Need For Cognition, Advertisement Viewing Time and Memory For Advertising Stimuli

James W. Peltier, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
John A. Schibrowsky, University of Nevada-Las Vegas
ABSTRACT - Need for cognition has been defined as the intrinsic motivation to engage in problem solving activities. It portrays cognitive elaboration as an individual difference variable. Cognitive elaboration has typically been measured via self-reports of cognitive effort. The problem with using self-report measures of cognitive effort is that they are at best subjective and at worst invalid. The current study reports the finding of an empirical investigation examining the relationship between need for cognition, cognitive elaboration, and recall of various advertising stimuli. Results provide support for the notion that higher need for cognition subjects process ads longer and have superior recall for brands and claims.
[ to cite ]:
James W. Peltier and John A. Schibrowsky (1994) ,"Need For Cognition, Advertisement Viewing Time and Memory For Advertising Stimuli", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 244-250.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 244-250

NEED FOR COGNITION, ADVERTISEMENT VIEWING TIME AND MEMORY FOR ADVERTISING STIMULI

James W. Peltier, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

John A. Schibrowsky, University of Nevada-Las Vegas

ABSTRACT -

Need for cognition has been defined as the intrinsic motivation to engage in problem solving activities. It portrays cognitive elaboration as an individual difference variable. Cognitive elaboration has typically been measured via self-reports of cognitive effort. The problem with using self-report measures of cognitive effort is that they are at best subjective and at worst invalid. The current study reports the finding of an empirical investigation examining the relationship between need for cognition, cognitive elaboration, and recall of various advertising stimuli. Results provide support for the notion that higher need for cognition subjects process ads longer and have superior recall for brands and claims.

INTRODUCTION

The study of how involvement affects the way in which people process, evaluate and remember advertising stimuli has long interested consumer researchers (e.g., Celsi and Olson 1988; Greenwald and Leavitt 1984; Petty et al. 1983; Rothschild 1979). Consumer involvement has typically been conceptualized in terms of an individual's motivation to process informational stimuli (e.g., Houston and Rothschild 1978; Richins and Bloch 1986; Zaichkowsky 1985). The predominant viewpoint is that consumers are more likely to engage in "cognitive elaboration" under conditions of high rather than low involvement (e.g., Burnkrant and Sawyer 1983; Celsi and Olson 1988; Greenwald and Leavitt 1984; Petty et al. 1983).

Recent research has been devoted to an individual difference variable with similar cognitive ramificationsCthe need for cognition (e.g, Batra and Stayman 1989; Cacioppo and Petty 1982; Cacioppo et al. 1983; Cacioppo et al. 1986; Crowley and Hoyer 1989; Haughtvedt et al. 1988; Haughtvedt and Petty 1989). Cacioppo and Petty (1982) defined need for cognition as the "tendency to engage in and enjoy thinking." Cohen et al. (1955) conceptualized need for cognition as "a need to structure relevant situations in meaningful, integrated ways. It is a need to understand and make reasonable the experiential world." Consistent with consumer research on involvement, a positive relationship is hypothesized to exist between the need for cognition and the motivation to expend cognitive effort when processing informational stimuli (e.g., Cacioppo and Petty 1982; Cacioppo et al. 1983; Cacioppo, et al. 1986).

Despite the research pertaining to the need for cognition, relatively little is understood about the relationship between need for cognition and the processing and memory of advertisements. Specifically, higher need for cognition is proportedly related to increased motivation to engage in cognitive elaboration. However, researchers studying need for cognition have measured cognitive elaboration via self-reported measures of cognitive effort (e.g., asking subjects to recall how much effort they used to think about previously seen stimuli). This measure is at best an indirect test of cognitive elaboration, and has resulted in conflicting findings. Moreover, the validity of self-reported techniques to ascertain the nature and scope of cognitive processing has been questioned (Nisbett and Wilson 1977). In addition, virtually no studies have examined the relationship between need for cognition and the cognitive elaboration and memory for advertising stimuli. Studies that have explored related issues in psychology have had conflicting results. Because academic and applied researchers are continually striving to better understand the ways in which consumers process and remember advertising stimuli, further research in this area is warranted.

This study reports the findings from an experiment that investigated the relationship between need for cognition and an objective measure of the cognitive elaboration of advertisements. Specifically, the study examined the impact that need for cognition had on the length of time that subjects viewed print advertisements. In addition, an attempt was made to determine whether the predicted higher ad viewing times for high need for cognition subjects translated into differential memory superiority. Also, the study investigated the degree to which need for cognition affected the processing and recall of different types of advertising stimuli (e.g., characters, products, brands, and claims). Finally, efforts were made to isolate elaboration and memory effects from other possible confounding variables.

CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS

Cognitive Elaboration

Need for cognition theory suggests that individuals who enjoy thinking and problem solving activities are "intrinsicly" motivated to expend cognitive effort. In contrast, individuals characterized as having low need for cognition are considered to be "cognitive misers" (e.g., Cacioppo et al. 1986; Taylor 1981) who view thinking as a relatively unrewarding exercise.

Cohen et al. (1955) conducted the first empirical test of the way need for cognition relates to processing elaboration. Subjects read either ambiguous or structured stories and were asked to rate how interesting and likeable these stories were to them. Subjects also provided post hoc reports of how much effort they expended to understand each type of story. The results did not support a superior self-reported cognitive effort for high need for cognition subjects. Subjects low and high in need for cognition reported similar amounts of cognitive effort devoted to processing the stories. The authors suggested that the measure that they used to assess cognitive effort was insensitive to potential processing differences. A ceiling effect may have been created that artificially restricted the range of felt cognitive effort for high need for cognition subjects.

A similar rationale was offered by Cacioppo and Petty (1982) to explain why they were not able to detect a significant relationship between need for cognition and cognitive effort. They agreed with Cohen et al. that self-reported measures of cognitive effort may not be sensitive enough to detect processing differences. They also suggested that individuals with high need for cognition may find it "easier" to think and to solve problems than individuals with low need for cognition.

Two additional studies concluded that individuals with high need for cognition were more likely to cognitively elaborate informational stimuli (Cacioppo et al. 1983; Cacioppo et al. 1986). In both cases, subjects with high need for cognition reported expending significantly greater cognitive effort to experimental stimuli than their low need for cognition counterparts.

Message Recall

Studies investigating the relationship between need for cognition and message recall have also reported conflicting results. Cohen (1957) and Cohen et al. (1955) found no difference in the amount of learning and retention for persuasive messages across high and low need for cognition subjects. However, Cacioppo et al. (1983), and Cacioppo et al. (1986) found that high need for cognition subjects recalled significantly more message arguments than low need for cognition subjects. This finding persisted even after controlling for verbal intelligence (Cacioppo et al. 1986).

FIGURE 1

NFC AND THE ELABORATION LIKELIHOOD MODEL

The need for cognition studies pertaining to self-reported cognitive elaboration and differential memory have reported mix results. Hypotheses are developed in the next section that try to resolve this conflict by examining need for cognition in terms of advertisement processing time and its subsequent effect on memory for specific ad stimuli.

HYPOTHESES

The willingness to cognitively elaborate informational stimuli is the basic principle behind the need for cognition construct. As discussed, the use of a subjective self-reported level of cognitive effort is at best an indirect measure of cognitive elaboration, and at worst invalid. However, an objective test of the amount of time that an individual spends processing an advertisement is a relatively good surrogate measure of cognitive elaboration (Celsi and Olson 1988). In addition, as compared to self-reported cognitive effort, ad viewing time should be a more sensitive measure of cognitive elaboration because it will significantly reduce or eliminate artificial ceiling effects.

If individuals with higher need for cognition enjoy thinking and problem solving activities more than those with a lower need for cognition, then there may also be a corresponding relationship in the length of time that they process print advertisements.

H1: Need for cognition is positively related to ad viewing time.

H1 postulates that high need for cognition consumers will spend more time processing print advertisements. Researchers studying cognitive elaboration have shown that memory for stimuli is a function of the amount and nature of cognitive activity at encoding (e.g., Jacoby and Craik 1979; Craik and Lockhart 1972; Craik and Tulving 1975). Subsequently, the enhanced ad viewing time predicted for high need for cognition subjects should result in better total recall memory. Previous studies have also concluded that high need for cognition individuals may recall information because of superior verbal intelligence (Cacioppo et al. 1986) and a greater ability to process and solve problems (Cacioppo and Petty 1982). Together, these results suggest that the need for cognition has both a direct effect on recall and an indirect effect via cognitive elaboration (ad viewing time). These relationships are displayed in Figure 1.

H2: Need for cognition is positively related to total ad recall.

No specific predictions are made in H2 regarding how need for cognition is related to differential processing and memory for individual ad stimuli (e.g., characters vs. products vs. brands vs. claims). However, conceptual and empirical research studying the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) offer insight for better understanding how differing levels of need for cognition might influence the degree to which various advertising stimuli are processed and remembered (e.g, Petty and Cacioppo 1981, 1984; Petty et al. 1981; Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983).

Petty and Cacioppo (1981) contend that an individual's level of processing involvement at encoding influences which of two routes to persuasion is utilizedCthe "central" route (high involvement) or the "peripheral" route (low involvement). Under the central route, individuals are motivated to carefully analyze the content and quality of the persuasive arguments contained in the communication. Alternatively, detailed processing of message arguments is avoided under peripheral processing, and individuals instead focus on other aspects of the communication such as the attractiveness or credibility of the source, music, pictorial stimuli, etc.

The ELM suggests that the enhanced elaboration at encoding for high need for cognition individuals may not translate into superior recall for all aspects of an advertisement. Consistent with the ELM, subjects high in need for cognition should process brands and claims more deeply, and this should translate into superior recall for this information. In contrast, because the test ads used in the current study presented character and product information in "pictorial" form, these more peripherally-oriented stimuli should be recalled better by low need for cognition subjects. Accordingly, H3a and H3b are as follows:

H3a: Need for cognition is positively related to brand and claim recall.

H3b: Need for cognition is negatively related to character and product recall.

An experiment was designed to test the above three hypotheses. It is described below.

METHOD

Procedure

One hundred and thirty students from three introductory marketing classes were recruited to participate in the study. On the day of the experiment, subjects were individually brought into a room and were told that they were going to participate in a concept testing project for a local advertising agency. They were shown four color-illustrated advertisements via a slide presentation. Each test ad contained a character/spokesperson, a product illustration, a brand name, and an advertising claim. Subjects could view these ads for as long or as little as they liked. The amount of time that they viewed each ad was unobtrusively recorded by the experimenter with a stopwatch. After viewing the test ads, subjects went to another room where they were asked to fill out an 18-item need for cognition instrument (Cacioppo and Petty 1984). Upon completion of this task, subjects filled out written protocols asking them to write down as many characters, products, brands and claims that they could remember. Finally, subjects filled out a ten-item involvement scale for each product (Zaichkowsky 1985).

TABLE 1

SUMMARY STATISTICS

Independent Variables

Need for Cognition: The principle independent variable was the subjects' self-reported level of need for cognition. Numerous studies have concluded that the need for cognition instrument is both valid and reliable (c.f. Haugtvedt et al. 1988). A total summed score across the 18-item need for cognition scale was calculated for each subject. The coefficient alpha found for this measure was .965.

Product Involvement: Need for cognition is a measure of "intrinsic" involvement. A product involvement measure was included as an independent variable to control for the possible effects of "situational" involvement on the processing and memory for the test ads. Using a scale with ten of the inventory items developed by Zaichkowsky (1985), subjects self-reported their involvement for each of the products categories contained in the test ads: candy bars, after tan lotion, burglar alarms, and deodorants. The coefficient alphas for these product involvement measures ranged from .904 to .981. As a note, Zaichkowsky's original involvement scale had twenty items. However, reduced scales have been found to accurately capture the construct (Jain and Srinivasan 1990).

Ad Viewing Time: Advertising viewing time was an observed variable. The experimenter recorded the amount of time that each subject viewed the test ads. It is used as an independent variable to analyze the unique contributions of need for cognition on recall (H2, H3a, and H3b).

Dependent Variables

Ad Viewing Time: Ad viewing time is used an a dependent variable to analyze H1.

Total Ad Recall: A total ad recall score for each ad was calculated as character recall + product recall + brand recall + claim recall.

Character, Product, Brand, and Claim Recall: A recall score was calculated for each of these ad stimuli.

Two graduate assistants were assigned the task of coding the recall responses. A strict coding guide was developed a priori to eliminate scoring subjectivity. Each recall response could receive a score of 0 (incorrect), 1 (partially correct) or 2 (completely correct). The maximum character, product, brand, and claim recall score per ad was two. The maximum total ad recall score per ad was eight. Only ten recall scores had to be resolved through discussion (99.5% agreement).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Table 1 shows the summary statistics for the variables considered in the analysis. The average viewing times across the four test ads ranged from 7.3 to 7.9 seconds. This consistency in means indicates that total viewing time was not dominated by any one ad. Total ad recall averaged 3.04 (on a scale of 0-8), this suggests ceiling and/or floor effects were not a problem (Peltier and Schibrowsky 1991).

The first step in the data analysis was to investigate the correlations of the independent variables to check for multicollinearity. As is evident from Table 2, multicollinearity does not appear to be a problem in this analysis. Additional diagnostics (condition indices, variance proportions, and correlation matrix of regression coefficients) conducted during the subsequent regression analyzes corroborated this conclusion.

A series of regression analyses were conducted to test the hypotheses. Hypothesis 1 predicted that need for cognition would be positively related to ad viewing time. As can be seen from Table 3, H1 was supported. This was true even though product involvement was included in the regression analysis.

Hypothesis 2 predicted that need for cognition is positively related to total ad recall. The data in Table 4 support this hypothesis. The results show that cognitive elaboration at encoding (ad viewing time) and need for cognition were significant predictors of total ad recall. This suggests, as hypothesized, that need for cognition has a direct impact on memory and an indirect impact via cognitive elaboration. It should be noted that product involvement also had a significant impact on total recall.

Hypothesis 3a stated that increased need for cognition would result in higher levels of recall for claims and brands. To test this hypothesis two regression analyses were conducted, one for each of the component recall measures. Tables 5a and 5b show the results of the test of this hypothesis. Note that involvement and ad viewing time were included in the analyses. The results support hypothesis 3a. Need for Cognition was positively related to claim and brand recall. This implies that higher need for cognition subjects focused on and better remembered this more "centrally-oriented" information. Furthermore, the significant ad viewing time relationship found for both brand and claim suggest the greater processing effort expended by high need for cognition subjects also contributed to recall superiority.

TABLE 2

CORRELATIONS OF KEY VARIABLES

TABLE 3

TEST OF HYPOTHESIS 1

TABLE 4

TEST OF HYPOTHESIS 2

Hypothesis 3b predicted that increased need for cognition would lead to lower levels of recall for characters and products. It was hypothesized that this "peripherally-oriented" information would be processed more deeply and better recalled by low need for cognition subjects. To test this hypothesis two regression analyses were conducted, one for each of these component recall measures. Tables 6a and 6b show the results of the test of this hypothesis. Note that involvement and ad viewing time were included in the analyses. The results did not support hypothesis 3b. Need for Cognition was not related to character or product recall.

The significant ad viewing time relationships shown in Tables 6a and 6b for these variables provide insight for explaining why low need for cognition subjects did not have superior character and product recall. Specifically, because exposure to the test ads was not fixed across subjects, and was instead self-selected, some of the "additional" elaboration effort expended by higher need for cognition subjects was probably allocated toward processing character and product information. Therefore, while characters and products might receive greater processing effort by low need for cognition subjects in a fixed exposure environment, this was apparently not the case in the variable exposure environment used in the current study.

TABLE 5A

TEST OF HYPOTHESIS 3A: CLAIM RECALL

TABLE 5B

TEST OF HYPOTHESIS 3A: BRAND RECALL

TABLE 6A

TEST OF HYPOTHESIS 3B: CHARACTER RECALL

TABLE 6B

TEST OF HYPOTHESIS 3B: PRODUCT RECALL

CONCLUSION

The findings from this study suggest that need for cognition has a significant impact on the processing and memory for advertising stimuli. The initial objective of the study was to utilize an objective test of cognitive elaboration to determine whether consumers differ in their intrinsic motivation to process print advertisements. The motivation to engage in cognitive elaboration at encoding was operationalized in this study as the amount of time subjects spent viewing an advertisement. Consistent with expectations, high need for cognition subjects processed test ads significantly longer than those with low need for cognition. This finding provides strong support for the basic premise underlying the need for cognition construct and extends its contextual domain to include the inherent motivation to process advertising-related stimuli. It also suggests that the use of self-reported cognitive effort by previous need for cognition researchers was a valid measure of cognitive elaboration.

Previous studies exploring the relationship between need for cognition and memory have also been in conflict (Cohen et al. 1955; Cacioppo and Petty 1982; Cacioppo et al. 1983; Cacioppo et al. 1986). In addition to testing the motivation to process assumption, a self-selected ad viewing time measure was utilized for the purpose of providing a strong theoretical foundation for predicting and justifying recall differences across varying levels of need for cognition. Consequently, the second objective of the study was to determine the degree to which the predicted higher ad viewing times for high need for cognition subjects translated in superior recall for characters, products, brands, and claims. Using depth-of-processing (e.g., Jacoby and Craik 1979; Craik and Lockhart 1972; Craik and Tulving 1975) and the elaboration likelihood model (e.g, Petty and Cacioppo 1981, 1984; Petty et al. 1981, 1983) as theoretical guides, it was predicted that high need for cognition subjects would spend more time processing the test advertisements, and that their "central" processing effort would result in superior brand and claim recall (supported). In contrast, low need for cognition subjects were predicted to have superior recall for the more "peripherally-oriented" character and product stimuli (not supported). Because greater cognitive elaboration was a major theoretical principle underlying these findings, the strong support found in the study for these hypotheses help resolve the elaboration and memory inconsistencies of previous studies. Furthermore, the findings were present even though other factors were included in the analyzes.

The findings from this study suggest that need for cognition is an important construct that merits future research consideration. Specifically, more research is needed to determine the relationships between need for cognition, product involvement, cognitive elaboration, various measures of memory, and fixed (Broadcast) vs. self-selected (print) exposure media. This suggests that it may be worthwhile to analyze these relationships via structural equations. In addition, the finding that product involvement was a significant predictor of character and product recall, and need for cognition was a significant predictor of brand and claim recall, suggest that these construct should be further investigated to uncover any similarities and differences. Lastly, investigating the relationship between need for cognition and other aspects of information processing, such as decision rules, the number of attributes considered, and the number of brands considered, might also prove to be valuable to consumer researchers.

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