An Instrument to Measure Consumer Self-Actualization

George Brooker, University of Wisconsin-Madison
[ to cite ]:
George Brooker (1975) ,"An Instrument to Measure Consumer Self-Actualization", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 563-576.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 563-576


George Brooker, University of Wisconsin-Madison

[The author gratefully acknowledges the Richard D. Irwin Foundation and the Vogelback Computer Center of Northwestern University for financial support of much of the research and analysis presented in this paper.]

[George Brooker is Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison.]

Development of a personality measure based on Maslow's concept of self-actualization and designed for use in consumer research studies is described and the test is presented. Reliability and validity tests for the measure are described. Results of the tests are presented to enable researchers to evaluate the potential of the measure as a research tool for their own work.

Personality has been a subject of interest to marketers for some time. In attempting to understand and explain consumer behavior, marketers frequently have turned to personality as a variable having great potential importance for these tasks.

Recent personality-oriented consumer studies most often have used general clinical personality inventories or activity-interest-opinion ("life-style") measures to assess the influence of personality on the relevant behavior. The former approach has been criticized repeatedly, with the criticisms often followed by a call to marketers to develop their own personality measures (e.g., Kassarjian, 1971, pp. 415-416). The use of life-style measures (which have been developed specifically for market-related studies) has helped add dimension and life to the paler demographic buyer-group differences often used in segmentation strategies. The major shortcoming of life-style research would appear to be the inadequacy of the present applications of life-style measures to advance or test theoretical personality formulations. This is not an unusual criticism of a highly practical personality research tool. [The problem of finding a test with both practical value and theoretical significance has been noted by Steiner (1966, p. 208).] The development of a theory of life-style would seem to be a desirable goal to guide future research of this type (Frank, Massy, and Wind, 1972, p. 61).

One alternative to the measurement strategies presented above would be to use an instrument specifically developed for market-related studies which also represents a theoretical personality formulation. Such an instrument would be useful for testing a theory of personality in an appropriate market situation. For example, the Horney interpersonal orientation paradigm (as operationalized in Cohen's CAD Scale [Cohen, 1967]) would seem to be a useful theory for research into social influence in the consumer decision making process.

Of the numerous personality theories which have been advanced, one which has attracted a great deal of attention and interest is that of Abraham Maslow (Maslow, 1970). His conceptualization of the hierarchy of needs and the self-actualizing individual seem especially relevant as societies develop past the point where the material needs of the population are satisfied and other needs become more prominent. [Lazer (1969) appears to have been referring to this theory of personality when he suggested a society which has had its material needs satisfied might then be free to seek higher need satisfactions. The increasing attention given to the problems of advancing societal causes probably is indicative of the feeling of many scholars that the age of affluence may soon be superseded by an era of empathy. See, for example: Kotler and Levy (1969); Kotler and Zaltman (1971); and Peters (1973).] It is Maslow's description of the self-actualizing personality which is used to develop the test described in this paper. This test represents a first attempt at development of a measure of consumer self-actualization.


The self-actualizing personality type combines several characteristics or traits. The self-actualizing person described by Maslow is a unique amalgam of hedonist and altruist, feeler and actor, detached and involved individual, judge of human nature and acceptor of human frailty. As embodied in a pure type, self-actualization, "...may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best they are capable Or doing..." (Maslow, 1970, p. 150).

Maslow's theory is based upon a hierarchy of needs in which physiological needs are at the base and self-actualization needs are at the upper boundary. These needs, in order from lowest to highest level, are:

Physiological needs

Safety needs

Belongingness and love needs

Esteem needs

Needs for self-actualization

According to the theory, satisfaction of lower level needs permits the needs at the higher levels to emerge, while unsatisfied lower level needs prevent the emergence of the higher level needs. The needs exist in a "hierarchy of prepotency," with the lower level needs being prepotent over the higher level needs. The needs which dominate (motivate) an individual at any point in time depend on the level of satisfaction attained for the other (lower level) needs.

As more of an individual's lower level needs are satisfied, they become less important in motivating behavior, and the individual becomes freer to seek satisfaction of the higher level needs. In Maslow's view, the freer the person is from lower level need motivation, the more closely that person approaches full psychological health and self-actualization. Sixteen character traits of self-actualizers have been identified by Maslow. The traits are presented, along with brief examples of how they might be operationalized, in Figure One. Further examples may be found in Maslow's text (Maslow, 1970).

It seems logical to assume that the more traits of a self-actualizer one possesses, the closer one comes to being self-actualizing for, with a single exception, no one trait is believed more or less important than another. The sole exception is the "peak experience" which is not necessary for psychological health; the absence of peak experiences does not prevent the individual from being self-actualizing. In fact, Maslow suggests the only difference between "peakers" and "nonpeakers" may be reflected in the life work they adopt (Maslow, 1970, p. 165). The other traits, in combination, sum to the potential of full psychological health or self-actualization.


Previous attempts to measure self-actualization or concepts based on theories related to self-actualization have taken several forms. In the study of consumer behavior, one such attempt at personality measurement utilizes the Q-sort technique (for an example, see Hamm and Cundiff, 1968). In theory, the technique establishes the psychological adjustment of the individual by comparison of a self-sort with an ideal-sort. Use of the Q-sort in consumer behavior has been criticized as being a measure of material well-being rather than self-actualization (Greeno, Sommers, and Kernan, 1973). The definition of self-actualization derived from the Q-sort methodology is not obviously related to Maslow's theory (Kassarjian, 1971, p. 413).



There have been no published reports of consumer behavior studies based on the need-level hierarchy. Attempts to measure need levels have beer. reported in studies of work situations, although there is some question regarding the ability of at least one of the measuring instruments to differentiate among Maslow's need levels (Roberts, Walter, and Miles, 1970; Payne, 1970; Lawler and Suttle, 1972). Scaling devices (Porter, 1961; Beer, 1966; Walsh, 1968; Goodman, 1968; Alderfer, 1969) and depth interviews (Hall and Nougaim, 1968) have been used with varying degrees of success in measuring need levels in managers and workers. Depth interviews would seem particularly difficult to use in large-scale consumer studies. Some modification of one of the need-level scales could be tried to make it suitable for a consumer behavior study.

Measures of self-actualization have been attempted through interviews (Bonjean and Vance, 1968), sentence completions (McKinney, 1967), and the Personal Orientation Inventory (Shostrom, 1964). Of these three types of measures, the Personal Orientation Inventory (POI) has been most widely tested and validated. It is a forced-choice type of scale containing 150 items. Within the POI there are two major scales and ten subscales, all of which are viewed as being partial measures of self-actualization. The notion of self-actualization which is tested is a composite of the views of Maslow, Fromm, Horney, Rogers, Riesman, and others, rather than a test of the views of one theorist. The length of the test would seem to make it awkward to use in many consumer behavior studies because of the possibility of respondent fatigue or boredom. The only study known (to this writer) to have employed the POI in exploring consumer behavior utilized students as respondents (Pasnak. 1968).

This brief review indicates a short consumer-related measure of self-actualization for use in consumer research would add to the tools presently available to measure self-actualization. In the following sections, the initial development of such a measure is described and several criteria for analysis are presented.


For the initial stage of test development, a set of more than 150 items in the form of pairs of statements was written to represent the descriptors Maslow used to picture self-actualizers. (Examples of some of these descriptors were presented in Figure One.) Each pair of statements contained a self-actualizing and a non-self-actualizing choice. Content of many of the items was directly related to consumer actions or feelings. Items were written for all traits except the "peak experience." The items were pretested for clarity, familiarity of wording, and the like. The self-actualizing direction of responses was confirmed by a panel of judges composed of four faculty members of the Psychology Department of Northwestern University.

A convenience sample (usable N = 319) responded to the items which were presented in a five-point, A vs. B format. (The sample was composed of 151 male and 168 female respondents. The mean age of the respondents was 30.6, with a range of 17-82 years.) Care was taken to prevent respondent fatigue becoming a possible source of bias by varying the order of item presentation. Response-set bias was partially controlled by varying the self-actualizing response between A and B items in the test.

Responses to the items were dichotomized into self-actualizing and nonself-actualizing dimensions. Items were selected for inclusion in the test based on classical item analysis, which calls for selection of those items having the highest item-test correlations. Because correlation of an item with a test containing that item would overestimate the relationship, the partial (corrected) correlation of the item-test total was used. An attempt was made to have a large number of traits of self-actualizers represented by items in the test which was developed. Since the items representing the traits have a face validity of independence, the possibility of having inflated item-total correlations caused by item homogeneity is reduced.

In the item selection process, two items were taken from those representing each trait to form a tentative measure. The inter-item correlation matrix and the (corrected) item-total correlations were examined to determine which items in the tentative measure should be replaced. Criteria for item replacement were failure to reach significant levels in the (corrected) item-total correlations and/or significant negative correlations with other items in the tentative measure. Items dropped from the measure were replaced by other items representing the same trait as long as others were available. Numerous combinations of items were tried before the final set of twenty items was selected. The test which was developed using this method is presented in Figure Two.


The test contains twenty items of the A vs. B variety. Scoring is done by assigning a value of one to each item receiving a self-actualizing response and zero to non-self-actualizing responses. Scores are summed over all items to produce a measurement index. Scores may range from zero to twenty. Distribution free or nonparametric methods are recommended for data analysis. Interval scaling of the test score differences is not assumed and would be exceedingly difficult to test.

For the sample drawn to develop the test, test scores ranged from two to nineteen, with a mode of ten and a median of 10.4. A Chi-square test was performed on the distribution of scores to see how closely the distribution approximated the normal curve. The test was not significant (Chi-square = 4.08, 5 d.f., p > .50) indicating the scores obtained were not different from a normal distribution.


Reliability was examined initially with a group of thirty MBA students (twenty-nine male, one female) enrolled at Northwestern University. A test-retest reliability figure of .57 (Spearman correlation, p < .01) was obtained with four weeks between test administrations. Because the conditions of test administration did not appear to be similar (the first was given during a regular class period, the second was given just prior to the final examination when responses might be expected to vary due to nervousness, etc.), reliability was re-examined at a later date. A more heterogeneous sample of twenty-four persons responded to the test with five weeks between the first and second administrations. (The test items for the first administration were "buried" among a number of similar items.) The Spearman correlation coefficient for reliability obtained (corrected for ties) with the second group was .67 (p < .01).




All personality measures should be subjected to tests which determine how useful the measures will be in helping researchers make judgments about sampled populations. The various validity tests to which the measures are subjected form a multidimensional "picture." It is from this series of portraits that the researcher forms an overall impression of the usefulness of a personality measure for the research purpose at hand. The validity types normally used to evaluate psychological measures are content validity, predictive validity, concurrent validity, and construct validity (American Psychological Association, 1954). Predictive and concurrent validity often are discussed as two forms of criterion-related validity.

Content Validity

Content validity refers to the adequacy with which the domain of the subject matter, such as consumer self-actualization, is sampled. The question of what an appropriate representation is from the universe of a psychological concept has not been resolved, and no rules have been specified for achieving proper representation (Robinson, Rusk, and Head, 1968, pp. 9-10). Proper sampling of content remains a problem in the development of psychological measures.

It would be impossible to represent every facet of self-actualization completely in a brief test. However, capturing a large number of the self-actualizer's traits in a test should be a good beginning toward an adequate portrayal of the concept. The test presented in Figure Two contains items from the sets written to match fourteen of the self-actualizer's traits identified by Maslow. Only the traits of peak experience and creativeness are missing.

Criterion-Related Validity

Concurrent and predictive validity testing require validating test scores against some criterion behavior. The difference in the two types of validity merely reflects the time at which the criterion measures are taken (American Psychological Association, 1954).

Concurrent validity Concurrent validity is examined by relating test scores to a criterion measure obtained at the same time responses to the test items are obtained. Often, studies of concurrent validity are addressed to the test's ability to discriminate between identifiable groups, such as the type of program in which a student respondent is enrolled. [For example, Cohen (1967) tested the CAD Scale on students enrolled in social welfare courses, business administration programs, and geology programs, finding students in each of these programs scored higher on the expected portion of the scale than did their peers in the other programs. Similarly, the social character scale for inner-other directedness (Kassarjian, 1962) was tested on student populations for concurrent validity.] The concept of self-actualization does not seem to lend itself readily to any such criterion. Maslow has suggested self-actualizers may be found in all types of work, making it difficult to validate the test against identifiable student groups, work groups, or the like. Concurrent validity may be tested using other criteria, however. One such criterion often used in marketing studies is consumer purchase behavior (Angelmar, Zaltman. and Pinson. 1972).

Based upon Maslow's theory, it was expected that self-actualizing consumers would be likely to buy products which serve society's interests and would take actions which would benefit others. The criterion measures studied, therefore, were purchase of products designed to minimize potential ecological damage to the environment and blood donation. In a study of detergent buyers, it was found that buyers of phosphate-free detergents (when compared with those who used no ecologically beneficial products) were likely (Chi-square test, p < .004) to be high scorers (with scores divided at the median) on the Consumer Self-Actualization Test (CSAT). This result was confirmed by reported behavior of two other respondent groups. In the group of detergent buyers, CSAT scores differentiated between those reporting use of lead-free gasoline and those reporting use of no ecologically beneficial products (Chi-square test, p < .003). In a study of blood donation, a slight tendency (Chi-square test, p < .11) was found for those reporting regular donations to be the higher CSAT scorers when compared with nondonors capable of blood donation.

Additional evidence of concurrent validity is found by examining the distribution of scores achieved by the population which was used for test development. No independent measure of concurrent validity was taken on the population, but there are two indirect indicators which may be used: differences in scores by sex and by age. White (1970) found a tendency for females to achieve higher scores than males on the Personal Orientation Inventory. A similar result was observed on scores for the CSAT, with females scoring higher than males at significant levels even when controlling for age (Chi-square test, p < .05 for both younger and older groups).

The second indicator is based on analysis of respondent scores by age group. It was Maslow's belief that, while young people might be growing toward psychological health, full self-actualization was possible only in older people (Maslow, 1970, p. 150). To test for age-score differences, the sample was dichotomized into those less than twenty-six years old, and those twenty-six and older. A Chi-square test was performed, and the result indicated older respondents tended to achieve higher scores than the younger respondents (p < .015). This result was confirmed, controlling for sex, by the Mann-Whitney U-test (p < .05, one-tailed test. for both males and females).

Predictive validity. Tests of predictive validity compare results obtained when predictions made from test scores are evaluated against a subsequent behavioral measure. No tests of predictive validity have been performed on this personality measure.

Construct Validity

Construct validity tests the psychological measure and hypotheses based on the psychological construct at the same time. Such tests may correlate the measure being evaluated with other psychological measures, or the tests may be based on operationalization of the concept as it is expressed in characteristics measured in an independent manner. That is, construct validity explores the psychological qualities measured by a test as they are expressed through separate confirmation of the presence of characteristics one would expect in individuals possessing the qualities believed to be gauged by the psychological measure being tested. It is through the latter validation procedure that construct validity has been tested with the CSAT.

The CSAT and a set of semantic differential scales for self-description were given to a convenience sample of twenty-four persons. (The group of people was evenly divided between males and females. The range in ages was twenty-one to fifty-four, with a mean of 34.6 years.) The CSAT and the self-descriptive semantic differential measure were separated by two other semantic differential scales in the test booklet. Scores on the CSAT were divided at the median, and t-tests were calculated for differences in means on the semantic differential items. A graph depicting the differences in means obtained is presented in Figure Three. (Several items have been reversed for the figure from the test procedure to improve visual interpretability.) Of the thirty-six semantic differential items, nine showed significant differences (at the .10 level) between high and low scorers on the CSAT. The picture presented by the high scorers on eight items (more relaxed, more outdoorsy, more secure, happier, more outgoing, more homebodyish, more natural, non-drinkers) seems to parallel Maslow's view of self-actualizers being generally psychologically healthy. It would not take a great stretch of the imagination to interpret the one apparent reversal in the significant differences (more unaware) as psychologically health, as well.




The reliability and validity studies reported here present several criteria by which researchers may evaluate the potential research value of the CSAT. It should be recalled that this is a first attempt at development of this personality measure, but even fairly crude devices can be useful in empirical research. Research by others using the CSAT would be helpful in providing further information on the measure's validity and directions for its improvement.


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