Understanding the Link Between Environmental Attitudes and Consumer Product Usage: Measuring the Moderating Role of Attitude Strength

Linda F. Alwitt, DePaul University
Ida E. Berger, University of Toronto
ABSTRACT - The ability of attitudes to predict behavior for an environmentally sensitive product can be enhanced by considering the attitude's strength as well as its valence. Attitude strength appears to be multi-dimensional. Some dimensions directly influence purchase intentions over and above the effect of attitude valence. Other attitude strength dimensions moderate the attitude-behavior relationship.
[ to cite ]:
Linda F. Alwitt and Ida E. Berger (1993) ,"Understanding the Link Between Environmental Attitudes and Consumer Product Usage: Measuring the Moderating Role of Attitude Strength", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 189-194.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 189-194

UNDERSTANDING THE LINK BETWEEN ENVIRONMENTAL ATTITUDES AND CONSUMER PRODUCT USAGE: MEASURING THE MODERATING ROLE OF ATTITUDE STRENGTH

Linda F. Alwitt, DePaul University

Ida E. Berger, University of Toronto

[Data collection for this study was partially supported by a grat to Ida E. Berger from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Order of authorship is alphabetical.]

ABSTRACT -

The ability of attitudes to predict behavior for an environmentally sensitive product can be enhanced by considering the attitude's strength as well as its valence. Attitude strength appears to be multi-dimensional. Some dimensions directly influence purchase intentions over and above the effect of attitude valence. Other attitude strength dimensions moderate the attitude-behavior relationship.

INTRODUCTION

Although about seventy per cent of consumers show high levels of concern for the environment, when it comes to consuming products and services, their actions are often inconsistent with these attitudes. One possible reason for this discrepancy between environmental attitudes and consumer behaviors may be the conflict presented by some environmentally harmful products. On the one hand, a product may offer important benefits to consumers such as convenience, performance or a good price while on the other hand, it may have severe environmental costs. For example, single-serve aseptically packaged puddings, juices and fruits provide consumers with convenience and package size control while contributing substantially to the solid waste stream.

This research proposes an approach to measuring and evaluating attitudes toward a potentially polluting product which can take into account conflicts between environmental concerns and product benefits. The research concerns a basic problem related to environmental issues in marketing: if one wants to develop marketing strategies or public policies to change consumer attitudes and thereby behaviors about environmentally polluting products, the target attitude must be reasonably predictive of behaviors. We believe that this approach can improve the ability of measured attitudes to predict consumer behavior.

CONCEPTUAL DEVELOPMENT

Research on Environmental Attitudes

Researchers have been repeatedly disappointed by the inability of measured environmental attitudes to explain environmentally responsible behaviors. For instance, this inability has been seen in the domain of energy conservation (Webster 1975; Ritchie, McDougall and Claxton 1981; Verhallen and Van Raaij 1981). Some researchers have explained these results with reference to the level of specificity with which the attitudes and behaviors were measured. Theorists suggest that for maximum attitude-behavior correspondence, attitudes and behaviors must be measured at similar levels of specificity (Ajzen and Fishbein 1977). Low correspondence between measured attitudes and subsequent behaviors has also been attributed to moderator effects. Researchers following a perspective that relaxes the assumption that attitudes always predict behavior focus on the identification of variables that systematically moderate the relationship between attitudes and behavior (a-b relationship).

Moderators of the Attitude-Behavior Relationship: The Role of Attitude Strength

Interest in moderators of the a-b relationship has been driven by the consistent finding that attitudes formed on the basis of direct experiences were more predictive of subsequent behavior than attitudes formed on the basis of indirect experiences, even though the attitudes did not differ in valence (e.g. Regan and Fazio 1977, Fazio and Zanna 1978 a and b). These a-b consistency differences were explained in terms of variables that represented non- evaluative aspects of the attitudes themselves. These included attitude certainty and attitude clarity (Fazio and Zanna 1978a); attitude confidence (Sample and Warland 1973, Fazio and Zanna 1978b); amount of information in memory (Davidson et al 1985); and attitude accessibility (Fazio et al 1982, Fazio and Williams 1986).

This body of evidence suggests that attitudes are comprised of two identifiable aspects C valence and strength (see Petty and Krosnick in press). An individual may have a positive or negative predisposition toward an object and may hold this predisposition with more or less strength. In other words, an individual may like (or dislike) a product and may hold this attitude with a varying degree of confidence, certainty, accessibility or knowledge. Furthermore, while valence signals the direction (approach vs. avoidance for example) that any behavior might take, the evidence suggests that strength influences the likelihood that these tendencies are actualized. Support for this view of attitudes can also be found in the marketing literature (Bennett and Harrell 1975; Smith and Swinyard 1983; Berger and Mitchell 1989; Berger 1992; Antil 1978; Berger and Mitchell 1989; Fazio, Powell and Williams 1989).

The Nature of Attitude Strength

From evidence such as this it is clear that a second important aspect of attitudes exists, but its exact nature is less clear. Researchers have tested a large number of variables that appear to tap this notion of strength. However, attempts to look at several different variables at one time suggest that "strength" itself may not be uni-dimensional (Raden 1985; Abelson 1988; Berger and Mitchell 1989; Alwitt 1991). Furthermore, there is mounting evidence that these unique aspects of strength have unique and identifiable influences on subsequent processes (see Berger 1992; Bargh et. al. 1992; Alwitt 1991).

In other words, the structure of the attitude strength construct and the way in which its many sub-aspects impact on behavior is still an open question. A review of the attitude literature indicates four conceptually distinct aspects of attitude strength that have particular relevance to environmentally sensitive products. These are structural consistency, attitude extremity, attitude accessibility and attitude conviction.

Four Dimensions of Strength

Multi-attribute attitude models have long argued that attitudes (overall summary evaluations) are comprised of beliefs and evaluations regarding expected outcomes (Ajzen and Fishbein 1980). In addition, some theorists have suggested that intra-component (within beliefs) and inter-component (cognitions to affect) inconsistency may be indicative of relatively weak attitudes (Ajzen 1989; Chaiken et al in press; Fazio and Zanna 1978b; Norman 1975) and thereby may influence the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Notice that conflict between beliefs (such as convenience and over-packaging), or between feelings and beliefs, may not be reflected in a summary evaluation. Thus such conflicted attitudes may be relatively weaker predictors of behavior.

Related to the idea of structural consistency is the notion of judgmental extremity. Individuals with highly integrated, undifferentiated, consistent belief systems are likely to report single evaluative measures of attitudes that are relatively extreme (Tetlock 1983, 1984; Judd and Lusk 1984), representative of the overall cognitive domain (Schlegel and DiTecco 1982) and relatively predictive of behaviors (Ajzen 1989).

In a very provocative paper Abelson (1988) distinguishes between firmly held attitudes and those that are more superficial by invoking the notion of attitude "conviction". Abelson presents empirical results on a variety of attitudes that show that conviction is comprised of three unique dimensions: Emotional Commitment; Ego Preoccupation; Cognitive Elaboration. Of relevance to the environmental domain is the fact that products that have only recently been identified as potentially harmful (such as single-serve aseptic packages) may still be very important to an individual because of other sought-after benefits. Attitude conviction about such products may lead even environmentally concerned individuals to continue to purchase an environmentally harmful product.

In an extensive program of research, Fazio and his colleagues have examined the importance of attitude accessibility in the process by which attitudes guide behavior. Defined as the strength of the association between the representation of an object and its attitude in memory, and measured as latency to respond to an attitudinal inquiry, accessibility has been shown to moderate the relationship between expressed attitudes and subsequent behavior (Fazio 1986, 1989, 1990b). This moderation has been particularly evident in low involvement, time-pressured situations (Fazio, Powell and Williams 1989; Sanbonmatsu and Fazio 1990). Many environmentally sensitive products, including the product investigated here, are low involvement products that are frequently purchased during time-pressured grocery store shopping trips.

Thus structural consistency, attitude extremity, attitude conviction and attitude accessibility are all implicated in understanding environmentally related attitudes and behaviors. Furthermore, researchers have demonstrated important linkages between these aspects of attitude strength. For example, the same mechanisms that lead to evaluatively extreme attitudes (e.g., the rehearsal of an attitudinal response) also lead to attitudes that are highly accessible (Downing, Judd and Brauer 1992).

Study Purposes

The purpose of this study is to examine the structure and behavioral implications of this two-aspect model of attitude in an environmentally sensitive product domain. The study measured attitude valence and four dimensions of attitude strength with respect to a single product category, single-serve aseptic packages of juices, fruit or puddings. This category presents a potential conflict to the consumer between personal benefits and environmental costs. Survey measures of the elements of attitude were developed or adopted from research by other investigators.

METHOD

Procedure

Respondents participated in a computer-aided self-administered survey, which allowed randomization of the order in which questions were asked. In addition to responses, response times to one-second accuracy were recorded.

Measures

The computerized questionnaire measured seven sets of constructs, in the order in which they are described in this section.

Attitude toward single serve packages. Overall attitude toward single serve aseptic packages of juices fruit or puddings was measured by three seven-point bipolar scales. The scales were anchored by 'good-bad', 'harmful- beneficial', and 'like-dislike'. Attitude valence is the mean of these ratings (coefficient alpha = .79).

Beliefs and feelings about single-serve packages. Respondents indicated the level of agreement with 26 randomly ordered statements using 5-point Likert-type scales. Ten of these represented beliefs, 3 represented feelings regarding single-serve packages, and the rest were adaptations of Abelson's (1988) conviction scales.

Forced choice attitude to single-serve packages. Respondents were asked to choose between two sides of a question that explicitly raised a belief conflict followed by a question which presented a counter-argument to their response (Fletcher and Chalmers 1991). The conflict presented was that between the convenience and the environmental impact of single-serve packages. This choice was followed by a counter-arguing question which required a 'yes-no' response. Responses and response times were recorded.

Situational consistency. Respondents were asked how well suited were single-serve packages to seven different situations such as 'using while watching TV' or 'serving with dinner'. They rated the use of single-serve packages in each situation on a five-point 'not at all good-very good' bipolar scale.

Attitudes to the environment. Overall attitude to the environment was measured by agreement with three statements commonly used by the Angus Reid Polling Group (see Berger and Corbin 1992) (coefficient alpha=.75).

Purchase intent. Intention to purchase single-serve packages of juice, fruit or puddings in the next month was measured by a four-point likelihood scale.

Demographics. Data was gathered from each respondent on age, gender, marital status, living arrangements, how often food is taken from home to school or work, and income.

Attitude Strength

Fourteen variables were constructed as indicators of the four attitude strength constructs discussed above.

Structural consistency. Structural consistency was operationalised in terms of 5 variables. Three measures were developed using the responses to the 13 belief and feeling statements described above. The standard deviation of each respondent's ratings of the 13 belief and feeling statements (S1) measures cogitive consistency. A ratio of ratings of beliefs about environmental concerns for single-serve packages to ratings of beliefs about other features of these packages (S2) measures environmental conflict (see Scott 1969). Consistency of beliefs relative to feelings about the product category (S3) is the ratio of the mean rating of beliefs to the mean rating of beliefs plus feelings about single-serve packages. Consistency across situations (S4) is the standard deviation of the rated appropriateness of using single- serve packages in the seven situations. Attitudinal stability (S5), derived from the forced choice questions, is coded 1 if the respondent did not change his/her opinion when confronted with a counter-argument, and 0 if he/she did change.

Attitude Extremity. Extremity is the absolute difference between the attitude toward single serve packages, and the scale mid-point.

TABLE 1

PRINCIPLE COMPONENTS ANALYSIS OF ATTITUDE STRENGTH VARIABLES (VARIMAX ROTATION) FACTOR LOADINGS

Attitude Conviction. Thirteen of the Abelson (1988) conviction items (C1-C3) were adapted to the single serve product category. Coefficient alpha for the entire scale of 13 items is .79.

Accessibility. Accessibility is an individual's response latency to several attitude and belief statements. Since individuals differ in how quickly they respond, each response time was adjusted by subtracting the individual's mean response latency to neutral items (Fazio 1990a). Accessibility of attitudes about single serve packages is measured both as the mean time to respond to the three attitude scales about single-serve packages (A1) and as the latency to the forced choice conflicted question (A2). Response times were also examined for attitudes about the environment (A3), a belief regarding the environmental impact of the product category (A4), and a belief about the convenience of the product category (A5).

Sample

Students, appropriate respondents since they are potential users of the product category under study, completed the survey. (N = 134 undergraduate students from business schools in two large urban universities.)

Analytical Methodology

Data analysis proceeded in two stages. First, the structure of attitude strength as measured by the 14 variables described above was examined using principal components analysis. Second, the way in which the two- aspect model of attitudes is related to purchase intentions was examined using moderator analysis.

RESULTS

Structure of Attitude Strength Measures

To examine the structure of attitude strength, the 14 strength variables were entered into a principle components analysis. Both an eigenvalue >1 and a scree criterion suggest that a five-factor solution is most parsimonious, and accounts for 57% of the total variance. Table 1 shows the factor loadings of each attitude strength variable on each factor following varimax rotation, as well as communalities for each variable and the common variance accounted for by each factor.

Although for the most part the variables load as conceptually expected, there are some important exceptions. Factor 1 represents the accessibility of the cognitions underlying this product category. It includes response times to environmental concerns in general, environmental concerns about single serve packages and convenience of single serve packages. Notice that despite common methods variance, the other latencies do not load highly on this factor. Factor 2 represents attitude conviction. It includes the three Abelson conviction scales. Factor 3 represents consistency. It includes the consistency with which beliefs about single serve packages were rated, the level of environmental conflict about single serve packages and consistency of use of single serve packages across situations. Notice also that the consistency of feelings and beliefs has almost as high a loading on this factor as on Factor 5. Factor 4 represents the accessibility of attitudes to single serve packages. It includes response times to attitudes about single serve packages, from both the general ratings and the forced choice questions. Interestingly, the attitude extremity item loads on this factor. Factor 5 is best thought of as attitude stability. It represents the tendency to hold on to an opinion, despite counter argumentation.

Correlations

As a first step to understanding how these dimensions of attitude strength relate to purchase intent, the five strength factors were correlated with general attitude toward the environment, attitude valence and purchase intent (see Table 2).

As expected, a general attitude regarding the environment is not significantly related to purchase intent toward single serve packages. This result is consistent with previous findings that general attitudes about the environment are not helpful in predicting the use of environmentally sensitive products. Also as expected, the attitude toward this product category is positively related to purchase intentions. Notice that there is a significant relationship between attitude accessibility and purchase intent. Also notice that the correlatonal pattern supports the multi-dimensionality of attitude strength. Specifically, with one exception the attitude strength factors are uncorrelated. Only the two accessibility factors are related (r=.23, p=.008).

TABLE 2

CORRELATIONS OF ATTITUDE VALENCE WITH STRENGTH DIMENSIONS AND PURCHASE INTENT

TABLE 3

SUMMARY OF REGRESSION ANALYSES OF BEHAVIORAL INTENTION AS A FUNCTION OF ATTITUDE VALENCE AND ATTITUDE STREGTH VARIABLES

Attitude Strength as a Moderator

Of primary interest in this study is the way in which dimensions of attitude strength influence the nature of the relationship between attitude valence and purchase intent. The strength factors could potentially have direct influences on purchase intent and/or they could moderate the valence - intent relationship. Moderator regression analyses are used in order to evaluate these two types of influence (Evans 1990). In all regression equations purchase intent for single-serve packages serves as the dependent variable and attitude valence, the attitude strength scale and their multiplicative interaction term are the independent variables. The independent variables are centered prior to forming the interaction term in order to minimize multicollinearity (Aiken and West 1991). The results are shown in Table 3.

Of the five attitude strength dimensions, two influence purchase intent directly (conviction and attitude accessibility) and two moderate the relationship between attitude valence and purchase intent (cognitive accessibility and attitude accessibility). Because attitude extremity and attitude accessibility are conceptually distinct constructs, and because they differ in sign (that is, high latencies reflect low levels of accessibility) the attitude accessibility variable and attitude extremity were also examined in separate regressions (see Table 4).

Like conviction, attitude extremity has an important direct influence on purchase intent but does not moderate the attitude valence-purchase intent relationship. These results suggest that information regarding attitude conviction and extremity can contribute to better predictions of purchase intent. In contrast, accessibility, both cognitive and attitudinal, behaves as a moderator. A change in attitude valence is associated with a greater change in purchase intent when accessibility is high, vs. when accessibility is low.

DISCUSSION

To evaluate and influence consumer behaviors toward an environmentally sensitive product, public policy makers and marketers must consider more than simply the valence of attitudes toward that product. A second aspect of attitude, its strength, can have an impact on the ability of an attitude to predict consumer intentions toward the product. Furthermore, this research demonstrates that dimensions of attitude strength can influence consumer intentions in different ways. Consequently, these variables offer unique information to help guide public policy and marketing decisions. Our results imply that several attitude strength dimensions should be included in assessments of market potential, definitions of market segments and evaluations of persuasive techniques for environmentally sensitive products.

TABLE 4

SUMMARY OF REGRESSIN ANALYSES OF BEHAVIORAL INTENTION AS A FUNCTION OF ATTITUDE VALENCE, ATTITUDE ACCESSIBILITY AND EXTREMITY

The Conviction and Extremity dimensions of attitude strength are important because they directly influence behavioral intentions. Thus they represent another route to persuasion. To the extent that conviction reflects affective components of attitude (i.e., emotional commitment and ego involvement), it may be susceptible to affective or cognitive messages (see Millar and Millar 1990; Edwards 1990). Extremity may be susceptible to certain kinds of verbal rehearsal or repetition (see Downing, Judd and Brauer 1992).

Similarly, accessibility to beliefs and attitudes moderated the influence of attitude valence on consumer intentions toward this environmentally sensitive product. Accessibility is influenced by whether an attitude is formed on the basis of direct or indirect experience (Fazio 1986). Because consumers who use environmentally sensitive products such as single serve aseptic packages often have a lot of direct experience with them, they are likely to have positive overall attitudes which are more likely to predict their behavioral intentions toward the products. These attitudes and behaviors may be particularly difficult to change using indirect persuasion techniques (such as advertising). Rather, behavioral interventions may be called for, such as taxes to raise prices or regulation of waste disposal.

From a public policy point of view, potential rather than current users of environmentally sensitive products are better targets for indirect strategies of attitude and behavior change. This segment may require education about environmental costs, in addition to monetary or regulatory barriers that work to reduce their direct experiences with the environmentally sensitive product.

In summary, attitude strength dimensions can be used to increase the usefulness of attitude change strategies by public policy makers who want consumers to take environmentally positive actions. They can also be used by marketers to identify the scope of 'green' interest in their product category, and develop appropriate marketing strategies which will both increase profits and protect the environment.

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