Recognition Memory For Script Activities: an Energy Conservation Application

Lorne Bozinoff, Bell Canada
Victor J. Roth, University of Toronto
ABSTRACT - The automatic nature of some types of information processing is examined and explained in terms of script theory. The empirical evidence concerning scripts is reviewed and an application in the area of energy conservation is suggested. An empirical study based on script theory yielded four findings. First, in a memory recognition task, mentioned activities are confused with unmentioned activities. Second, uncommon activities are more accurately recognized than very common activities. Third, memory recognition for energy related activities is only marginally related to energy conservation attitudes And fourth, memory recognition for energy related activities is not related to self-reported energy use patterns.
[ to cite ]:
Lorne Bozinoff and Victor J. Roth (1983) ,"Recognition Memory For Script Activities: an Energy Conservation Application", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 655-660.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 655-660

RECOGNITION MEMORY FOR SCRIPT ACTIVITIES: AN ENERGY CONSERVATION APPLICATION

Lorne Bozinoff, Bell Canada

Victor J. Roth, University of Toronto

[This research was supported by the Center for Research, College of Business Administration, The Pennsylvania State University.]

ABSTRACT -

The automatic nature of some types of information processing is examined and explained in terms of script theory. The empirical evidence concerning scripts is reviewed and an application in the area of energy conservation is suggested. An empirical study based on script theory yielded four findings. First, in a memory recognition task, mentioned activities are confused with unmentioned activities. Second, uncommon activities are more accurately recognized than very common activities. Third, memory recognition for energy related activities is only marginally related to energy conservation attitudes And fourth, memory recognition for energy related activities is not related to self-reported energy use patterns.

INTRODUCTION

It has long been held that the amount of information processing undertaken by consumers varies across product classes. Consumers in the process of buying either a new or expensive product are hypothesized to engage in more information processing than consumers who are engaged in the process of buying an inexpensive, frequently purchased good. For example, there is evidence that as the price or the product increases, the extent of information search increases (Dommermuth, 1965). In contrast, it is posited that for frequently purchased consumer goods, little information processing will occur. In such instances, brand loyalty and routine response behavior (RRB) are likely to occur (Howard, 1977). Taken in the extreme, this type of behavior may tend to be unconscious and similar to a habit.

Routine or unconscious behavior appears to run counter to the more conscious extended problem solving (EPS) behavior studied by most consumer researchers (Howard, 1977). Although conscious decision making behavior is more widely studied than unconscious behavior, ironically, people are far more likely to engage in unconscious behavior than conscious behavior (Lachman, Lachman and Butterfield, 1979, p. 207). A key issue then is how RRB can be explained within a more consciously oriented information processing paradigm.

SCRIPT THEORY

A common meeting ground can be found in the notion of scripts (Abelson, 1980; Shank and Abelson, 1977; Shank, 1980). According to most current theories of cognitive structure, knowledge is stored in long term memory (LTM) as schemata (Lindsay and Norman, 1973). Schemata are the large sets of well structured cognitions that have been learned over time as experience accumulates (Norman and Bobrow, 1975). A schemata consists of a framework for organizing the information about a concept into a meaningful structure. A script can be thought of as a temporally ordered schema. That is, a script is a knowledge structure stored in LTM which contains a sequential ordering Specifically, scripts contain a series of actions, each arranged in terms of temporal order hence the name "scripts." The most commonly cited script is the RESTAURANT script (Abelson, 1980). The RESTAURANT script contains a series of actions which are expected to occur when one goes to a restaurant, e g., talking to the hostess, being shown to a table, reading the wine list and so forth. A restaurant schema on the other hand would not contain the information that these actions are expected to occur in a distinct temporal order.

Scripts which have been stored in memory are used to direct behavior when activated. Activation is believed to occur automatically by the situational context. When one enters a restaurant, the RESTAURANT script will be activated and thus begin to guide behavior. On the other hand, when one enters a dentist's office, the DENTAL VISIT script becomes activated. It might contain such actions as checking in with the receptionist, sitting down, waiting, looking at other people, reading magazines and so forth. An activated script will result in automatic or routine response behavior because while the script is initially developed or constructed in a conscious learning context, once learned, no new conscious effort is required. The situation acts as a cue to automatically trigger the appropriate script. Using a computer analogy, the script would be like a stored subroutine called by the central processor from time to time.

Scripts are inherently useful because of their ability to conserve the individual's limited information processing capacity. By retaining actions or procedures learned from previous situations, new actions need not be learned for new, but relatively similar, situations. The RESTAURANT script saves the consumer the trouble of deciding what should be done or what is expected upon entering a different restaurant. This information is already available in LTM in the form of scripts.

A script need not specify all the actions in complete detail. As Abelson (1980) notes, "free behaviors" may be allowed to occur in certain scripts. For example, the DENTAL VISIT script may prescribe all the actions up until sitting in the dentist's chair. However, the course of the conversation between the patient and the dentist may not be scripted - any subject of conversation may be permitted. At this point, the script temporarily ceases to guide behavior which is now directed by more conscious processes. Once the conversation with the dentist has ended, the script is activated again. In terms of a computer analogy, this is similar to a subroutine which returns control of the program back to the main part of the program and then is called again by the main program at some later point.

Scripts may also differ in terms of strength. Strong scripts are very explicit and contain a great number of 'scene" constraints. That is, these scripts specify many actions or scenes which must occur. Weak scripts are vague and have fewer scene constraints. These scripts contain many scenes which do not have high probabilities of occurring. For example, a strong RESTAURANT script would always include a hostess but a weak script would not.

EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE OF SCRIPTS

Most research concerning the nature of scripts is very recent. However, there is also some older evidence. Bartlett (1932), for example, found that subjects when given stories to memorize tended to change the stories so that they conformed more to their own ideas or scripts. Brandsford, Barclay and Franks (1972) found that subjects in a memory task tend to "construct semantic descriptions of situations" rather than to remember the details of information presented. Baggett (1975) found also that subjects tend to fill in missing details in a memory task in order to form a coherent story. In all of these studies the implication is clear that subjects can and do draw upon their own scripts to fill in missing details of stories, and that they tend to store these stories in the form of scripts.

More recently, Bower, Black and Turner (1979) conducted a series of studies on scripts. They found five significant results concerning scripts. First, they showed that there are script norms. That is, when asked to describe familiar activities, subjects tend to write similar descriptions. The subjects tended to use the same characters, props, actions and order of events.

Second, subjects tended to agree on how a series of action sequences should be grouped into segments or "scenes." Third, in a recall task, subjects tended to confuse stated actions with unstated actions implied by a script. Fourth, they found that given a series of actions scrambled out of order, subjects tended to use a common "natural" or "canonical" order in unscrambling the actions.

Finally, it was shown that subjects tended to remember exceptional actions rather than scripted actions. This finding has been replicated in other studies (e.g., Graesser, Gordon and Sawyer, 1979; Graesser, Woll, Kowalski and Smith, 1980) and is very important because it is direct evidence of the automatic nature of scripts. Subjects do not tend to notice or be conscious of scripted activities. Thus the use of scripts tends to be automatic. However, it was shown that subjects can consciously draw upon their scripts when asked to describe familiar activities. The net result is an automatic process--the initial development of scripts is conscious but over time, through over-learning, the use of scripts becomes automatic.

AN APPLICATION OF SCRIPT THEORY: ENERGY CONSERVATION

Energy consumption can be viewed from a "scripts" perspective. The use of energy in some situations has become so routine that it is possible that energy use actions have become parts of strong scripts. For example, a consumer may have, at one point in time, decided that the best method of traveling to work each day was by private automobile. Once the consumer has purchased an automobile, he will seldom reconsider his daily use of the automobile for commuting purposes His continued automobile usage is now a matter of automatic or script-directed behavior. Little additional information processing will occur in this context. A commuter going to work may have a GOING TO WORK script which contains such activities as 'getting into a car,' 'driving to work alone' and 'parking the car.' It may not contain activities like 'turning off all the lights' and 'turning down the heat.' This script will be triggered by certain early morning cues such as the time of day and day of the week.

This does not mean that energy usage is totally automatic. If questioned directly, the consumer could report his use of the automobile each morning. Rather, his behavior is script-directed. The initial behavior was conscious but over time a GOING TO WORK script has been constructed and stored in LTM. It is this script which now guides behavior When the appropriate early morning situational cues are present, this script becomes activated and pre-empts any conscious consideration of how to get to the office.

Script-directed energy use may explain why several attempts to reduce consumers' energy consumption have failed. For example, McClelland and Cook (1980) tried to reduce energy use by providing monetary rebates to consumers every two weeks. The amount of the rebate was determined by the amount of energy saved. It was found that the rebate plan did not significantly reduce energy consumption. In a similar study, Winett, Kagel, Battalis and Winkler (1978) found that neither monetary rewards nor energy use feedback information reduced energy consumption to any great extent. The failure of monetary incentives to affect energy consumption may be due to the fact that if energy use is script-directed, then incentives must be provided at the time that the energy scripts are being activated. A monthly electric bill rebate will not be effective in getting consumers to turn down the heat each morning if this action is not in the GOING TO WORK script. Again, scripts are activated automatically depending upon the situational context. The finding that consumers do not actively seek energy information when buying appliances indicates that a 'get energy information' action is not in consumers' BUYING APPLIANCE scripts.

Script theory has recently been appLied to energy conservation research. Bozinoff (1982) found three significant results concerning energy related scripts. First, it was shown that there are energy use script norms. That is, subjects tended to list similar energy use activities in their scripts. Second, the reliability of scripts was shown to be moderately high. And third, script generated energy use activities were not found to be related to self-report measures of energy use.

RESEARCH PURPOSE

The study described below serves only as an initial, explanatory investigation of the automatic nature of scripts. The purpose of this study is to answer four questions concerning the recognition memory for script activities. First, in a memory recognition task, do consumers tend to confuse stated activities with unstated activities implied by a script? Second, do consumers tend to more accurately recognize very common or uncommon activities in a script? Third, do consumers who claim to be interested in energy conservation have a better recognition memory for energy related activities than consumers who claim to be less interested in energy conservation? And fourth, is self-reported energy use related to recognition memory for energy related activities?

METHOD

Subjects

Thirty-six subjects were recruited from two undergraduate marketing management classes. During regular class time, students were asked to participate in the study. Participation was voluntary, although all of the students agreed to participate. Approximately 60/o of the sample were males. A convenience sample of students is defensible since the principal aim of the present research is exploratory in nature. In addition, Kruglanski (1975) has argued that homogeneous samples (such as students in particular classes at a given institution) are appropriate for theory-oriented research where individual differences are not of theoretical interest.

Measurement Instrument

The subjects were asked to read three short stories entitled Jack Goes to Class, Jill Makes a Thanksgiving Dinner and Jack's Day at the Office. The activities in these stories were obtained by having a second sample of forty-three subjects (i.e., students in two other marketing classes) generate scripts for these stories utilizing the script generation procedure developed by Bower, Black and Turner (1979). This procedure yielded a list of script activities which were appropriate for each story. Each story then included some very common (VC) script activities (i.e., script activities listed by at least 75% of the subjects in the second sample), common (C) script activities (i.e., script activities listed by 50% to 75% of the subjects in the second sample) and uncommon (UC) script activities (i.e., script activities listed by 25% to 50% of the subjects in the second sample). In addition, a number of VC, C and UC script activities were deliberately not mentioned in the stories. These stories were chosen because it was possible to include a number of energy related script activities in then. For example, the Jack's Day at the Office story included such energy related script activities as 'driving to work' and 'using an elevator to get to the office'

After reading the three stories, the subjects were given a ten minute distractor task. The subjects were then given a script activity recognition test. For each script activity, the subjects were asked to indicate whether that activity was mentioned in a specific story. The rating scale ranged from l (very sure not mentioned) to 7 (very sure mentioned) with a mid-point of 4 (uncertain) The list of script activities included both activities which were mentioned and activities which were not mentioned. In addition, some script activities which were implied were also included. For example, the Jack Goes to Class story did not mention how Jack got to class but it could be implied that he walked to -school. In the Jack's Day-at the Office story, it was not mentioned how Jack got to work, but it could be implied that he drove to work. There were in total 19 mentioned activities, 12 unmentioned activities and 8 implied activities across all three stories.

After completing the script activity recognition test, the subjects answered twelve Likert-type items drawn from Antil and Bennett's (1979) Socially Responsible Consumption Behavior Scale (SRCB). Some items dealt with attitudes towards energy conservation and some items dealt with general ecological attitudes. The SRCB was chosen because of its high reliability and convergent validity with other energy conservation attitude scale (Antil and Bennett, 1979). Finally, subjects completed some energy use self-report measures.

RESULTS

The mean script activity recognition scores were analyzed by a two-way ANOVA with repeated measures. The first factor was the 'mentioned' factor, that is, whether the activity had been mentioned (M), implied (I) or unmentioned (UM) in the story. The second factor was the 'commonness' factor, that is, whether the activity was a very common (VC), common (C) or uncommon (UC) script activity. These two factors were varied orthogonally. The results were aggregated across all three stories. Table l and Figure l present the mean script activity recognition scores for all nine combinations of the two factors.

Mentioned vs Unmentioned Script Activities

The main effect of the mentioned factor was significant (p < .001). In addition, a series of planned contrasts indicated that the script activity recognition scores were significantly (p < .05) different between the X, I and UM script activities. These results provide some evidence of the unconscious nature of scripts. Unmentioned script activities tended to yield recognition scores as high or higher than the recognition scores for implied activities. Since the unmentioned activities were not included in the story, the high recognition scores demonstrate a high level of false recognition. In an absolute sense, the UM recognition scores were closer to the 'very sure mentioned' end of the activity recognition scale than to the 'very sure not mentioned' end of the scale. These results indicate that few subjects are able to state that they are sure that unmentioned script activities were in fact not mentioned in these stores. One possible explanation for this false recognition finding is that subjects tend to confuse unmentioned activities with similar activities belong to scripts already stored in their LTM.

TABLE 1

SCRIPT ACTIVITY RECOGNITION SCORES

FIGURE l

SCRIPT ACTIVITY RECOGNITION SCORES OF MENTIONED, IMPLIED AND UNMENTIONED ACTIVITIES FOR VERY COMMON, COMMON AND UNCOMMON ACTIVITIES

Common vs Uncommon Script Activities

The main effect of the commonness fact was also significant (p < .001). In addition, a series of planned contrasts indicated that the script activity recognition scores were significantly (p < .05) different among VC, C and UC script activities. Recognition memory was best for VC activities followed by C activities and then UC activities.

If the explanation regarding the false recognition confusion of unmentioned activities with similar activities belonging to scripts already stored in LTM is correct, then it is possible to predict that this confusion will be greater for VC activities than for UC activities. A pairwise t-test was undertaken to assess whether among unmentioned activities, VC activities yielded greater (false) recognition scores than C activities or UC activities. These results were in fact found (P <.01).

Energy Conservation Attitudes

At first glance, it does not seem unreasonable to expect that subjects who claim to be interested in energy conservation and ecological issues should have higher recognition scores for energy related script activities than subjects who have little interest in these issues. Presumably, subjects who are interested in energy conservation will be more conscious of energy related script activities and will be more aware of these activities in a memory recognition task. On the other hand, given the suggested automatic nature of scripts, it is possible that even among subjects who claim to be interested in energy conservation, false recognition confusion may occur

In order to test these competing predictions, the sample was divided into two halves The sample splitting was first done on the basis of SRCB energy conservation attitude scores. The sample was also split on the basis of SRCB ecology concern attitude scores. A series or recognition score mean difference c-tests were calculated between the low and high attitude score groups. Table 2 reports the results of recognition score differences among the different attitude groups for energy related activities.

TABLE 2

PAIRWISE T-TESTS OF MEAN DIFFERENCES IN RECOGNITION SCORES BETWEEN LOW AND HIGH ATTITUDE GROUPS FOR ENERGY RELATED SCRIPT ACTIVITIES

The results indicate that there were some recognition mean score differences between low and high energy conservation attitude groups for a few energy related script activities. Low and high energy conservation attitude groups differed significantly (p < .05) in their correct recognition of such activities as 'turning off the lights' and 'driving to school'. In both cases, subjects who are interested in energy conservation had significantly (p < .05) higher correct recognition scores than subjects who are less interested in energy conservation. However, there were no differences in recognition scores for the two ecology attitude groups. In addition, sign tests conducted across all nine activities, yielded no significant results for either the two energy or the two ecology groups. It appears that subjects who are interested in energy conservation are only marginally more aware of energy related script activities than subjects who are not interested in energy conservation. It also appears that subjects who are interested in ecology issues are no more aware of energy related script activities than subjects who are less interested in ecology issues.

Self-Reported-Energy Use

The sample was also divided into groups of low and high users of certain electrical appliances (i.e., dishwasher, air-conditioner, electric can-opener) and automobiles (i.e., those who use carpools, bicycles vs those who drive alone, those who drive more vs those who drive less since the energy crisis). The results are reported in Table 3.

The results are similar to the attitude group results. For certain energy use groups, correct recognition mean scores were significantly higher (p < .05) for the low energy use group for a limited number of activities. For example, subjects who do not have an electric can-opener have significantly (p < .05) higher correct recognition scores for such energy related activities as 'blow drying hair', 'riding up in an elevator' and 'walking home'. However, as many counter examples were found where the high energy user group had superior recognition scores. In addition, sign tests conducted across all nine activities, yielded no significant results between any of the energy usage groups.

DISCUSSION

The present study provides some tentative answers to the questions raised earlier. First, it has been shown that subjects do confuse mentioned script activities with unmentioned script activities. This was evident from the high level of false recognition scores. Second, subjects tend to more accurately recognize uncommon or very common activities. This was not true of false recognition which was significantly higher for the very common activities than for the common and uncommon activities.

Third, it was shown that subjects who claim to be more interested in energy conservation do have slightly better recognition memories for energy related script activities than subjects who claim to be less interested in energy conservation. Fourth, it was shown that low energy user groups do not have consistently better recognition measures for energy related script activities. In fact, several counter examples were found.

Overall, this study provides some support for the unconscious nature of scripts discussed above. This was shown by the high false recognition scores, especially for very common script activities. This was also shown by the high false recognition scores for those subjects who claimed to be interested in energy conservation.

TABLE 3

PAIRWISE T-TESTS OF MEAN DIFFERENCES IN RECOGNITION SCORES BETWEEN LOW AND HIGH SELF-REPORTED ENERGY USERS FOR ENERGY RELATED SCRIPT ACTIVITIES

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

For advertisers attempting to reduce energy consumption, this study has three implications. First, because of the unconscious nature of scripts, advertising effectiveness can be maximized by designing ads which provide what Shank and Abelson (1477) call "interrupts." Interrupts act to make otherwise unconscious scripts conscious. By moving the consumer back to a conscious mode of thought. Perhaps scripts can be altered.

Second, it will be especially difficult to make consumers conscious of energy related script activities if they are very common activities. And third, it is dangerous to assume that consumers who are either interested in energy conservation or are low energy users will be more conscious of their energy use. As this study has shown, even among consumers who claim to be interested in energy conservation, unconscious scripts may guide behavior A script's framework can provide an information processing approach to routine response behavior.

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