Context Effects on Social Judgments: Implications For Measurement in Consumer Research

Geeta Menon, New York University
Barbara Bickart, University of Florida
ABSTRACT - This paper provides a summary of a special topic session that focused on context effects in survey judgments. The papers presented in this session showed conditions under which earlier responses to survey items affected later responses and provided theoretical perspectives to explain these results. The broader implications of this work for consumer judgment processes and questionnaire design were also discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Geeta Menon and Barbara Bickart (1992) ,"Context Effects on Social Judgments: Implications For Measurement in Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 62-63.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 62-63

CONTEXT EFFECTS ON SOCIAL JUDGMENTS: IMPLICATIONS FOR MEASUREMENT IN CONSUMER RESEARCH

Geeta Menon, New York University

Barbara Bickart, University of Florida

[We thank Gerald Salancik and Jack Feldman for serving as discussants for this session.]

ABSTRACT -

This paper provides a summary of a special topic session that focused on context effects in survey judgments. The papers presented in this session showed conditions under which earlier responses to survey items affected later responses and provided theoretical perspectives to explain these results. The broader implications of this work for consumer judgment processes and questionnaire design were also discussed.

OVERVIEW

There has been a growing interest among survey methodologists about the mechanisms which underlie the survey response process and how contextual factors affect these mechanisms (see Hippler, Schwarz, and Sudman 1988; Jabine et al., 1984; Schwarz and Sudman 1991, in press). This work represents a shift from simply identifying response effects when they occur to attempting to understand the processes that underlie such effects. The development of a substantive theory of the survey response process holds important implications for questionnaire design and survey procedures. In addition, survey judgments are similar to other kinds of judgments and decisions people make on a daily basis. Therefore, this work holds implications for these judgment processes as well.

In both applied and basic consumer research, we often require people to answer questions about brand-related beliefs, attitudes, purchase intentions, and past behavior. In answering such questions, respondents must interpret the question, retrieve appropriate information from memory, integrate this information to form a judgment, and report their judgment in the format desired by the investigator (Tourangeau and Rasinski 1988; Strack and Martin 1987). There is substantial evidence suggesting that earlier survey questions affect later responses (see Schuman and Presser 1981 and Feldman and Lynch 1988 for reviews). The nature of these effects, however, is not well understood. Specifically, we lack an understanding of when information rendered accessible by earlier questions will be used to form a later judgment, and if so, how this information will be used. The papers in this session examine factors which influence the use of accessible information in survey judgments from a variety of theoretical perspectives.

Carolyn Simmons and her colleagues present the results of a test of the Feldman and Lynch (1988) model in a survey context. This model suggests that the use of inputs rendered accessible by the context will be depend on (1) the accessibility of alternate inputs in the respondent's memory and (2) the relative diagnosticity of these inputs. They focus specifically on how an individual difference variables, prior commitment, affects a respondent's use of specific and general information rendered accessible by the context. The results of a survey about voting intentions in the 1988 presidential elections generally support the Feldman and Lynch model.

Leonard Martin and Thomas Harlow present empirical work suggesting that the use of accessible information is related to the amount of cognitive effort respondents expend in making a judgment. They find that people are more likely to partial out accessible inputs when they exert more effort in answering a question, resulting in a contrast effect. In this case, the type of judgment elicited (self versus proxy) appears to be related to the amount of cognitive effort expended in answering questions.

The work of Barbara Bickart and her colleagues shows how contextual factors influence the use of information about oneself in making judgments about others. Specifically, they show that earlier items can both render inputs accessible and suggest a comparison basis for making a later judgment. The combination of these factors appears to determine the extent to which the self report is used in making a proxy report. Further, these factors also affected the convergence between a proxy report and the target person's self report.

Finally, Norbert Schwarz and Herbert Bless present a comprehensive model of contrast and assimilation effects in social judgments. This model shows how categorization processes influence the emergence of assimilation or contrast effects in survey judgments and can account for effects related to important questionnaire and respondent variables. In addition, this model is also useful for understanding and predicting assimilation and contrast effects that occur in other marketing contexts.

In summary, the four papers together highlight how the response formulation process may vary depending on individual characteristics of the respondent and questionnaire design. Comprehensive models such as those proposed by Schwarz and Bless (in press) and Feldman and Lynch (1988) provide important insight into the measurement process. These models hold important implications for understanding consumer decision and judgment processes as well.

REFERENCES

Feldman, Jack M. and John G. Lynch, Jr. (1988), "Self-Generated Validity: Effects of Measurement on Belief, Attitude, Intention and Behavior," Journal of Applied Psychology. 73 (August), 421-435.

Hippler, Hans-Jurgen, Norbert Schwarz, and Seymour Sudman (eds.) (1988). Social Information Processing and Survey Methodology. New York: Springer.

Jabine, Thomas B., M. L. Straf, Judith M. Tanur, and Roger Tourangeau (eds.) (1984). Cognitive Aspects of Survey Methodology: Building a Bridge Between Disciplines. Washington: National Academy Press.

Schuman, Howard and Stanley Presser (1981), Questions and Answers in Attitude Surveys: Experiments on Question Form, Wording, and Content. New York: Academic Press.

Schwarz, Norbert and Herbert Bless (in press), "Constructing Reality and its Alternatives: An Inclusion/Exclusion Model of Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Social Judgment," in L. Martin and A. Tesser (eds.), The Construction of Social Judgment. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Schwarz, Norbert and Seymour Sudman (eds.) (1991). Order Effects in Survey and Psychological Research. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Schwarz, Norbert and Seymour Sudman (eds.) (in press). Autobiographical Memory and the Validity of Retrospective Reports. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Strack, Fritz and Leonard L. Martin (1987), "Thinking, Judging and Communicating: A Process Account of Context Effects in Attitude Surveys," in H.-J. Hippler, N. Schwarz, and S. Sudman (eds.), Social Information Processing and Survey Methodology. New York: Springer.

Tourangeau, Roger and Kenneth A. Rasinski (1988), "Cognitive Processes Underlying Context Effects in Attitude Measurement," Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 103, No. 3, 299-314.

----------------------------------------