Product Involvement As Leisure Behavior

Peter H. Bloch, Louisiana State University
Grady D. Bruce, California State University-Fullerton
ABSTRACT - The construct of involvement has been useful to consumer researchers for a number of years. This paper focuses on consumers' long-term involvement with a product class and portrays such involvement as a form of leisure behavior Elements of the leisure literature are reviewed which relate to product involvement. In particular, work pertaining to the leisure experience, leisure satisfactions, and leisure specialization is reviewed in the context of recreational involvement with products A model integrating product involvement and leisure research concepts is presented
[ to cite ]:
Peter H. Bloch and Grady D. Bruce (1984) ,"Product Involvement As Leisure Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 197-202.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 197-202


Peter H. Bloch, Louisiana State University

Grady D. Bruce, California State University-Fullerton


The construct of involvement has been useful to consumer researchers for a number of years. This paper focuses on consumers' long-term involvement with a product class and portrays such involvement as a form of leisure behavior Elements of the leisure literature are reviewed which relate to product involvement. In particular, work pertaining to the leisure experience, leisure satisfactions, and leisure specialization is reviewed in the context of recreational involvement with products A model integrating product involvement and leisure research concepts is presented



Consumer researchers have increasingly turned to the notion of involvement in order to explain elements of the consumption process As commonly employed, involvement refers to the level of concern a consumer has in a purchase situation When a purchase involves important goals, as in the case of high risk goods, a high involvement state exists, leading to complex decision making Most consumer products engender only low involvement and as such their purchases are made in a simple and casual fashion As Hawkins, Best, and Coney (1983) have pointed out, however, "it is important to note that purchase involvement is not the same as product involvement" (p 449) For example, a consumer may have a low level of involvement with a product (e g dishwasher, automobile tires), but have a high level of involvement in its purchase due to the desire to save money or make a wise choice among brands

Considerably less work has been done concerning the nature of consumers' involvement with products themselves (see Bloch 1982; Tigert, Ring and King 1976; Tyebjee 1979) This form of involvement has been variously labeled product involvement (Clarke and Belk 1979; Hawkins, Best and Coney 1983), or enduring involvement (Bloch 1982; Rothschild 1979), but the central notion is that of an abiding interest in, and attachment to, a product class which is independent of purchase or other situational factors

If the field of consumer behavior is to further progress in its understanding and application of the involvement construct, increased analysis of consumers' non-purchase or enduring involvement with products will be needed. The purpose of this paper is to examine enduring involvement using an interdisciplinary perspective In particular, the fit between product involvement concepts and leisure behavior theory will be discussed. The view adopted here is that enduring involvement with a product possesses many of the characteristics of a leisure pursuit, and that elements of leisure theory are useful in understanding this under-researched form of involvement While leisure scholars have referred to enduring involvement using different terminology than would consumer researchers, they have nevertheless provided important insights into the construct Leisure writings gave particularly contributed in their illumination of involvement motivations and the process of becoming involved .

In reviewing selected aspects of the leisure literature, three linkages between involvement and leisure concepts will be discussed. First, product enthusiasm, or enduring involvement at high levels, will be characterized as leisure behavior. Second, the literature pertaining to the subjective experience of leisure will be related to involvement, as well as to the emerging field of experiential consumption. Finally, research pertaining to leisure rewards or satisfactions will be reviewed as another means of integrating the theoretical domains of leisure behavior and product involvement.

Product Enthusiasm as a Form of Leisure Behavior

As defined by Houston and Rothschild (1978), enduring involvement with a product derives from the product's relatedness to a consumer's needs, values, or self-concept. While enduring involvement is low for most products, many consumers exhibit a relatively high level of enduring involvement with at least one product category. At very high levels, enduring involvement may be termed product enthusiasm and is characteristic of product enthusiasts such as car buffs, wine connoisseurs, or avid video gamers. Product enthusiasm entails a strong, abiding, hobby-like interest in the product class in question which transcends the temporary purchase process arousal investigated in most involvement research.

In focusing on product enthusiasm, a logical starting point would be the nature of hobbies. The many product-focused magazines available (e.g., Car & Driver; Cycle; Stereo Review; Vogue) attest to the presence of product enthusiasm as a significant class of hobby. In the leisure literature, Stebbins (1977) defines a hobby as "a specialized pursuit beyond one's occupation that one finds particularly interesting and enjoys doing" (p. 593). Hobbyists are described as seriously involved in their pursuit, not just passive consumers of a product.

Hobbyists pursue their activities because they enjoy them...and their pursuit is enduring. This observation suggests that hobbyists... fits poorly into the contemporary do-it-yourself classification. Painting the house, putting in a lawn, building a garage are one-shot affairs, or so much so as to be disqualified as hobbies.... These activities may actually be odious, being taken on chiefly to save the drudge money (Stebbins 1977, p. 594).

Bryan (1977, 1979) explored variations in levels of enduring involvement in the context of recreational activities. He argues that recreationists can be "arranged along a continuum of experience and commitment to the sport from the beginning recreationist to the specialist, that distinctively different preferences attend sportsmen at each level" (1979, p. 31). On-site interviews and participant observation suggested a recreationist typology based on degree of specialization. In Bryan's framework, specialization in a leisure pursuit is analogous to enduring involvement. In applying Bryan's notion of recreational specialization to a product context, one should note that he portrays specialization as existing within a general commitment to the activity. In the case of sport fishermen, Bryan observed:

Increasing specialization does not necessarily imply a narrowing or restriction of activities outside the specialty. Instead, an ever increasing commitment to the sport in general may be found. The more specialized fishermen tend to have high knowledge and commitment to a variety of angling pursuits as an outgrowth of high time and skill commitment to the sport generally (1979, pp. 44-45).

In a product context, one might consider the highly involved wine connoisseur who is specialized in wines from one geographical region, yet retains considerable interest in the general product class of wines.

In profiling the highly involved recreational specialist, Bryan (1979) explicitly recognizes the possibility of product involvement as complementing or substituting for involvement in a leisure activity.

As with other recreational activities, involvement with the equipment and technology of a sport can become almost an end in itself. In the case of hunting, preoccupation with guns is the most likely equipment involvement (p. 84).

Or another example:

As the photographer becomes more involved, there seem to be two divergent directions that his hobby can take. He can become a gadget manipulator or an artist. The former finds fascination in all the equipment available for purchase.... In a sense, the camera and its accompanying paraphernalia become ends in themselves (p. 64).

In considering the role of products in leisure behavior, one should be aware of the varying levels of connectedness a product may have with a particular leisure activity. A product may be the central element in the leisure behavior, as in the case of car enthusiasm, where pleasure driving, car maintenance, and reading about automobiles constitute the primary substance of the leisure pursuit (Bloch 1982). In such cases, the product is the sole focus, treated much like a toy to be played with and enjoyed. The consumer's attention is on the product, what it means and what it can do. On the other hand, product involvement may occur in a secondary fashion, as suggested by Bryan (1979). In this case, the recreational activity or sport is most important and the motivator for possible involvement in activity-related goods. For example, involvement in the game of golf may be the sole reason for an accompanying involvement with golf equipment. Finally, for other individuals, the leisure activity and the products used in the activity may share an equally central position. Consider the avid hunter who is also a gun enthusiast. There are essentially two parallel hobbies in this case: hunting, and the collecting and maintenance of a firearm collection. In all three of the conditions just discussed, there is a common state of enduring involvement with one or more product classes, and leisure time is devoted to product-related activities. Differences among the three cases reflect the extent to which the product involvement and its behavioral outputs are connected to some other related leisure pursuit.

To this point it has been argued that enduring involvement with a product is essentially a form of leisure behavior. That is, for a particular individual, usage and mastery of one or more products may be very enjoyable and worthy of his/her leisure-time thoughts and activities. It should be noted that while a high level of product involvement may be leisure-related in the case of product enthusiasts, it can also result from role-related demands placed on the consumer. For example, a craftsman may be expected to maintain high enduring involvement with the tools of his trade, keeping up with new product class developments and engaging in opinion leadership, not as a pleasurable leisure pursuit, but out of a desire to perfect his occupational role performance. In a study reported by Csikszentmilhalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981), a police officer was asked to name his most special possessions. In naming his collection of handguns, the officer replied: "Well, they are my working tools and they save my life...I like to take real good care of them, keep them up" (p. 108). Keeping this distinction in mind, the remainder of this paper will focus on that form of product involvement which entails a usage of leisure time and is characteristic of product enthusiasts.

The Leisure Experience

Over the years, a number of leisure scholars have focused on the leisure or recreation experience (Csikszentmihalyi 1975; Harper 1981; Mannel 1980; Neulinger 1974). Of interest to these writers are the subjective experiences of an individual while engaged in some self-defined form of recreation. Although writings pertaining to the leisure experience have typically dealt with games or resource-based outdoor recreation, this experiential perspective on leisure may be profitably applied to the study of product involvement and product enthusiasts. Following a discussion of the leisure experience, recent work on experiential consumption will also be reviewed as a possible link between involvement notions and those pertaining to the leisure experience.

Several leisure researchers have conceptualized the leisure experience as a pleasurable, high involvement state. Neulinger (1974, p. xi) defines subjective leisure as engaging in an act "which gives on pleasure to the very core of one's being." Csikszentmihalyi (1575, p. 56) suggests that "flow" is the experience individuals seek in their leisure activity, where flow is defined as "the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement." Mannel (1980) also argues that the leisure experience requires high levels of psychological involvement, where involvement is characterized by a narrowing of attention, loss of awareness of time passing, and mood elevation. In Gunter and Gunter's (1980) social psychological model of leisure behavior, they suggest that where involvement in a leisure pursuit is sufficiently strong, it may result in a "sort of blending of the individual and the situation, suggesting a condition of intense pleasurable involvement and a perceived absence of constraints" (p. 368). In a recent study of leisure within the consumer behavior literature, Unger and Kernan (1983) identified three general characteristics of subjective leisure: intrinsic satisfaction, perceived freedom of action, and involvement or absorption in an activity.

In these conceptualizations, involvement refers to a temporary experience where one is intensely engaged in a pleasurable activity and other stimuli or stresses seem to be perceptually screened. Thus, the reference to involvement in this context is separate from that applicable to a product context. However, one could argue that a connection does exist. Where enduring product involvement is high, product usage may indeed culminate in flow or absorbing experiences. For instance, a young person who has high enduring involvement with home video games may lose track of time and become completely absorbed in playing such games.

In the study of leisure an experiential viewpoint has considerable support; however, consumer behavior has only recently adopted such a viewpoint. As noted by Holbrook and Hirschman (1982, p. 138), "Consumer researchers have devoted little attention to the underlying determinants of fun or playful activities even though it appears that consumers spend many of their waking hours engaged in acts that can be explained on no other grounds." The experiential perspective on consumption focuses on the pleasure or hedonic response consumers obtain from product usage and thus, is closely allied to the work on the leisure experience. Consumers are not seen as rational problem solvers, but as pleasure seekers.

While the experiential consumption writings to date have emphasized aesthetic goods such as the arts or entertainment, this perspective also appears relevant to the notion of product-related leisure. The highly involved motorcycle enthusiast, for example, would certainly be more concerned with the subjective, symbolic, and stimulating benefits of motorcycles than with purely functional utilities. In general, the person with high product involvement is geared toward the pleasure potentially available from the product in question. Indeed, the subjective experiences afforded by the product and its use are the likely origins of the involvement. Perhaps one could argue that marketers design into their products a certain degree of "flow potential," and it is the product enthusiast who is most able to realize this Potential.

It should be noted, however, that product enthusiasm is not confined to unusual or recreational products. Ordinary goods such as clothing, automobiles, furniture, or record albums are also potentially involving. It is product meaning or the connection between the product and the individual that distinguishes the enthusiast. For example, clothing holds a different, less functional, meaning for the fashion-conscious person than it does for others. Stephenson (1967), in writing about play, observed: "wealth, adornments, possessions are satisfying in themselves--so we think. But again, it is only when a person adopts a certain attitude toward them that they are pleasant" (p. 55). Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) have also argued that under an experiential view of consumption, the criteria for success "are essentially esthetic in nature and bring on an appreciation of the product for its own sake, apart from any utilitarian function that it may or may not perform" (p. 138). Thus, the meaning of the product to the enthusiast will derive from its experiential rather than from its purely functional features. Borrowing terminology from Becker (1978), high enduring involvement may lead to a product being considered as an art object, whereas low involvement would be associated with treatment as a craft object. According to Becker, a craft implies practical utilities whereas art objects are judged on their aesthetics, collectability, and ostentationness.

Leisure Rewards, Satisfactions, and Involvement

As noted by Ragheb and Beard (1980) and Hawes (1978), it is the satisfaction derived from leisure activities that is the driving force behind leisure choices. In addition, it is the acquisition of rewards, pleasure and satisfaction which lies at the heart of the leisure experience concept. While leisure satisfaction research primarily deals with outdoor recreation rather than consumer goods, one can still find applications to the realm of product involvement. After all, one could argue that parks, forests and beaches are essentially products to be used in the generation of leisure satisfaction just as retailable goods such as stereo systems or sailboats might be.

Given that enduring involvement is determined by the anticipated and realized satisfactions deriving from product usage, findings relating to leisure satisfaction may be usefully applied to a consumption context. For example, several general dimensions of leisure satisfaction have been proposed; both in theoretical models and in factor analytic studies (Pierce 1980; Tinsley and Kass 1979; Csikszentmihalyi 1975; Mannel 1980). It has been argued that leisure participants seek rewards from their favored activities which may be clustered in categories such as companionship, power, intimacy, relaxation, self-actualization, and release, among others. It seems reasonable to hypothesize that among product enthusiasts, ownership and usage of the involving product may provide perceived benefits along similar dimensions. Further research will be needed to establish the comparability between leisure satisfactions and product usage satisfactions in an involvement context.

Bryan (1979) discussed two general leisure reward dimensions, the first of which includes extrinsic rewards which usually derive from others. For example, the praise and admiration a family bestows on a child who brings home a large fish after a day spent on the water. Leisure may also provide intrinsic rewards such as the positive feelings one has after a good performance in a tennis game or the pleasure one feels while fishing in a secluded setting. This perspective is similar to that proposed by Deci (1975), who stated that an activity can provide external rewards or be satisfying in and of itself. Bryan argues that intrinsic satisfactions are primary motivators of highly involved recreational specialists, while lesser involvement is associated with the pursuit of extrinsic rewards. In the consumer behavior literature, Zaltman and Wallendorf (1983, Ch. 13) have described intrinsic satisfaction as motivating hedonic consumption. In hedonic consumption (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982, Olson 1980), consumers enjoy the process of using the product. For the product-involved consumer, this would appear to be an understatement.

Synthesis and Model

In order to tie together the concepts and findings discussed above and to adequately explain the occurrence of product-centered recreation, a model of leisure-based enduring involvement will now be described. A graphic representation of this model is shown in Figure 1. The model is process in nature in that it attempts to portray the changes in person-object relations over time. While attempting to unite involvement and leisure concepts, the model is presented within the familiar learning theory framework of behavior and reinforcement.

The starting point for the model is product usage behavior. Of course, prior to the occurrence of such usage, some choice or decision to use the product was made. While it is outside the scope of this model to adequately examine determinants of consumer choice behavior (see Bergier 1981), one general observation can be made. It is likely that the decision to use a product in a recreational context (e.g., ride on a friend's snowmobile, take up sailboarding, buy a home computer, purchase a stereo system) is a function of product, situational, and consumer characteristics, and the interrelations among those characteristics. Obviously, certain products lend themselves to recreational usage and involvement more than others (Fennell 1978) Bryan (1979) argues that certain recreational pursuits are better suited to specialization and tend to elicit higher levels of participant involvement. It seems reasonable to assume that products or activities which are more complex or differentiated are more likely to generate high levels of involvement; however, such complexity may also serve as a barrier to ownership or participation. As shown in Figure 2, certain product classes (computers, backpacking equipment) are highly complex and clearly recreational in nature and also tend to be unnecessary items for most consumers. Thus, ownership proves to be essentially equivalent to a state of high involvement. Other goods, such as automobiles, may potentially be used in a leisure fashion and generate enduring involvement, but the functional usage of the good tends to dominate for most consumers. Also, the activity of auto touring is relatively simple compared with the potential for specialization inherent in computer programming or photography.





Another potential determinant of involvement and recreational product usage would be the congruence of product usage and meaning with the individual's values, self, and reference group-imposed role expectations. Other consumer variables such as social class and sex would also have an impact on usage choices, as would situational variables such as time and money constraints.

Usage of a product in a recreational fashion does not guarantee involvement with that product. The number of home movie outfits moldering in people's attics attests to this fact. Under the proposed model, involvement is a function of the rewards generated by the usage activity. If the consumer receives substantial extrinsic and/or intrinsic leisure satisfactions from using the product, there is greater likelihood of repeated usage in an operant sense, and in addition, the cycle of repeated use and reinforcement may generate some degree of long-term product interest and concern.

The writings of Scitovsky (1976) and Albert Hirschman (1982) offer additional insights into differences among products in their potential to provide pleasure and elicit enduring involvement. These authors propose that pleasure is obtained through the experience of traveling from a state of discomfort to comfort, where discomfort is described as a condition of over-stimulation (hunger, pain) or under-stimulation (boredom). Under this perspective, nondurable products are best able to provide pleasure to consumers. Such is the case when hunger is relieved by a satisfying meal. Durables, on the other hand, yield a relatively low level of pleasure on an enduring basis since the move from discomfort to comfort is made once and for all when the product is first acquired. There is no repeated experience of pleasure through the extended usage of a central air-conditioning unit, for example. There is comfort, but no pleasure, and thus the durable is scarcely noticed unless it fails and discomfort returns.

These writers do concede, however, that certain durables resemble nondurables in their capacity to deliver pleasure on a continuing basis. Durable goods such as cameras, stereo systems and food processors, which are used irregularly, when the owner feels like using them, make up this category. With such products, the user derives pleasure from their use as well as some comfort after use such as the relief of boredom (Hirschman 1982). This class of products, which certainly includes leisure-related goods, yield a stream of services over time much like a ticket to a play or a cold drink on a hot day. Durables used only for routine, utilitarian functions tend to deliver only a minimal amount of pleasure, and thus are unlikely candidates for enduring involvement

Moving right, from the involvement stage in the model, it is here proposed that enduring involvement produces a tendency to engage in other activities ancillary to the recreational usage of the product. Such activities include opinion leadership, ongoing information search, perceptual vigilance, and high levels of product maintenance (Bloch 1982; Corey 1971; Summers 1970; Tigert, Ring, and King 1976; Tyebjee 1979).

These activities add to the usage activity to form a multidimensional conception of product-centered leisure. For example, the person who is involved with cameras may spend additional leisure time, beyond that devoted to taking photos, reading reviews of photo equipment, browsing in camera stores, or advising friends on which camera or lens to buy. In the leisure literature, Csikszentmihalyi (1975) profiled chess enthusiasts and noted that besides the actual playing of the game, their involvement was also characterized by other activities such as reading chess magazines and studying chess strategy while alone.

As suggested by the linkage between the ancillary activities and reinforcement, these extra activities are often rewarding in their own right, as well as, enhancing the satisfaction derived from using the product.

For example, reading and learning about photographic equipment can be enjoyable as a leisure activity as well as making photographic excursions more rewarding and productive.

The rightmost stage of the model is concerned with specialization in accord with Bryan (1979). It is here proposed that as a result of increased product involvement, the ancillary activities described above may lead the consumer to adopt a more specialized version of product usage behavior. The photographer over time may concentrate on one type of subject such as close-up nature studies; the gun enthusiast may only collect custom-made shotguns. Bryan would argue that while this specialization depends on the product and its complexity, it also stems from the consumer's satiation with the rewards obtained from the more general leisure activity. Using Hirschman's perspective, the consumer may become specialized in product usage in order to experience renewed pleasure from a possession which has become boringly comfort-producing. Furthermore, as Bryan (1979) suggests, with higher specialization, the importance of the product to the consumer and the incidence of his/her recreational activities will also be increased. In effect, this last stage of t.he model forms a return to the beginning step. The specialization process may continue up to the limitations imposed by the nature of the product usage activity and the consumer's skills and resources. It should be noted that for some consumers, specialization may not occur at all, as the mere generalized activities are sufficiently rewarding.


The study of involvement is one of particular promise to consumer researchers. The topic has led to great changes in the portrayal of the purchase process and the study of many other consumer behavior topics has been more sophisticated as a result of including involvement as an explanatory variable. Despite all the attention on involvement in recent years, consumer behaviorists still have much to do, both conceptually and empirically, in refining the concept of enduring product involvement as contrasted with purchase involvement.

The purpose of this paper has been to focus further attention on enduring involvement and to draw upon related work in the field of leisure study. It has been proposed here that consumers' enduring involvement with products is essentially a type of leisure experience and that leisure theory can help explain the nature of such involvement and its development. Additionally, leisure themes have been shown useful in connecting involvement to the emerging field of experiential consumption. It is hoped that the model proposed here will help to unify involvement concepts from consumer behavior and leisure behavior and by doing so, stimulate future research. Involvement has been, and remains, an interdisciplinary concept and there is considerable promise in maintaining a broad perspective in its analysis.


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