The Relationship Between Need For Cognition and Other Individual Difference Variables: a Two-Dimensional Framework

Ayn E. Crowley, University of Texas at Austin
Wayne D. Hoyer, University of Texas at Austin
ABSTRACT - A two-dimensional framework which includes arousal seeking (high versus low) and internal/external orientation is developed to hypothesize relationships between need for cognition and other individual difference variables studied in consumer behavior. Results provide marginal support- for this framework.
[ to cite ]:
Ayn E. Crowley and Wayne D. Hoyer (1989) ,"The Relationship Between Need For Cognition and Other Individual Difference Variables: a Two-Dimensional Framework", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 37-43.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 37-43

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NEED FOR COGNITION AND OTHER INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE VARIABLES: A TWO-DIMENSIONAL FRAMEWORK

Ayn E. Crowley, University of Texas at Austin

Wayne D. Hoyer, University of Texas at Austin

ABSTRACT -

A two-dimensional framework which includes arousal seeking (high versus low) and internal/external orientation is developed to hypothesize relationships between need for cognition and other individual difference variables studied in consumer behavior. Results provide marginal support- for this framework.

INTRODUCTION

Recently, the need for cognition has captured the interest of many consumer researchers as an individual difference variable which can lend insight into the "how's and why's" of consumer information processing. Several of the reasons for this interest are that the concept offers strong face validity and it has led to important research findings. For example, argument quality has been found to be a more important determinant of persuasion for individuals high rather than low in need for cognition (Cacioppo, Petty, and Morris 1983). Similarly, a cue such as an attractive source had more influence on attitude change for those low (rather than high) in need for cognition (Petty and Cacioppo 1986).

Most studies of need for cognition, however, have investigated this variable as a singular construct in isolation. Our understanding of the role of need for cognition in information processing can be enhanced by examining how this construct fits into a larger nomological network of individual difference variables which are relevant to consumer behavior. For example, constructs such as extroversion and sensation seeking may share an arousal seeking dimension with need for cognition. Individual differences such as social character (inner-other directedness) may share an internal/external dimension with need for cognition.

This two dimensional framework (based on the arousal seeking and internal/external dimensions) may form an underlying structure of more basic personality dimensions upon which our understanding of many individual difference variables can be built. Arousal seeking, in this framework, is an individual difference variable indicating the level of experienced arousal which is most pleasing to the individual (see Berlyne 1971). Some individuals are motivated to seek high levels of arousal, while for others a low level is more desirable. Further, this arousal can come from either internally generated thought processes and affective reactions or from external stimuli. There are likely to be basic individual differences in the probabilities that the focus will be internal or external at any given time.

The central proposition of the present paper is that various combinations of these two postulated dimensions can be used to position many personality traits on the hypothesized two-dimensional space, thus adding parsimony to our understanding of these constructs. The arousal seeking and internal/external dimensions are also likely to be related to consumer information processing and the way consumers respond to marketing communications such as advertising. Thus, the goal of this paper is to examine the interrelationships between these individual difference variables and need for cognition within the postulated two-dimensional framework. This will enhance our understanding of need for cognition and will represent a step forward in establishing discriminant validity for this construct by examining need for cognition in a multitrait framework (Campbell and Fiske 1959).

In addition to the individual difference variables mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, this study includes color preference as an individual difference variable as well. Color preference was included for several reasons. First, color has important consumer behavior implications for advertising, packaging, and store design. Virtually every advertisement, package, and product is presented in color, yet little consumer research has been devoted to this variable. Secondly, previous research has examined the relationships between color preference and the other individual difference variables of interest in this study (with the exception of need for cognition). Finally, the stream of research investigating the need for cognition construct is grounded in Petty and Cacioppo's (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model. In this model, centrally processed information vs. peripheral cues are important variables in determining communication effectiveness. Color is a subtle, yet important peripheral cue and physiological research has indicated that color affects us in powerful ways (Wilson 1966).

In summary, the purpose of this study is to examine need for cognition as part of a multitrait nomological network of individual difference variables which are relevant to consumer behavior. The traits included in this investigation are need for cognition, extroversion, social character, sensation seeking, and color preference. Each of these variables has been studied as separate constructs by consumer researchers. Perhaps our understanding of the influence of individual differences has reached a point where a meaningful, parsimonious framework is needed. If such common themes do exist among these constructs we can use the dimensions to tie together previous findings and advance our understanding of consumer behavior at the individual level

BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESIZED RELATIONSHIPS

Based on the proposed framework, hypotheses regarding the interrelationships between the individual difference constructs will be developed. Due to the large amount of prior research on each of these topics all relevant findings cannot be presented. Thus only those findings which directly impact hypothesis development are reported.

Need for Cognition: Need for cognition is described by Cacioppo and Petty (1986, p. 48) as an individual's "tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors." As described previously, the need for cognition construct has been found to enhance our understanding of consumer behavior, especially regarding the processing of advertising information (Cacioppo, Petty, and Morris 1983; Cacioppo and Petty 1986).

For the purposes of the present study, and consistent with prior conceptualizations of this construct, high need for cognition can be described as an internal tendency to prefer greater arousal in terms of thought activity generated through the processing of information. Low need for cognition, conversely, involves an aversion to unnecessary thought activity and information processing. The focus of the need for cognition construct is on thought activity which is generated internally. High need for cognition is also related to high arousal seeking; the cognitive activity generated through thinking is a form of arousal. The high need for cognition individual enjoys this internally generated arousal.

Extroversion: The extroversion/introversion variable has received little attention from consumer researchers. However, this individual difference variable is likely to be related to responsiveness to advertising messages which emphasize social versus individualistic appeals, etc. For example, the extrovert is probably more responsive than the introvert to advertising which emphasizes social situations or socially motivated behaviors. The work of Eysenck and Eysenck (1967) relates this variable to an arousal seeking dimension. They state that, "introverts are habitually in a state of greater arousal than extroverts, and consequently they show lower sensory thresholds, and greater reactions to sensory stimulation." (Eysenck and Eysenck 1967 p. 384).

Thus, introverts can be described as individuals who tend not to seek additional arousal, and are internally focused. Extroverts, conversely, tend to seek arousal, and are externally focused. The "greater arousal" of the introvert which Eysenck and Eysenck hypothesize could be construed as internally generated cognitive activity, as would be found in the high need for cognition individual. This line of reasoning leads to hypothesis 1A, that introversion will be related to a high need for cognition because these two constructs share a communality on an internal/external dimension. On the other hand, when examining the arousal seeking dimension one could generate an hypothesis in the opposite direction. That is, both the extroversion and high need for cognition traits would share a high arousal seeking need and we would predict a strong positive relationship between extroversion and need for cognition (H1B).

A third possibility is that these two tendencies will balance or cancel each other out and, therefore lead to hypothesis 1C. These competing hypotheses arc summarized below:

H1A: There will be a negative relationship between extroversion and the need for cognition.

H1B: There will be a positive relationship between extroversion and need for cognition.

H1C: There will be no relationship between extroversion and need for cognition.

Sensation Seeking: Sensation seeking can be described as a tendency to seek greater arousal, often through external sources (see Zuckerman 1979). This construct has been investigated by several consumer researchers, and is sometimes referred to as optimum stimulation level (OSL) in the consumer literature. Raju (1980, p. 274) summarizes this stream of research as follows:

These findings suggest that OSL is positively correlated with various exploratory tendencies in the consumer context, such as adopting new products, switching brands, and seeking information out of curiosity. Optimum stimulation level is also likely to correlate -positively with risk-taking behavior in consumers.

How is this construct likely to be related to need for cognition, if at all? While the image of "thinker" may at first seem different from that of a high sensation-seeking individual (an "adventure-seeker"), these two constructs do share a communality on the arousal seeking dimension. They differ, of course, on their internal-external focus.

Hypothesis development regarding the relationship between need for cognition and sensation seeking could thus encounter alternative lines of reasoning based on which of these two dimensions is believed to be most important. Most of the previous work in this area has emphasized the arousal seeking dimension to a greater degree than the internal/external focus dimension. Thus, the following hypothesis is offered:

H2: There will be a significant positive relationship between degree of sensation seeking and degree of need for cognition.

The relationship between sensation seeking and extroversion has been examined in prior research (Farley and Farley 1967). These researchers found a significant positive correlation between extroversion and sensation seeking. As with extroversion, sensation seeking is clearly an externally focused, arousal seeking construct. Because of the closely shared characteristics of these variables, a relatively strong relationship between them is expected.

H3: There will be a significant positive correlation between degree of sensation seeking and degree of extroversion.

Social Character: Social character refers to the tendency to be either inner- or other-directed in seeking standards for appropriate behavior (Kassarjian 1962). This construct has been found to be related to preferences for various types of advertising appeals, with inner-directed and other-directed individuals expressing preference for appeals consistent with their orientation (Kassarjian 1965). In addition, Donnelly and Ivancevich (1974) found that early purchasers of a highly visible durable good were significantly more inner-directed than later purchasers.

The inner-other aspect of the social character construct is similar to the internal/external dimension of need for cognition described previously. The communality in this case relates to the inner focus of high need for cognition. An inner-directed, individualistic consumer is a "thinker" in much the same sense as a consumer high in need for cognition. Social character, as conceptualized in the literature, does not address the low/high arousal seeking dimension. Thus, it is hypothesized:

H4: There will be a positive relationship between degree of inner-directedness and degree of need for cognition.

Social character may also be related to extroversion Certainly the external focus of the extrovert shares a common dimension with the other- directed aspect of social character. Thus, it is hypothesized that:

H5: There will be a significant relationship between degree of other-directedness and extroversion, with extroverts tending to be more other-directed and introverts tending to be more inner-directed.

Hypothesis development regarding the relationship between social character and sensation seeking follows a similar line of reasoning as that just described. The two constructs share a communality on an internal/external dimension, but do not appear to be related in terms of arousal seeking.

H6: There will be a positive relationship between degree of other-directedness and degree of sensation seeking.

Color Preference: If one examines the color spectrum as produced by a rainbow or a prism, the colors are arranged according to wavelength. The ordering of colors (from long to short wavelength) is: red, yellow, green, blue, violet. Red and yellow are considered warm colors, while green, blue, an violet are cool colors. Several investigators have found that warm and cool colors have different psychological properties (Bjerstedt 1960; Schaie and Heiss 1964; Sharpe 1974). For example, Bellizzi, Crowley and Hasty (1983) found that consumer perceptions of a retail store environment were significantly affected by the background color of the store. In addition, results of several studies have shown that warm and cool colors have different physiological properties, with warm colors being more arousing and cool colors having a generally calming physiological effect (Gerard 1957; Wilson 1966; Nakshian 1964; Clynes and Kohn 1968).

How might these physiological reactions to color translate into color preference? Addressing this phenomenon on a more general level, Mehrabian and Russell (1974) state that. "Higher arousal seekers seek more arousing stimulation, and, understandably, more arousing situations are more pleasing to them, whereas the reverse is true for low-arousal seekers" (pp. 181-182).

Applying this arousal-seeking approach to color preference, high- arousal seekers would be expected to prefer the more arousing warm colors, such as red and yellow. Conversely, low arousal seekers could be expected to prefer the more calming cool colors, such as green and blue. There is also some evidence which suggests that externally-focused consumers will tend to prefer warm colors. Robinson (1975) tested the relationship using the Eysenck Personality Inventory (1966), and found a significant correlation between color preference and Extroversion E scores. Color preferences were in the expected direction as described above. Thus, in the present study an attempt will be made to replicate the following hypothesis:

H7: There will be a significant positive correlation between degree of preference for warm colors and degree of extroversion.

Further, based upon the arousal properties of warm and cool colors, and the arousal-seeking aspect of need for cognition, one could hypothesize that high need for cognition would be associated with a preference for the more arousing warm colors. This line of reasoning implicitly assumes that the arousal seeking dimension is more important than the internal/external dimension. The work of Robinson (1975) and Eysenck and Eysenck (1967), however, could lead to the alternative hypothesis that those high in need for cognition will prefer cool colors. High need for cognition individuals have an inner focus, in the sense that their cognitive activity is often generated internally. Perhaps, like introverts (Robinson 1975), they will prefer cool colors. This type of finding could indicate that the internal/external dimension is especially important in understanding need for cognition. Analogously, those with a high need for cognition may have a sufficient level of internally generated arousal (Eysenck and Eysenck 1967) without the "added" arousal produced by warm colored stimuli, and thus may express a preference for cool colors.

An alternative possibility is that these tendencies will balance each other out, resulting in no relationship between color preference and need for cognition. Because of the two alterative relationships just described, the following competing hypotheses arc posited:

H8A: There will be a positive relationship between preference for warmer colors and need for cognition.

H8B: There will be a positive relationship between preference for cooler colors and need for cognition.

H8C: There will be no relationship between color preference and need for cognition.

Nelson, Pelech, and Foster (1984), using Zuckerman's Sensation Seeking Scale (1979), found that high sensation seekers preferred red while lower sensation seekers preferred blue. Based upon the dimensions developed for the present study, high sensation seeking and a preference for warm colors (such as red) share the "high arousal seeking" dimension. Because of the arousal seeking communality shared by these two constructs, it is hypothesized that the results of the present study will replicate those of Nelson, Pelech, and Foster (1984), as follows:

H9: There will be a positive relationship between degree of preference for warm colors and degree of sensation seeking.

Finally, it is hypothesized that:

H10: There will be a positive relationship between degree of preference for warm colors and degree of other-directedness.

This hypothesis is based upon communalities shared by these two constructs on the internal/external dimension, as evidenced in the findings of Robinson (1975).

SUMMARY

In summary, it is hypothesized that the individual difference variables described in this section are interrelated on the dimensions of low/high arousal seeking and internal/external focus. Figure 1 illustrates the two dimensional framework and the placement of the individual difference variables included in the study within this two-dimensional framework.

Although the dimensions (axes) are presented orthogonally in Figure 1, the authors do not wish to imply that these dimensions are strictly orthogonal. They are, however, assumed to be fairly independent.

METHODS

Subjects: Ninety-six junior and senior students from an upper-level business class completed the individual difference measures. These subjects received extra credit for participating in the study.

FIGURE 1

TABLE 1

FIGURE 2

CORRELATIONS AMONG INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE VARIABLES

Procedure: Subjects who expressed interest in the study were given a packet of questionnaires to complete at their leisure. The packet contained all measures except color preference. Subjects returned the completed questionnaires approximately one week later, upon arriving at an experimental session during which color preference was measured. Subjects were debriefed during a later class period.

Measures: This study employed the following measures (Table 1), all of which have been previously validated by other researchers. The reader is referred to the original sources of the measures for further information regarding validation procedures.

Color preference was measured by a series of paired comparison questions. Subjects were presented with all possible pairs (six total) of fully saturated red, yellow, green, and blue slides, and asked to indicate which color in each pair they preferred. Order of slide presentation was randomized across eight subject groups to avoid order-bias effects. Based upon these responses, color preference for each subject was induced. An interval scale was developed for coding color preference, based on the wavelength of each experimental color.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The findings of the study are summarized in Figure 2. This matrix shows the correlations found between each pair of individual difference variables, and the probability of significance associated with each correlation. There were competing hypotheses regarding the relationship between need for cognition and extroversion. Hypothesis 1C was supported, indicating no relationship between these constructs (r=.03). Among the competing hypotheses addressing the relationship between need for cognition and color preference, H8B was supported. Individuals higher in need for cognition tended for prefer cooler colors (r=.20). All of the correlations associated with the eight remaining directional hypotheses are in the predicted direction. Of these eight, five are significant at the .05 level. The strongest correlation was found between sensation seeking and extroversion (r=.45). Also, need for cognition was significantly related to sensation seeking (r=.19) and social character (r=.19). Finally, social character (inner-directedness) was negatively related to sensation seeking (r= -.18) and positively related to preference for cool colors (r= . 18).

It is important to note, however, the correlations as a whole are quite low and there are several possible explanations for these findings. First. the possibility exists that each of the variables measured in the present study are independent and distinct constructs. That is, each of these constructs may tap a different aspect of an individual's psyche. An implication which might follow from this notion is that all of these variables together could provide a more complete explanation of consumer behavior than any one in isolation. Each construct may represent "one piece of the larger pie". This may further explain the low correlations when personality variables have been studied in isolation in consumer behavior studies. Perhaps a more comprehensive assessment of personality is needed before this factor will explain a significant portion of the variance in consumer behavior phenomena.

A second possibility, was that the student sample, with a relatively young average age, may consist of individuals whose personality traits have not yet fully developed or become as s.able as they will be later in life. We might expect to find somewhat higher correlations using a sample of middle-aged subjects, for example.

Nevertheless, the correlations were consistent in directionality with all specific predictions made by utilizing the proposed two-dimensional framework. This may suggest that frameworks such as this may prove useful in tying together seemingly unrelated constructs.

The possibility also exists that constructs examined in the present study can be related in terms of other dimensions which have not yet been studied. Perhaps the addition of a third dimension or the examining of two extremely different dimensions may uncover patterns that the present framework was unable to. The present study also has important implications for the study of need for cognition.

First, based upon the results of this study, it appears that need for cognition is generally not related to introversion/extroversion. This implies that advertisements which are designed to appeal to the high need for cognition consumer can be developed with or without social cues incorporated into the message. A high need for cognition consumer appears to be just as likely to be introverted as to be extroverted.

Second, the finding; regarding social character shed further light on decisions regarding advertising message appeal based on the consumer's degree of need for cognition. Those high in need for cognition were found to have a slight tendency to be more inner-directed. Based upon Kassarjian's (1965) findings regarding differential preferences for advertising themes among inner- vs. other-directed consumers, inner-directed (individualistic) appeals may be slightly more effective in persuading the high need for cognition consumer, as these appeals were preferred by inner-directed consumers. However, due to the size of the correlation found in the present study, future research is needed before a sound conclusion can be drawn.

Third, a slightly positive correlation between need for cognition and sensation seeking was found. Given previous findings (Raju 1980) that sensation seeking is positively correlated with consumer exploration tendencies such as new product adoption, information seeking, and brand switching, further research might explore the relationship between these types of behaviors and need for cognition.

Finally, individuals high in need for cognition were found to have a slight tendency to prefer cool colors, compared to those low in need for cognition. This would suggest that advertisements which are designed to appeal to high need for cognition consumers utilize cooler colors such as blue and green. Again, future research is needed to explore this possibility.

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