Individual Differences in Value Stability: Are We Really Tapping True Values?

L. J. Shrum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
John A. McCarty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Tamara L. Loeffler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
ABSTRACT - A study was conducted which examined individual differences in the stability of a target value in the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS). Participants in the experimental conditions received a persuasive communication arguing for social recognition (a Rokeach terminal value) or one arguing against social recognition. Participants in the control condition received no communication. All participants ranked and rated the values of the RVS and completed a scale measuring private selfconsciousness. As predicted, a significant persuasion by private self-consciousness interaction was observed for the evaluation of the value social recognition, indicating that those low in selfconsciousness were more persuaded by the manipulations than participants high in selfconsciousness. Discussion considers the theoretical implications for uses of value scales in marketing and consumer behavior.
[ to cite ]:
L. J. Shrum, John A. McCarty, and Tamara L. Loeffler (1990) ,"Individual Differences in Value Stability: Are We Really Tapping True Values?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 609-615.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 609-615

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN VALUE STABILITY: ARE WE REALLY TAPPING TRUE VALUES?

L. J. Shrum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

John A. McCarty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tamara L. Loeffler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

ABSTRACT -

A study was conducted which examined individual differences in the stability of a target value in the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS). Participants in the experimental conditions received a persuasive communication arguing for social recognition (a Rokeach terminal value) or one arguing against social recognition. Participants in the control condition received no communication. All participants ranked and rated the values of the RVS and completed a scale measuring private selfconsciousness. As predicted, a significant persuasion by private self-consciousness interaction was observed for the evaluation of the value social recognition, indicating that those low in selfconsciousness were more persuaded by the manipulations than participants high in selfconsciousness. Discussion considers the theoretical implications for uses of value scales in marketing and consumer behavior.

INTRODUCTION

The last fifteen years have seen an increasing interest in research on values and their relationship to consumer behavior. Since Rokeach (1973) first developed the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS), consumer researchers have had a relatively easy instrument with which to attempt to assess personal values. With this in hand they have suggested that relationships exist between values and purchase of a particular product class (Howard 1977), choice criteria for a variety of products and services (Pitts and Woodside 1983, 1984; Vinson, Scott and Lamont 1977) and measures of advertising effectiveness (Sherrell, Hair and Bush 1984). Some have critiqued the RVS (Munson 1984), while others have offered other instruments for value assessment (Holman 1984; Kahle, Beatty and Homer 1986). Finally, the use of values as a market segmentation tool has been suggested (Kahle and Kennedy 1988).

While some have evaluated the validity of the RVS, the results have been decidedly mixed (Coyne 1988; Thompson, Levitov and Miederhoff 1982). Little research has investigated the ability of self-report surveys to accurately ascertain an individual's true value structure. This paper addresses these concerns, presents a study which indicates that individual differences may moderate such self-report tasks, and suggests weaknesses in a priori assumptions of links between values and behavior.

Values as a Construct

Values are considered to be relatively enduring beliefs that individuals possess and these beliefs are prescriptions for behavior (Rokeach 1973). As both Kluckhohn (1951) and Rokeach (1973) indicate, values are statements of the ideal. That is, our values tend to suggest positive modes of behavior and positive ends. As Kluckhohn says, values are a statement of the desirable, not what the person may actually desire. In other words, they are often the conceptualization of how one ought to act in a situation, rather than how one wants to act.

Values have been defined in a variety of ways, although their abstract nature and endurance tend to be central to most definitions. Rokeach defines a value as "an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence (Rokeach 1973, p. 5)." Kahle calls values "social cognitions and adaptation abstractions" which involve preferences or evaluations (Kahle 1984, p. 7). Posner and Munson (1979) state that values consist of beliefs about what the individual considers just, fair, or desirable.

Values have generally been distinguished from attitudes, which are considered to be less abstract than values. Rokeach (1973), for example, states that an attitude refers to an organization of beliefs around a specific object or situation, while a value refers to a specific belief. Rokeach sees values as occupying a central position in the individual's cognitive makeup. Values serve to guide actions, attitudes and judgments, and therefore are determinants of attitudes as well as behavior. As Rokeach points out, others (Allport 1961; Watson 1966; Woodruff 1942) have also noted this relationship of attitudes depending on or reflecting values.

It has generally been assumed that values guide behavior, although evidence of strong relationships between values and behavior is virtually nonexistent. While it is not essential that values be related to behavior to hold that values exist as mental entities, the usefulness of values as an explanatory construct is weakened to the extent that they show little relationship to behavior.

Value Surveys

Virtually all contemporary methods for assessing personal values involve a self-report survey instrument. These procedures require subjects to either rank a set of values (the RVS, Rokeach 1973) or rate values on a Likert-type scale (the LOV Scale, Kahle, Beatty and Homer 1986). The assumption is that subjects are able to access their value structures and accurately detail this structure in the ranking or rating procedures.

Alternative explanations are also reasonable. It could be that when confronted with a value instrument, some individuals merely indicate their attitudes towards these words rather than accessing inner feelings regarding enduring beliefs. The effectiveness of the scale then relies on the extent to which these attitudes accurately reflect the more abstract value structure. It is also reasonable to assume that there are individual differences in the ability to accurately report value structures. Some individuals may be better able to report their abstract values than others, depending on the extent to which they have considered their values in the past.

Should this be the case, a variety of implications exist. First, if the individual is not adept at accessing true values, the choice of values may indeed more closely approximate an attitude judgment. The reported value structure then may be dependent upon the myriad of situational demands which affect such attitude judgments. Secondly, the causal chain is called into question. If indeed, as Bem (1972) asserts, attitudes can be inferred from behavior, then it is reasonable to assume that the reported values might also be inferred from behavior. Finally, if the reported values more closely resemble attitude judgments, then the stability or consistency of the stated values should be low. This would call into question the legitimacy of the reported value as an "enduring belief."

Individual Differences

One individual difference variable which may differentiate responses to a value survey is private self-consciousness, as defined by Fenigstein, Scheier and Buss (1975). They define the construct as "the consistent tendency of persons to direct attention inward (p. 522)." Thus, private self-consciousness is the tendency to be aware of inner aspects of the self, and people high in private self-consciousness should be "particularly conscious of their own thoughts, feelings, attitudes, motives and behavioral tendencies (Carver and Scheier 1981, p. 46)." By such definitions, it is reasonable to expect that those high in private self-consciousness would be more aware of their values and value structure, and the part it plays in their psychological makeup. Given this, it would also be reasonable to think that this heightened awareness of personal values should lead to increased "sureness" with regard to the importance of particular values, and should therefore prove to be more impervious to manipulation. Others have found results supporting this line of reasoning. Scheier, Carver and Gibbons (1979) found subjects high in private self-consciousness to be more resistant to external suggestibility; Froming and Carver (1981) found private selfconsciousness to be inversely correlated with compliance.

With this in mind, a study was designed to test the following hypotheses:

H1: Individuals scoring low in private selfconsciousness will show a significant difference in value assessment as a function of a persuasive communication aimed at altering their evaluation of one of the values

H2: Individuals scoring high in private selfconsciousness will be unaffected by persuasive communications intended to change their assessments of particular values.

It was hypothesized that there would be a difference in the effectiveness of the persuasive communication depending on the degree of private selfconsciousness. People high in private selfconsciousness presumably have better and easier access to their inner motives and attitudes, and hence their values as well. They also presumably access this information or self-schema more frequently, and this leads to enhanced availability of the schema (Carver and Scheier 1978) and a greater likelihood that the schema will be reaccessed and used (Srull and Wyer 1979, 1980). Consequently, they should be more confident of their value structures and hence less prone to a persuasive manipulation than individuals who are low in selfconsciousness. On the other hand, individuals who are low in private self-consciousness, because they are less aware of their values, would be expected to be persuaded by the manipulation. Low selfconscious individuals receiving a communication arguing for a particular value should evaluate that value more positively than individuals receiving a communication arguing against the value.

METHOD

Participants

The participants in the study were a convenience sample of 130 undergraduate students in an introductory course at a large midwestern university. Participation in the study satisfied a course requirement.

Design and Overview

The study was a 3 (persuasive communication manipulation) X 2 (order of value surveys) X 2 (high private self-conscious vs. low private self-conscious participants) factorial design. Participants either received a written persuasive communication arguing in favor of social recognition (a Rokeach terminal value), a persuasive communication arguing against social recognition, or received no communication (the control). To avoid experimental demand neither of the communications explicitly used the term social recognition, rather they talked in terms that were deemed to be related to the value social recognition. It was anticipated that these communications would make salient either positive or negative aspects of one's concern with the recognition of others. Participants then completed the Rokeach Value Survey in one of two orders. Half of the participants received the terminal values to evaluate first, then the instrumental values while the other half received these in the opposite order. The third factor was the level of private selfconsciousness of the participants as determined by their score on a private self-consciousness scale.

Procedure

Participants were told that they would be completing several studies during the course of the experimental hour. Participants in the two persuasive communication conditions received written instructions which explained that the first study was part of a project designed to assess message content. The communication was said to have been excerpted from an article written by a syndicated columnist and had appeared in a national news magazine. After reading the excerpt, the next page of the booklet asked questions related to their recall as well as the content, clarity, appropriateness, etc. of the message. A manipulation check asking if they agreed or disagreed with the writer's position was included in this page of questions.

All participants were next administered a Rokeach Value Survey of instrumental and terminal values and asked to rank these as suggested by Rokeach. For participants who had experienced a persuasive communication (the experimental conditions), the value survey was introduced by a new experimenter and they were told that the questionnaire to follow was a different study. Half of the participants received the instrumental value set first while the other half received the terminal set first. After rank ordering the two sets of values, the next page of the booklet asked the participants to go back and assign a number from 0 through 100 to each value to indicate its importance to them from "no importance" to "extreme importance." [Both a ranking and rating of the Rokeach Values were included in this study. The ranking was included as this is what was originally recommended by Rokeach and is commonly used. A paper currently in preparation by the authors suggests, however, that a rating of each value may be preferable to the typical ranking. Therefore, both ranking and rating measures were collected in this study.]

After completing the value survey, the participants proceeded to the next part of the booklet which contained the ten-item private selfconsciousness questionnaire. The instructions indicated that the participants should evaluate each of the items on the 6-point scales with end points of "certainly, always true" to "certainly, always false."

RESULTS

The manipulation check of the effectiveness of the persuasive communications was the question of whether the participants agreed, disagreed, or had no opinion regarding the position advocated in the written communication. Across both persuasive communication conditions, 78.8% of the participants agreed with the position advocated by the communication that they read, 12.5% indicated that they had no opinion, while only 8.8% disagreed. There were differences across the two conditions, with a greater likelihood for participants in the pro condition to agree with the communication (89.7%) compared to participants in the against social recognition condition (68.3%).

Because some concern has been expressed regarding the factor purity of the Fenigstein, Scheier and Buss self-consciousness scale (Burnkrant and Page 1984; Mittal and Balasubramanian 1987), a factor analysis was performed on the ten-item scale (principal axis factoring with varimax rotation). As was found in the aforementioned studies, the private self-consciousness scale yielded two dimensions (rather than one as postulated by Fenigstein, Scheier and Buss): self-reflectiveness and internal state awareness. Table 1 presents the results of this factor analysis. The first factor, self reflectiveness, relates to the extent to which individuals examine their motives while the second, internal state awareness, deals primarily with awareness of feeling states. Two of the ten items did not reliably load on either dimension. The self reflectiveness dimension was deemed to be the most appropriate as an indication of the extent to which a person would be aware of their values and thus more appropriate for the current analysis.

Therefore, the five item self-reflectiveness subscale was used to divide the participants into low and high private subconsciousness conditions. (Even though the scale more accurately assesses self-reflectiveness, we will continue to use the term private self-consciousness for the sake of continuity in this paper.) The Cronbach's Alpha for the scale was .78, indicating high internal consistency. Participants were then classified as being high or low in private self-consciousness based on a median split of their total score on the five items of the self-reflectiveness subscale.

In the present study, the dependent measures of interest were the participants' ranking and rating of the value social recognition. An analysis of variance was performed on each of these measures with the independent variables being manipulation condition, order of values measured, and level of private self-consciousness of each participant. (The rankings of the values were transformed following the approach recommended by Hays (1967) and used by Pitts and Woodside (1984) such that they could be analyzed using parametric techniques.)

A similar pattern of results were obtained for the ranking and rating of the value social recognition, therefore, for the sake of brevity only the results relating to the rating of the value will be presented here. As predicted, there was a significant persuasion by private self-consciousness interaction effect (F(2.118) = 7.92, p < .001). Figure 1 shows this interaction effect for the ratings of the value social recognition.

As is clear from Figure 1, the persuasive communication had the expected effect in the case of participants low in private self-consciousness. That is, participants low in private self-consciousness who read a communication advocating social recognition rated it more positively than participants reading a communication against social recognition and more positively than the control group. An analysis of the simple main effect of persuasion among participants low in selfconsciousness indicated that this pattern of mean differences was significantly different F(2,118) = 6.61, p < .002).

TABLE 1

FACTORS AND FACTOR LOADINGS OF THE SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS SCALE

It was anticipated that there would be little or no effect of the manipulation on participants high in private self-consciousness. Figure 1 suggests a slight shift in the opposite direction among these participants. An analysis of the simple main effect of persuasion among participants high in selfconsciousness indicates, however, that these means did not differ significantly (F(2,118) = 2.38, p > .09). Therefore, the interaction effect was due primarily to the differences in means among participants low in private self-consciousness, as predicted.

Although not predicted, an order by private self-consciousness interaction was observed (F(1,118) = 7.45, p < .01). Figure 2 presents this interaction for the rating of social recognition. As the figure indicates, the order in which the values were rated had an effect on the evaluation of the specific value social recognition. An analysis of the simple main effects of order at each level of selfconsciousness indicates that the differences in the rating of social recognition for individuals low in self-consciousness was significant (F(1,118) = 10.01, p < .005), while the slight difference in the means for the two orders of evaluation for the high self-conscious participants was not (F(2,118) = .53, p > .40). Therefore, there was less stability in the evaluation of the value social recognition as a function of order among participants low in private self-consciousness than among high private selfconscious participants. Participants low in private self-consciousness rated social recognition (a terminal value) higher when it was evaluated before the instrumental set of values than when it and the other terminal values were rated after the instrumental set. The rating of social recognition among high private self-conscious individuals was resistent to the effects of the order of the evaluations.

DISCUSSION

The results of this study provide considerable support for our reasoning that degrees of private self-consciousness are related to value stability. This was shown by the differences in the evaluation of the value social recognition as a function of the nature of the persuasion and the level of private selfconsciousness of the participants. It was found that the reported values of the participants low in private self-consciousness were more affected by the communications arguing for or against social recognition than were the reported values of participants who were high in private selfconsciousness. The stability among those high in private self-consciousness was anticipated because it was assumed that they were more "in touch" with their values and hence their beliefs about the value were more resistent to the effects of the mild persuasion effort presented in the experiment. Therefore, the hypotheses of this study were strongly supported by the results.

A potential alternative explanation of the results of this study is experimental demand. To the extent that participants low in self-consciousness are more compliant (Froming and Carver 1981), they may be more likely to indicate a shift in their beliefs about social recognition because they believed that is what they were supposed to do. While this demand explanation can not be entirely ruled out, pilot testing of the research instruments and procedure showed no indication that experimental demand would be a problem. Furthermore, during the experiment, participants were lead to believe that reading of the communications and the completing of the value surveys were parts of entirely different tasks for different experimenters.

FIGURE 1

MEAN RATINGS OF SOCIAL RECOGNITION BY PERSUASION CONDITION AND LEVEL OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS

FIGURE 2

MEAN RATINGS OF SOCIAL RECOGNITION BY ORDER OF VALUE SURVEYS AND LEVEL OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS

A relationship between order of instrumental and terminal values and degree of private self-consciousness was found in this study. Although this effect was not specifically predicted, it is consistent with the reasoning of the current authors regarding the extent to which different participants are aware of their value structure. Differences in the evaluation of the value social recognition were found for participants low in private self-consciousness as a function of order of the evaluation of the values; this order effect was not apparent for those scoring high in private self-consciousness. Since those low in private self-consciousness were presumably less aware of their self-schema and values than persons high in private self-consciousness, the order in which they evaluated the various values appears to have affected their evaluation of the value social recognition. Individuals who were high in selfconsciousness were more aware of their values and hence their evaluations of any particular value were not affected by the order in which the evaluations were made.

The study raises some interesting questions regarding value surveys, their generalizability, and their use in consumer behavior and market segmentation. The results seem to indicate that true values are not so easy to capture, especially via self-reported value scales. Such self-report tasks may indeed capture the value structure for some people, but it may be highly dependent on the extent to which the individuals typically engage in self-reflection. On the one hand, individuals who typically engage in self-reflection may be able to report their values fairly accurately. On the other hand, individuals who are not self-reflective may have difficulty assessing their true values when confronted with a value instrument and may therefore default to the easier task of inferring their beliefs about their values from recent behaviors. If this is the case, then clearly any behavioral predictions or segmentation conclusions based on this type of data is somewhat risky, particularly for individuals who are not self-reflective and who do not consider their values routinely. Perhaps a more in-depth or comprehensive questionnaire which assesses a wider scope of values, attitudes and behaviors might be more useful and provide a more reliable measure of the predispositions that affect some individuals' consumption behavior. Clearly, the relation of values to consumption behavior is an important area of concern; this study simply indicates that more work is necessary in the assessment and measurement of consumer values.

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