Session Summary Divergent Perspectives on the Role of Prior Knowledge in Consumer Information Search and Processing

Christine Moorman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Aric Rindfleisch, University of Wisconsin-Madison
[ to cite ]:
Christine Moorman and Aric Rindfleisch (1995) ,"Session Summary Divergent Perspectives on the Role of Prior Knowledge in Consumer Information Search and Processing", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 564-565.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 564-565

SESSION SUMMARY

DIVERGENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE ROLE OF PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IN CONSUMER INFORMATION SEARCH AND PROCESSING

Christine Moorman, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Wisconsin-Madison

SESSION OVERVIEW

This double session examined the effect of prior knowledge on consumer information search and processing. The session included seven presentations and discussant comments. The papers presented in the session were very broad in both their theoretical and methodological orientations. Theoretically, these papers contained perspectives from both economic theory, as well as an array of psychological theories involving cognitive structure, affect, motivation, and the impact of various environmental factors. This group of papers also displayed a considerable amount of methodological breadth, and included experiments, survey research, and qualitative interviews. Despite this diversity, the seven papers were tied together by four central themes: (1) divergent perspectives of the relationship between search and prior knowledge; (2) the nature of consumer information search processes; (3) the nature of prior knowledge; and (4) managerial and public policy implications.

SUMMARY OF INDIVIDUAL PAPERS

 

"EXPLORING THE SEARCH PROCESS FOR DURABLES"

Carol A. Fiske, University of South Carolina

Lisa A. Luebbenhussen, University of South Carolina

Anthony Miyazaki, University of South Carolina

Joel E. Urbany, University of Notre Dame

This paper attempted to clarify the form of the knowledge-search relationship via a set of exploratory interviews of consumers faced with the purchase of a personal computer. Based on these interviews, the authors suggested that this purchase is a complex task involving multiple decisions. Consumers make this process more tractable by first searching in order to specify a preferred feature set (PFS) and then searching to match it. This study indicated that, although experts and novices can be described using the same general model, they differ in their specification of PFS. Experts put greater emphasis on higher-order considerations (e.g., technological obsolescence) and were more capable of translating application needs into specific product features. Novices tended to rely heavily upon experts or informed others to assist them in determining their PFS. As suggested by their earlier work (Fiske et al. 1994), these authors maintain that the exact form of the knowledge-search relationship is highly dependent upon characteristics of the task environment. For example, experts are more likely to search more than novices only when they are sufficiently motivated by elements of the task environment.

 

"EXAMINING THE SEQUENTIAL NATURE OF SEARCH"

Narasimhan Srinivasan, University of Connecticut

Girish N. Punj, University of Connecticut

Srinivasan and Punj examined the sequence of information search activities in the context of purchasing a new car. In specific, they focused on the sequential nature of dealer visits using the Punj and Staelin (1983) database of new car buyers. Srinivasan and Punj explored these dealer visits in great detail (with variance in the number of dealer visits as the key dependent variable), employed multiple measures of prior knowledge, and included sociodemographic variables such as age, income, and household size as control variables. Although their findings at the time of presentation were still exploratory, Srinivasan and Punj's initial analysis appeared to uncover a number of interesting results. For example, they noted that as the number of dealers visited increases, incremental purchase probability decreases and sociodemographic distinctions between new car buyers become less pronounced.

 

"THE ECONOMICS OF CONSUMER KNOWLEDGE"

Brian T. Ratchford, State University of New York at Buffalo

Ratchford presented a summary of human capital theory and demonstrated its relevance to consumer information search activities. According to human capital theory, prior "investments" in product or brand usage make current consumption more productive or less costly. For example, prior knowledge of classical music makes a concert more enjoyable for an aficionado compared to a neophyte. In fact, Ratchford noted that some strident supporters of the human capital theory suggest that consumer preferences are wholly determined by their past investments in human capital (Stigler and Becker 1977). In addition to outlining the tenets of human capital theory, Ratchford also presented a number of potential applications of this theory in order to understand and analyze both consumer search and decision making. For example, to the extent that consumers find it more cost effective to engage in consumption related to their expertise, both search and consumption may be confined to areas in which consumers have extensive knowledge.

 

"THE ROLE OF PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IN THE ACQUISITION OF PRODUCT INFORMATION: A TEST OF FOUR MODELS"

Christine Moorman, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Moorman and Rindfleisch presented an empirical examination of four models of the knowledge-search relationship. These four models include: (1) the Enrichment model; (2) the Inverted-U model (3) the Cost-Benefit model; and (4) the Motivation as a Moderator model. These four models were tested in a computerized search experiment across four different product/service categories. Although Moorman and Rindfleisch measured both subjective and objective knowledge as well as a number of search outcomes, their presentation focused solely on objective knowledge and degree of search. Their results call into question the generalizability of the cost-benefit model and indicate that the enrichment model should be supplanted with a concave curvilinear model. The success of both the curvilinear model and the Motivation as a Moderator model suggest that low motivation may produce a curvilinear knowledge-search relationship while high motivation may lead to a linear knowledge-search relationship.

 

"AFFECT-DRIVEN DISTORTION OF PRODUCT INFORMATION IN CONSUMER INFORMATION SEARCH AND PROCESSING ACTIVITIES"

J. Edward Russo, Cornell University

Victoria Husted Medvec, Cornell University

Russo and Medvec introduced the moderating role of affect in the knowledge-search relationship. These authors conducted an experiment designed to test the impact of prior positive affect on: (1) the interpretation of product information; (2) the extent of pre-purchase information search; and (3) the choice itself. In this experiment, subjects were asked to choose between two restaurants; one restaurant was manipulated to engender positive affect. As expected, this initial endowment of positive affect significantly influenced both information search and consumer choice. In specific, subjects who strongly accepted the affect manipulation searched less and were more likely to select the affect-endowed restaurant compared to subjects whose acceptance was weaker. Furthermore, evaluative ratings of product information showed affect-based distortion. Relative to the control group, affectively-endowed subjects interpreted information as more favorable for the endowed restaurant.

 

"THE MODERATING EFFECTS OF INFORMATION SEARCH ENVIRONMENT CHARACTERISTICS ON EXPERT JUDGMENT"

Mark T. Spence, Southern Connecticut State University

Merrie Brucks, University of Arizona

Spence and Brucks investigated why experts' enhanced cognitive structures and processes do not necessarily lead to improved decision making or superior judgment. These authors suggested that since experts and novices differ in their ability to form representations of a decision task, a highly structured information environment may mask the benefits of expertise. Using a laboratory experiment in which experts (real estate professionals) and novices (students) were asked to appraise a piece of property, Spence and Brucks found that when given a decision aid, experts made more accurate and tightly clustered decisions and were more confident in their decisions compared to novices. Furthermore, when this decision aid was removed, novices' decision quality degraded considerably and they were more prone to error. Experts, in contrast, were less affected by the presence or absence of a decision aid.

 

"SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES: LIMITS OF EXPERIMENTAL APPROACHES"

David L. Mothersbaugh, University of Pittsburgh

Lawrence F. Feick, University of Pittsburgh

C. Whan Park, University of Pittsburgh

In this final paper, the authors noted that subjective knowledge (SK) and objective knowledge (OK) covary naturally, making it difficult to distinguish their effects on search. They suggested that an orthogonal manipulation would help distinguish their effects. However, a number of conceptual and methodological issues, such as resistance to feedback, external attributions, and subject sensitization make knowledge manipulations difficult. After outlining a number of ways to operationalize such a manipulation, Mothersbaugh, Feick, and Park illustrated one of the options by attempting to manipulate SK in a group of 48 subjects by measuring OK (time 1) and then providing feedback to manipulate SK (time 2). Although their results suggest that feedback influenced SK, the manipulation was not orthogonal since OK also influenced SK. Considering the dynamic relationship between knowledge and search, these authors suggested that rather than trying to manipulate either subjective or objective knowledge, it may be more useful to examine the effects of both types of knowledge in their natural covarying states, with a greater focus on the metacognitive skills that guide search.

DISCUSSANT

J. Wesley Hutchinson, University of Pennsylvania

Wes Hutchinson commented on the importance of this area of research and noted that all seven papers bring valuable and novel approaches to the knowledge-search literature. He also suggested that these diverse approaches provide a coherent fit and can be conceptually linked among a number of dimensions. For example, he noted that the Fiske et al., Srinivasan and Punj, Ratchford, Moorman and Rindfleisch, and Russo and Medvec papers all deal in one manner or another with the costs of search. Wes also pointed out a number of interesting avenues for future research in this area, such as the impact of the cumulative effects of prior knowledge upon future search, and the important distinction between focal (i.e., repeated) and novel consumer search activities.

The session was chaired by Christine Moorman.

REFERENCES

Fiske, Carol A., Lisa A. Luebbenhussen, Anthony D. Miyazaki, and Joel Urbany (1994), "The Knowledge-Search Relationship: It Depends," in Advances in Consumer Research, 22, Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, eds., Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 43-50.

Punj, Girish N. and Richard Staelin (1983), "A Model of Consumer Information Search Behavior for New Automobiles," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (March), 366-380.

Stigler, George and Gary S. Becker (1977), "De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum," American Economic Review, 67, 76-90.

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