act accordingly, whereas individuals who are classified as simplifiers tended to avoid this information. This effect seems to take place, however, only when the need for cognitive clarity is high; When this is not the case, the importance of dealing with the ambiguity is lower and cognitive style appears to play a reduced role.

IMPLICATIONS

The findings of this study that the use of seals of approval as informational sources in consumer decision-making is influenced by individual personality traits such as need for certainty and cognitive style would appear to have some limited implications for marketing strategy. Marketing managers should be aware that individuals with these personality characteristics will be more susceptible to influence by the presence of a seal or certification on a product than others. Therefore, when research exists concerning the presence of these personality characteristics in a particular target market that is of interest, marketing managers should give serious consideration to the incorporation of seals or certifications into the promotional mix for their product. However, identification of these individual traits in various market segments is difficult, and therefore, these findings may be difficult to operationalize.

REFERENCES

Andreasen, Alan R. Attitudes and consumer behavior: A decision model. In Lee E. Preston (Ed.), New research in marketing. Berkeley, California: Institute of Business and Economic Research, University of California, 1965.

Beem, Eugene. Consumer-financed testing agencies. Journal of Marketing, 1951, 16, 272-285.

Beem, Eugene, & Ewing, John. Business appraises consumer testing agencies. Harvard Business Review, 1954, 32, 113-126.

Cox, Donald. The influence of cognitive needs and style on information handling in making product evaluations. In Donald Cox (Ed.), Risk taking and information handling in consumer behavior. Boston: Division of Research, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, 1967.

Cox, Donald. Risk handling in consumer behavior--An intensive study of two cases. In Donald Cox (Ed.), Risk taking and information handling in consumer behavior. Boston: Division of Research, Graduate School of Business Administration. Harvard UniversitY, 1967. (a)

Hempel, Donald. An experimental study of the effects of information on consumer product evaluation. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Minnesota) Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1966. No. 66-12208.

Kelman, H. C., & Cohler, J. Reaction to persuasive communications as a function of cognitive needs and style. Paper presented at the meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Atlantic City, 1959.

Parkinson, Thomas L. A study of seals and certifications of approval and their role in consumer information processing. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Massachusetts) Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1973 No. 73-6697.

Sargent, Hugh. Consumer-product rating publications and buying behavior. University of Illinois Bulletin, 1959, 57, No. 31.

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