An Examination of Individual and Object-Specific Influences on the Extended Self and Its Relation to Attachment and Satisfaction

Eugene Sivadas, University of Cincinnati
Ravi Venkatesh, University of Cincinnati
ABSTRACT - The extended self construct has been primarily examined in the post-positivist research tradition to study the relation between consumers possessions and their sense of self. We study this construct using "positivist" tools in order to foster critical pluralism within our field. We extend current research by examining whether individuals for whom possessions in general comprise the self to a greater degree are more likely to incorporate specific possessions in the extended self. We also examine the relation between object incorporation in the extended self and object attachment, and object incorporation and satisfaction in order to better specify the domain of the construct.
[ to cite ]:
Eugene Sivadas and Ravi Venkatesh (1995) ,"An Examination of Individual and Object-Specific Influences on the Extended Self and Its Relation to Attachment and Satisfaction", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: Pge406-412.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pges 406-412

AN EXAMINATION OF INDIVIDUAL AND OBJECT-SPECIFIC INFLUENCES ON THE EXTENDED SELF AND ITS RELATION TO ATTACHMENT AND SATISFACTION

Eugene Sivadas, University of Cincinnati

Ravi Venkatesh, University of Cincinnati

ABSTRACT -

The extended self construct has been primarily examined in the post-positivist research tradition to study the relation between consumers possessions and their sense of self. We study this construct using "positivist" tools in order to foster critical pluralism within our field. We extend current research by examining whether individuals for whom possessions in general comprise the self to a greater degree are more likely to incorporate specific possessions in the extended self. We also examine the relation between object incorporation in the extended self and object attachment, and object incorporation and satisfaction in order to better specify the domain of the construct.

INTRODUCTION

Consumer researchers have not paid sufficient attention to post-consumption experiences (Wells 1993). Belk (1988, p. 139) suggests that "we cannot hope to understand consumer behavior without first gaining some understanding of the meanings that consumers attach to possessions." Belk's extended self construct examines the relation between consumers' possessions and their sense of self (Belk 1987; 1988;1990; 1991; 1992; Dawson and Bamossy 1991; Hirschman 1994; Mick and DeMoss 1990; Sanders 1990; Schultz, Kleine, and Kernan 1989; Sivadas and Machleit 1994).

The extended self consists of self plus possessions and is that part of self-identity which is defined by possessions including gifts, money, body-parts, monuments, and places (Belk 1988). The extended self construct builds upon the idea that consumers prefer products that are "congruent" with their selves (Belk 1988; Kleine, Kleine, and Kernan 1993; Sirgy 1982). The self provides a "sense of who and what we are" and possessions help support our sense of self because to a great extent we are what we have and possess (Belk 1988; James 1890; Kleine, Kleine, and Kernan 1993; Tuan 1980). The extended self construct has been developed and examined primarily from the post-positivist research tradition. The construct came in for criticism from Cohen (1989) and Solomon (1990) who suggested that it was not well-defined theoretically or operationally.

Cohen's primary concern was that the extended self construct did not adequately distinguish between possessions that were important to an individual and those that were part of the individual's extended self. Belk (1989) responded to these criticisms by providing some examples of how possessions that were important to him (e.g., the Nazi flag) were not part of his (Belk's) extended self. Belk (1989) further suggested that much of Cohen's (1989) criticisms emanated from a positivist point of view.

Recently, scholars have pointed to the need to bring about a rapprochement between what some see as a paradigmatic division within our field (Hunt 1991). Sivadas and Machleit (1994) developed a scale to measure the extent of possession incorporation in the extended self. They found strong support for Belk's (1988; 1989) assertion that possessions that were part of the extended self were empirically distinct from possessions that were important to the individual.

Belk (1989) reminds us that the extended self construct can be useful in both positivist and post-positivist research. Following Belk (1987) and Sivadas and Machleit (1994) we examine the extended self construct from a positivist standpoint, however we believe that our findings will be useful to researchers subscribing to either paradigm.

Our purpose is twofold. First, we examine to what degree is incorporation of possessions in the extended self an individual trait and to what degree is it the function of the possession being examined. Prior studies on the extended self have examined whether a particular possession or possessions are part of an individual's extended self (e.g., Belk 1990; Sanders 1990; Hirschman 1994). However, hardly any attention has been paid to whether some consumers are more likely to derive their identities from possessions than other consumers. Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) have noted individual differences in importance attached to various possessions based on variables like age with older adults being more past-oriented. Culture has also been identified as influencing the role of possessions in "constructing and preserving identity" because the nature of the self varies across cultures (e.g., Belk 1984b; Mehta and Belk 1991).

However, individual variations in the incorporation of possessions in the extended self within the same age and cultural group has not been studied. Recent work on materialism suggests that materialism is an individual trait (Richins and Dawson 1992). We propose that the importance attached to possessions in providing a sense of self will vary across individuals and that individuals for whom possessions are important in general, will be more likely to incorporate a specific possession in their extended self.

We propose the following hypothesis,

H1: The greater the extent to which possessions in general are part of an individual's extended self the more likely is the individual to incorporate any specific possession in his/her extended self.

Secondly, we empirically examine how the extended self is related to two constructs i.e., attachment, and satisfaction. The objective of doing so is to better specify the domain of this construct. As indicated earlier, the extended self construct has come in for criticism for being an all encompassing construct. For example, Solomon (1990, p. 68) commented "we run the risk of overextending the (extended self) construct and in so doing obviating its usefulness."

THE EXTENDED SELF AND ATTACHMENT

Attachment and extended self are treated as separate constructs in the literature (e.g., Ball and Tasaki 1992; Schultz, Kleine, and Kernan 1989). However, the boundaries of both these constructs remain unclear. In his criticism of the extended self construct, Cohen (1989, p. 126) inquired whether a "high degree" of attachment to a possession made it "self-defining." Belk (1989; 1992) responded by suggesting that attachment was implicated in the extended self construct. Attachment has been defined as the "degree of linkage perceived by an individual between him/her self and a particular possession" (Schultz, Kleine, and Kernan 1989, p. 360). Ball and Tasaki (1992, p. 158) offer another definition of attachment. They define attachment as "the extent to which an object which is owned, expected to be owned, or previously owned by an individual, is used by that individual to maintain his or her self-concept." Belk (1989), Schultz, Kleine, and Kernan (1989) and Sivadas and Machleit (1994) suggest that individuals are more likely to be attached to things that are part of their extended self.

FIGURE 1

EXTENDED SELF, ATTACHMENT, AND SATISFACTION

The extended self refers to the "definition of self created by external objects with which one surrounds oneself" (Solomon 1994, p. 620). Cathecting objects into the self is a foundation for extended self and to some extent as Belk (1989) suggests, it appears that attachment is implicated in the extended self. However, keeping in mind the criticisms of Solomon (1990) and especially Cohen (1989, p. 126) who called the extended self construct "incredibly imprecise" and the fact that it is treated as a separate construct from attachment, it would be useful to empirically examine the boundaries of both these constructs. Also, in a cross-cultural study of favorite possessions, attachment has been successfully differentiated from the possessiveness component of materialism (Wallendorf and Arnould 1988).

Thus we posit that extended self and attachment are separate constructs, and consumers are more likely to be attached to possessions that are part of their extended self.

Therefore,

H2a: Possession incorporation in the extended self is distinct from possession attachment.

H2b: Possession attachment is positively correlated with possession incorporation in the extended self.

THE EXTENDED SELF AND SATISFACTION

Belk (1988) suggests that the extended self construct may provide a deeper understanding of consumption behavior than what is evidenced by merely looking at the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of consumers with products. Satisfaction or dissatisfaction is determined by the "overall feelings, or attitude, a person has about a product after it has been purchased" (Solomon 1990, p. 346). We examine the relationship between the degree of possession incorporation in the extended self and satisfaction of consumers with those very same possessions.

The following hypotheses are proposed,

H3a: Possession incorporation in the extended self is distinct from satisfaction with possessions.

H3b: Satisfaction with a possession is positively correlated with possession incorporation in the extended self.

Figure 1 provides a schematic representation of the relationship among the constructs being studied here.

METHOD

Procedure

Respondents were asked to complete a questionnaire consisting of various measures described in the next section. The four possessions used to measure the extent of possession incorporation in the extended self, attachment, and satisfaction were identified prior to the main study by asking 34 marketing undergraduates to list out their two most favorite possessions and two least favorite possessions. The possessions identified by most subjects as their most favorite were their car, music system, and pet. The extended self literature also suggests that these possessions are likely to form part of the extended self (Belk 1988, 1991; Hirschman 1994). The least favorite possession identified by the subjects showed considerable idiosyncratic variation. Hence, in the main study subjects were first asked to list their least favorite possession and then complete the three measures for their least favorite possession.

One hundred fifty-two undergraduate students at two large midwestern universities participated in the study, most for extra course credit. If a particular possession did not apply to them, for example if they did not own a pet, they were asked to skip that section. The order of presentation of the general scale was varied to control for possible order effects.

Measurement

The General Scale. Sivadas and Machleit (1994) have reported a scale development exercise for a measure to determine the extent of possession incorporation in the extended self. They first developed a generally phrased scale to determine the extent to which possessions in general comprise the self. They had then modified that scale to determine if a specific possession was incorporated in the extended self. The items were "The things I own help me achieve the identity I would like to have," What I buy helps me narrow the gap between what I am and what I would like to be," "My possessions are part of what I am," "The things I own are central to my identity," "When something is stolen from me I feel as if my identity has been snatched from me," and "I derive some of my identity from the things I own." The fit values were evaluated using standard LISREL fit criteria. Consistent with Sivadas and Machleit, the fit values, except for the chi-squared which is significant, are acceptable (GFI=.88, AGFI=.72 and RMSR=.05) and the reliability is high (.899) leading us to conclude that the six-item measure is unidimensional, internally consistent, and reliable.

Possession Incorporation in the Extended Self. Specific-possession incorporation for the four possessions mentioned earlier i.e., car, music system, pet, and least favorite possession was measured using Sivadas and Machleit's (1994) six-item seven point likert-type scale. The items measuring possession incorporation in the extended self are phrased as follows: "My _____ helps me achieve the identity I want to have," "My _____ helps me narrow the gap between what I am and what I try to be," "My _____ is central to my identity," "My _____ is part of who I am," "If my _____ is stolen from me I will feel as if my identity has been snatched from me," and "I derive some of my identity from my _____." Sivadas and Machleit (1994) view this measure as an "alternate and not substitute" for the more time-consuming and cumbersome card-sorting procedure used by Belk (1987). The fit values are reported in Table 1 and given the acceptable fit and high reliabilities we conclude that the measure is unidimensional, internally consistent, and reliable.

TABLE 1

CONFIRMATORY FACTOR ANALYSES RESULTS

Satisfaction. Satisfaction with possessions was assessed using Crosby and Stephens (1987) three-item seven point semantic differential scale. The satisfaction scale comprised of three semantic differential format items: satisfied/dissatisfied, pleased/displeased, and favorable/unfavorable. Since this was a three-item measure it was not possible to meaningfully evaluate the fit values from LISREL VI for this measure. However, the maximum likelihood factor loadings are significant and the measure is highly reliable ( car=.95, music system=.96, pet=.95, and least favorite possession=.91).

Attachment. Schultz, Kleine, and Kernan (1989) suggest that attachment is a multidimensional concept which is made up of three fundamental dimensions "individuation, integration, and temporal orientation." Attachment was measured using the 3 attachment items used by Sivadas and Machleit (1994) plus 1 additional item was taken from Schultz's (1989) unpublished dissertation. These items were: "I have no feelings for my _____" (reverse coded), "I am emotionally attached to my _____," and "I am sentimental about my _____," and "My _____ reminds me of memories and experiences." The fit values reported in Table 1 are excellent and the measure appears to be unidimensional, and internally consistent. Reliability values are high for car, music system, and pet but below acceptable levels for the least favorite possession. This measure thus appears to serve our purpose of examining whether the possession incorporation in the extended self is distinct from possession attachment, however researchers interested in gaining a deeper, more complete understanding of attachment may consider developing alternate measures of possession attachment.

RESULTS

Discriminant Validity

General Scale versus Possession-Specific Scale. We first examine whether individuals who in general derive greater identity from their possessions are more likely to incorporate specific possessions into their extended self. We assess the discriminant validity of the general scale with the possession incorporation in the extended self scale using the criterion set forth by Dillon and Goldstein (1984) and Fornell and Larcker (1981). First, as can be seen from Table 2, the average variance extracted is greater than the .50 rule of thumb which indicates that the variance in the measure accounted for by the construct exceeds that due to measurement error. These values are greater than the squared structural link between the general and possession specific measures in all four cases. This implies that the measures have more variance that is unique than common. This establishes discriminant validity between the two measures.

Having established the discriminant validity of the two measures we now test the hypothesis presented earlier that the greater the extent to which possessions in general are part of an individual's extended self the more likely is the individual to incorporate any specific possession in his/her extended self. Table 3 reports means of the extent to which each possession in our study was incorporated in the extended self.

TABLE 2

DISCRIMINANT VALIDITY ASSESSMENT: POSSESSION INCORPORATION MEASURE AND SCALE MEASURING DEGREE TO WHICH POSSESSIONS COMPRISE THE SELF

TABLE 3

MEAN EXTENT OF POSSESSION INCORPORATION IN THE EXTENDED SELF

Linear regression models with possession incorporation as the dependent variable and scores on the extent to which possessions in general comprise an individual's self as the independent variable were employed to test this hypothesis that the greater the extent to which possessions in general comprise the self the more likely will it be for an individual to incorporate a specific possession in his/her extended self. This hypothesis was supported for car, music system, and pet at the .001 level (see Table 4). As can be inferred from the table, a substantial portion of the variance is explained by the extent to which possessions in general comprise an individual's self except in the case of least favorite possession.

Least Favorite Possession. Since prior work on the extended self has focused on most favorite possessions we decided to further explore the relation between the least favorite possession and sense of self. Scores on the extent to which possessions in general comprise an individual's self can range from 6 (indicating minimal contribution of possessions to providing sense of self) to 42 (indicating maximal contribution of possessions to providing a sense of self). In our study the scores of respondents ranged from the minimum possible score of 6 to 40. We performed a median split of the scores (median=28) and classified subjects into two groups: those for whom possessions were very important in providing a sense of self and those for whom possessions in general are not very important in providing a sense of self.

Regression analysis with least favorite possession as the dependent variable indicated that the least favorite possession was less likely to be valued by consumers for whom possessions in general were important to their sense of self (b=-.085) than by consumers for whom possessions were not that important to their sense of self (b=.281). We interpret these findings as consistent with our theorizing that if possessions in general comprise the extended self to a greater degree then just as the most favorite possessions are valued more by people for whom possessions comprise the self to a greater degree, least favorite possessions should be valued less by these individuals as compared to individuals for whom possessions in general are less a part of their extended self.

Possession Incorporation and Attachment. Next, we examine the relation between possession incorporation in the extended self and possession attachment. The assessment of discriminant validity between possession incorporation in the extended self and possession attachment is presented below in Table 5. Our hypothesis that attachment and possession incorporation are empirically distinct is supported only for pet but we do not have evidence for discriminant validity between possession attachment and possession incorporation in the extended self for car, music system, and least favorite possession.

TABLE 4

PREDICTING POSSESSION INCORPORATION IN THE EXTENDED SELF

TABLE 5

DESCRIMINANT VALIDITY ASSESSMENT: POSSESSION INCORPORATION AND ATTACHMENT

We next test H2b, i.e., the more attached a consumer is to a possession the more that possession will be a part of the consumer's extended self. A correlational analysis was performed between attachment and possession incorporation in the extended self. The hypothesis was supported for all four possessions: car (r=.68; p=.000), music system (r=.76; p=.000), pet (r=.62; p=.000) and least favorite possession (r=.60; p=.000).

Possession Incorporation and Satisfaction. Table 6 shows the results of discriminant validity assessment between possessions incorporated in the extended self and satisfaction with possessions. Our hypothesis that incorporating possessions into the extended self is distinct from being satisfied with those possessions is supported for all four possessions considered in the study. We also find support for our hypothesis that consumers are more likely to be satisfied with possessions that are part of their extended self. This hypothesis was also supported for all four possessions: car (r=.52; p=.000), music system (r=.52; p=.000), pet (r=.55; p=.000), and least favorite possession (r=.23; p=.003).

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

Research on the extended self has examined whether specific possessions comprise the self. Our study extends this stream of research by suggesting that some individuals are more likely to incorporate possessions into the extended self than other individuals. This in turn impacts upon the degree to which individual possessions are incorporated into the self. A central research question that begs further empirical examination is why do individuals incorporate possessions into the extended self and why are some individuals more likely to do so than others.

Belk (1988) has suggested that the extended self construct may provide a deeper understanding of the consumption experience than what would be indicated by merely looking at consumers satisfaction with their possessions. Our study indicates that consumers are more likely to be satisfied with possessions that are part of their extended self. The relationship between satisfaction and self-extension merits further examination and theoretical development. For many consumption activities managers could go beyond looking at satisfaction of their consumers and see if their particular product or service is incorporated in the consumer's self. Ties of consumers with possessions that are part of their extended self may be more enduring than their ties with possessions with which they may be merely satisfied. For example, some consumers may be satisfied with the brands they are currently purchasing but for others consumers that brand may be part of their extended self. It is quite likely that consumers who incorporate a particular brand into their extended self may be more likely to stay loyal.

TABLE 6

DISCRIMINANT VALIDITY ASSESSMENT: POSSESSION INCORPORATION AND SATISFACTION

A potentially important stream of research would be the study of how do consumers form relationships with their possessions. The study of relationships i.e., relationship marketing is attracting increasing attention from marketing scholars. Most of the research within this stream has examined interorganizational relationships (e.g., Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987). The relationships formed by individual consumers with companies and brands by being loyal to certain products or brands deserves closer examination. The extended self literature suggests that consumers cathect specific branded objects and not brands in general. There is thus a distinction between "my Toyota" and Toyotas in general. A greater understanding and empirical examination of this link may advance our understanding of constructs like brand loyalty and satisfaction.

The extended self literature looks at the positive contributions made to our individual identities by our possessions whereas the materialism literature has tended to focus on the negative consequences of drawing sustenance from possessions. For example, one stream of research within the materialism literature suggests that the "desire to possess and consume stems from insecurities or deeper dissatisfactions with one's self and one's life" (Richins and Dawson 1992, p. 313). Though we did not look at satisfaction with life in general, an interesting research question would be to compare the relationship of the extended self and materialism constructs. The extended self scale tested here makes such assessment possible.

We were not successful in discriminating between possession attachment and possession incorporation in the extended self except for pets. Here we must acknowledge that the measure of attachment we employed may have its limitations since it may not have done an adequate job of tapping into the domain of the attachment construct. Further research needs to be directed at studying the "boundaries" of both these constructs.

The extended self has primarily been examined by post-positivist researchers. Our study points to the contribution that positivist methods can make to this stream of research as well as the usefulness of the extended self construct in positivist research.

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