The Relationship of Age and Gender Subcultures to the Consumption of Rational and Arational Experiences

Elizabeth C. Hirschman, [Associate Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business, New York University, New York City] [Assistant Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business, New York University, New York City
Michael R. Solomon,
ABSTRACT - The present study uses a subjectivist perspective to examine the relationship of age and gender to the consumption of rational and arational experiences. Within this framework, we investigate the exposure of consumers of different ages and genders to various kinds of stimulation and their acquisition of alternative forms of experience. It was found that age is inversely related to the consumption of rational experiences and unrelated to the consumption of arational experiences. Female gender was found positively related to the consumption of arational experiences.
[ to cite ]:
Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Michael R. Solomon (1983) ,"The Relationship of Age and Gender Subcultures to the Consumption of Rational and Arational Experiences", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 334-338.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 334-338

THE RELATIONSHIP OF AGE AND GENDER SUBCULTURES TO THE CONSUMPTION OF RATIONAL AND ARATIONAL EXPERIENCES

Elizabeth C. Hirschman [Associate Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business, New York University, New York City]

Michael R. Solomon [Assistant Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business, New York University, New York City]

ABSTRACT -

The present study uses a subjectivist perspective to examine the relationship of age and gender to the consumption of rational and arational experiences. Within this framework, we investigate the exposure of consumers of different ages and genders to various kinds of stimulation and their acquisition of alternative forms of experience. It was found that age is inversely related to the consumption of rational experiences and unrelated to the consumption of arational experiences. Female gender was found positively related to the consumption of arational experiences.

INTRODUCTION

Age and gender are two of the most frequently used subcultural bases for segmentation in consumer research (cf. Engel, Blackwell, Kollat 1978; Zaltman and Wallendorf 1979). For example, studies of the youth market (e.g., Moschis and Churchill 1979) and of elderly consumers (Mason and Bearden 1979) are common. Similarly, several inquiries have addressed purchasing influence differences between male and female consumers (e.g., Davis 1971; Ferber and Lee 1974). Despite the lengthy and robust history of research into age and gender as determinants of consumers' behavior, however, few studies have explicitly examined the roles these two variables play in orientations toward the consumption of various types of experience.

Indeed, most research conducted on age and gender subcultural effects has been behaviorally focused and centered primarily around acts of purchasing (cf. Zaltman and Wallendorf 1979). In contrast, the present study uses a subjectivist perspective to examine the relationship of age and gender to the consumption of rational and arational experiences (Hirschman 1982; Hirschman and Holbrook 1983). Such inquiry proposes that consumption phenomena can be comprehended via self-described sensations and thoughts. These sensations and thoughts are viewed as constituting the content of the consumption experience for the consumer (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982: Holbrook and Hirschman 1982).

Within this framework, we examine the exposure of consumers of different ages and genders to various kinds of stimulation and their acquisition of alternative forms of experience. Stimulation is viewed here as having two types of content: cognitions and sensations (Hirschman 1982). Cognitions are defined to reference thoughts of a descriptive, comparative, or logico-deductive nature. Sensation refers to the activation of aural, visual, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and kinesthetic images and/ or receptors. Stimulation is further posited to arise from two major sources: (1) external (afferent) events --the outside environment, and (2) internal (efferent) events--the self. Hence, we may form a 2 X 2 matrix of stimulation as shown in the Exhibit.

Consumers are posited to seek out stimulation of varied levels from each cell of the matrix. For example, persons who seek out high levels of external cognitive stimulation traditionally have been termed information seekers (Thorell; Engledow and Becker 1975); those who generate high levels of internal cognitive stimulation have been termed philosophers or theorists (Russell 1945) those who seek out high levels of external sensory stimulation have been termed sensation seekers (Zuckerman 1979). Finally, those who generate high levels of internal sensory stimulation have been termed daydreamers, mystics, or autistic (Freud 1955; Singer 1978).

Experience

The summary result of acquiring stimulation is viewed as experience (Hirschman 1982). Thus experience is the product of stimulation--its residue, in effect. Although experiences may be classified as to stimulation source, e.g., externally acquired, and type, e.g., sensory, a more generalized metaphoric scheme can also be applied, which is derived from recent research on hemispheric lateralization (Hansen 1981). This research suggests that a gross dichotomy of experience may exist. First is the form of experience said to characterize the left hemisphere. Such experience is described as semantic, sequential, ordered, logico-deductive.analytical, and decompositional (Ornstein 1977). It consists of cause and effect comprehension and categorical reasoning--in brief, it is rational. In contrast is the form of experience said to be characteristic of the right hemisphere. Such experience is sensorial. intuitive, holistic, communal, and integrative (Ornstein 1977). It consists of feelings of union, and is mystical rather than scientific. In short, it is arational. [By this terminology we do not intend to place an evaluative aura over rational and arational experiences. Rational experiences are not necessarily better than arational ones; they simply have a different nature.] In the present research we do not imply that differences in hemispheric activity actually occur as a result of the type of experience being acquired, but rather refer to this dichotomy in a metaphoric sense.

Prior research has led to several expectations regarding the relationship of rational and arational experience consumption to age and gender. First, it has been found that age is inversely related to the seeking of internal and external cognitive stimulation (Cattell 1963). For example, Cattell found that fluid intelligence reached its peak in late adolescence and declined slowly thereafter. [Fluid intelligence is the intellectual ability to discern novel relationships between observed variables -- to comprehend new phenomena in a rational manner.] Because cognitive stimulation seeking should be positively related to the consumption of rational experiences (Hilgard 1979), we anticipated that age would display an inverse relationship to rational experience consumption. That is, younger persons will seek more cognitive stimulation from internal and external sources and, hence, will consume more rational experiences.

Similarly, Zuckerman (1979) has found that sensory stimulation seeking is highest during the individuals' late teens and early twenties, declining at a slow rate thereafter. Because sensory stimulation seeking should be positively related to the consumption of arational experiences (Hilgard 1979), we anticipated that age would be inversely related to arational experience consumption. That is, younger persons will seek more internal and external sensory stimulation, and hence, will consume more arational experiences.

Finally, it has been found that women may be somewhat more prone toward the acquisition of certain arational experiences, such as hypnotizability and imagination. Conversely men may be more prone toward the acquisition of certain rational experiences (Bowers and Bowers 1972). Further it has also been found that men exhibit a greater tendency to seek external sensory stimulation than do women (Zuckerman 1979).

These expectations are graphically depicted by the path model in Figure One. As shown, it is hypothesized that internal and external cognitive stimulation seeking are positively related to the consumption of rational experiences. Conversely, it is hypothesized that internal and external sensory stimulation seeking are positively related to the consumption of arational experiences. The diagram also indicates that age is posited to have an inverse relationship to all forms of stimulation seeking. Further, male gender is expected to be positively related to external sensory stimulation seeking and to the consumption of rational experiences. Conversely, female gender is expected to relate positively to the consumption of arational experiences.

CONSTRUCT OPERATIONALIZATION

Exogenous Variables: There were two exogenous variables in the model age and gender. In the present research each was operationalized in a direct fashion: Subjects were asked to record present age (in years) and gender (male or female). [One important characteristic of the above measures is that they assess chronological age and biological gender. As will be discussed later, more appropriate measures for both these constructs may be biological age and psychological gender.]

Mediating Variables. The four mediating variables in the model--internal/external cognitive and sensory stimulation seeking--were measured using a scale developed by Pearson (1970) termed the Novelty Experiencing Scale. This instrument consists of four subscales found to possess acceptable levels of internal consistency (overall KR-20 = .87) and which relate appropriately to existing scales, such as the Sensation Seeking Scale (Zuckerman 1979), Edwards Personality Inventory (Edwards 1966), and the Activities Index (Pearson 1970). Hence, the instrument was believed appropriate for our present purposes, since it effectively segregates the various types and sources of stimulation being examined.

Criterion Variables: The two criteria--rational and arational experiences--were operationalized using measures originated by Hilgard (1979) and subsequently modified by Swanson (1978). The measure of rational experience consumption consisted of a written description asserting that the content of the experience consumed during a particular activity was generally of a cause-and-effect nature. The exact description was:

Interested in cause and effect. Want to see how it develops; like to analyze the way it's put together and why it comes out as it does--whether it seems right and and makes sense; like to learn something about causes and effects.

This description could be applied to fourteen different activities. [Attending a musical performance or concert; watching dancing, e.g., ballet, disco; observing a sport/athletic event; eating a meal; driving a car; reading a novel or story; playing or singing music; watching a movie; watching a play; watching a show on TV; in religious services; in encounters with nature; in dancing; and while participating in sports/athletics.] The subject was asked to indicate each activity which usually provided this form of experience to him/her. Scores could potentially range from 0 to 14; the actual range was from 0 to 8. The mean of the measure was 3.9; the s.d. was 2.66.

The measure of arational experience consumption was structured in an analogous fashion. It consisted of a description concerning what have been termed absorbing experiences (Swanson 1978). Such experiences cause the individual to transcend his/her personal boundaries and merge with an external event Thus, they may be classified as holistic, integrative, and mystical, in that they induce union with external reality (Tellegen and Atkinson 1974). The exact description was:

Involved in the experience. I'm carried off into it; feel as if I were part-of it; feel deeply all that happens; sort of "give myself up" to it; may carry the experience around for a time

This description could be applied to the same fourteen activities as for rational experiences. The actual range of scores was from 1 to 11 The mean was 6.33, and the s.d. was 3.27.

SAMPLE

The sample consisted of 162 adult consumers (over age 18) who responded to a structured, written questionnaire. Data were gathered by administering questionnaires to students enrolled in undergraduate consumer behavior classes. In partial fulfillment of course requirements, students were asked to complete one questionnaire and to have four other individuals who were not students complete questionnaires, as well. The returned questionnaires were carefully checked for "nonsense" answers, systematic response patterns and other obvious signs of deliberate falsification. In only two instances was suggestive evidence for discarding a questionnaire encountered. The resulting sample possessed a diverse array of ethnic groups, marital statuses, ages, and occupations. However, because it was obtained from among college students and their social contacts, it is somewhat high in educational attainment. The mean age of the sample was 29 years with a range of 18 to 76 years; mean education was 16 years with a range of 11 to 24 years. There were 84 females in the sample, and 78 males.

ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

Product-moment correlations among the various constructs are provided in the T able. To estimate the proposed model (Figure One), path coefficients were obtained using the Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) procedure . Due to multicollinearity within the mediating variable set and between the two experiential criteria (see the Table), path coefficients were estimated separately for each mediator and each criterion. Age and gender were incorporated as exogenous variables in every analysis. This required the estimation of eight discrete models, each of which was parameterized using OLS to obtain the direct and indirect path coefficients . The results are depicted graphically in Figure 2 (rational experience consumption and Figure 3 (arational experience consumption).

Rational Experience Consumption

Let us first examine the path models concerning rational experiences, using the data in Figure 2. Since the two exogenous variables--age and gender Ration their direct path coefficients to each mediating variable are equivalent to the zero-order correlation coefficient reported in the Table. As anticipated, age was consistently negatively related to all forms of stimulation seeking. However, in the case of external cognitive stimulation seeking, this relationship was not significant (r=-.04, p .10). Age also exhibited a significant path to rational experience acquisition, even after the mediating effects of sensory and cognitive stimulation seeking had been accounted for. Path coefficients ranged from -.24 to -.28, indicating that age is consistently inversely related to the acquisition of rational experiences, regardless of the level, type, or source of stimulation seeking engaged in by the subject. This was a novel finding to the authors' knowledge, and one that suggests important implications for future research.

The conclusion that younger persons acquire more rational experiences than older persons, as suggested by the present data, must be tempered by two caveats. First, the age range in the present sample extended from 18 to 76 years; hence adolescents and young children were not represented. It would thus be inappropriate to conclude that a similar relationship between age and rational experience consumption would necessarily be found for persons younger than those in our sample. In fact, given what is currently known regarding children's reasoning processes, it is possible to speculate that a curvilinear relationship may be present, which peaks in late adolescence and declines gradually thereafter (Flavell 1977).

A second caveat, which must always be stated when drawing conclusions about age-related phenomena in cross-sectional studies, is that the design does not permit us to rule out the possibility of age-cohort socialization differences (Willerman 1979). That is, the observed age effect may not be due to physiological factors related to the aging process, but rather to differences in the values, attitudes, and social activities characterizing persons of the various ages represented in our sample. Future studies using longitudinal designs are required to eliminate this causal ambiguity (Willerman 1979).

The data in Figure 2 indicate that gender exhibited no effect upon rational experience consumption, when the intervening stimulation variables were controlled. [Note that gender was also uncorrelated with rational experience acquisition on a zero-order (direct path) basis.] This was contrary to the anticipated positive relationship between male gender and rational experiences. Female gender was, however, found to be negatively associated with both forms of external stimulation seeking (i.e., cognitive and sensory), indicating that males were more likely to seek out external stimulation.

An interesting and somewhat unanticipated pattern emerged when the paths between the four mediating constructs and rational experience consumption were examined. First, both types of external stimulation seeking (cognitive and sensory) were found to be positively related-to the consumption of rational experiences. It had been anticipated that only external cognitive stimulation seeking would exhibit this effect. Further internal cognitive stimulation seeking, which was posited to have a significant positive relationship to rational experience consumption, exhibited a relatively weaker positive path coefficient. This suggested that the acquisition of rational experiences, as measured in this research, appears to be more a function of external stimulation seeking (i.e , a source effect), rather than a result of high levels of cognitive stimulation seeking (i.e., a type effect). This finding, too, was novel and warrants further inquiry.

Arational Experience Consumption

Turning now to arational experiences, let us examine the data in Figure 3. A markedly different set of results was obtained for this criterion, suggesting the possibility of nonanalogous causal structures for the consumption of arational and rational experiences. A first observation was that age was unrelated to arational experience consumption in all four models, in contrast to its consistent inverse relationship to rational experience consumption. [There was little correlation between age and this criterion on a zero-order basis (r = -.02).] This finding is contrary to that found in studies of two other types of arational experience -hypnotic susceptibility and imagination (Hilgard 1979). The validity of the present finding, therefore, needs to be further explored via replication.

It was anticipated that female gender would be positively related to the consumption of arational experiences, but as shown in the Table, the zero-order correlation between female gender and arational experiences was only weakly positive (r = .06, p >.10) However, the results for external cognitive and external sensory stimulation seeking in Figure 3 provide intriguing evidence of a potential suppressor effect for these two variables, which may mask an underlying stronger positive relationship between female gender and arational experiences. Once the effects of external stimulation seeking have been controlled, the path between female gender and arational experience consumption rises to r = .09 for the external cognitive stimulation seeking model and to r = .11 for the external sensory stimulation seeking model.

Although these shifts are quite modest, they support a subtle and insightful thesis advanced by Bowers and Bowers (1972). After reviewing the literature on primary and secondary process thinking (which are similar in several respects to arational and rational experiences), they concluded that men consumed arational experiences via impulsive and emotional acts upon the external environment. Conversely, women consumed arational experiences via receptive involvement with their own thoughts or by letting certain kinds of external events happen to them.

If we interpret external sensory and cognitive stimulation seeking as representing the male path to arational experience consumption, whereas the suppression of these behaviors constitutes the female path to arational experience consumption, then we have a good fit to the present data and conceptual congruence with the thesis expressed by Bowers and Bowers (1972). Male gender was in both cases positively related to external cognitive and sensory stimulation seeking which, in turn, were positively related to arational experience consumption. Female gender, conversely, was negatively related to external cognitive and sensory stimulation seeking and more positively related to arational experience consumption once their effects were controlled. This result, if replicated, suggests the need for novel research inquiries regarding the source(s) of this gender effect upon arational experience consumption. For example, do physiological differences between males and females account for this incongruence, or is it more attributable to psychological factors such as sex role socialization? Recent research on sex role socialization, androgyny, and cognitive processes (Antill and Cunningham 1982) suggests that psychological, rather than physiological, gender differences may be the stronger of the two sources.

CONCLUSIONS

This study examined the relationship of age and gender to the consumption of rational and arational experiences, as mediated by cognitive and sensory stimulation seeking of internal and external origin. Age was found to have a consistently inverse relationship to the consumption of rational experiences, regardless of the level, type, or source of stimulation sought. Further, age was found negatively related to all forms of stimulation seeking investigated Thus within the parameters of the present sample, younger persons appear to consume more rational experiences and seek more stimulation from various sources, than do older persons. Further, the consumption of rational experiences appears to be more a function of external stimulation seeking, than a function of cognitive stimulation seeking.

Females were found less likely than males to seek stimulation from external sources. Further, once external stimulation seeking among females had been statistically controlled, a marginally stronger positive relationship was found between female gender and the consumption of arational experiences. This suggested that men may acquire arational experiences through stimulation seeking in the external environment, whereas women may acquire arational experiences via the suppression of external stimulation seeking Additional research into the physiological and/or psychological basis of these findings is required

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EXHIBIT

TYPES OF STIMULATION

FIGURE ONE

PROPOSED STRUCTURE

TABLE

CONSTRUCT INTERCORRELATIONS

FIGURE TWO

OBTAINED PATH MODELS FOR RATIONAL EXPERIENCES

FIGURE THREE

OBTAINED PATH MODELS FOR ARATIONAL EXPERIENCES

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