Peak Experiences and Mountain Biking: Incorporating the Bike Into the Extended Self

Kimberly J. Dodson, University of Utah
ABSTRACT - Peak experiences are highly intense, significant, and fulfilling experiences for people and are often considered turning points which lead to a change in self-concept and identity. During times of identity modification, objects are often incorporated into the extended self. By examining peak experiences among mountain bike owners, this study shows that there is a correlation between the occurrence of a peak experience and the incorporation of the mountain bike and the activity of mountain biking into the extended self.
[ to cite ]:
Kimberly J. Dodson (1996) ,"Peak Experiences and Mountain Biking: Incorporating the Bike Into the Extended Self", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 317-322.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 317-322

PEAK EXPERIENCES AND MOUNTAIN BIKING: INCORPORATING THE BIKE INTO THE EXTENDED SELF

Kimberly J. Dodson, University of Utah

ABSTRACT -

Peak experiences are highly intense, significant, and fulfilling experiences for people and are often considered turning points which lead to a change in self-concept and identity. During times of identity modification, objects are often incorporated into the extended self. By examining peak experiences among mountain bike owners, this study shows that there is a correlation between the occurrence of a peak experience and the incorporation of the mountain bike and the activity of mountain biking into the extended self.

INTRODUCTION

What's neat about mountain-bike riding is that you are able to fuse the moment and your intention together . . . There's none of this thinking about what you're doing and then doing it. It's an existential dream because you're right there in the moment (Patrick 1988).

Mountain biking, especially in the mountains of the western United States, is an exciting, intense, physically challenging sport in which riders are constantly faced with opportunities for self-discovery through the testing of mental and physical limits. A sense of freedom is often associated with ridingCfreedom from the hassles and stress of everyday life as you become absorbed in the ride and focus on your bike, the trail, and your body, as well as the freedom which accompanies an activity that demands quick reactions and reflex behaviors. To achieve these periods of "freedom," a rider may endure a grueling ride, push her or his body beyond perceived limits, withstand adverse conditions, or survive a thrilling wreck. Yet even in light of these seemingly negative situations, the ultimate outcome is often feelings of elation and a sense of achievement. These feelings are possibly influenced by exceptional performance, overcoming adversity and skill limitations, reaching the summit, or simply riding surrounded by tremendous scenery and the natural environment. Mountain biking symbolizes virtues of ruggedness and individualism, and for many, the bike becomes an extension of their personality that allows them to exhibit rough riding techniques to bolster confidence and present a certain social image (Patrick 1988).

PEAK EXPERIENCES AND MOUNTAIN BIKING

The sport of mountain biking, like many other intense leisure activities (e.g. river rafting, skydiving, motorcycling), inherently provides opportunities for riders to achieve peak experiences. A peak experience is characterized as a transformational experience and one that surpasses the usual level of intensity, meaningfulness, and richness (Privette 1983). It leads to feelings of joy and self-fulfillment (e.g. the transcendent sense of awe and achievement upon reaching the summit of a ride) and is bounded in time rather than enduring over time (Csikszentmihalyi 1990; Privette and Bundrick 1991). Such an experience leaves a lasting impression and requires the person to display clear focus, complete absorption, loss of self-awareness, personal integration with the world or object, personal control and mastery, awareness of personal power, heightened emotion, spontaneity, freedom from everyday cares, and a sense of achievement (Arnould and Price 1993; Celsi, Randall, and Thomas 1993; Csikszentmihalyi 1990; Privette 1983; Unger and Kernan 1983; Wuthnow 1978; Yeagle, Privette, and Dunham 1989). Often this experience has such a high emotional content and lasting impact that it is difficult to describe and is characterized by individuals saying, "you have to do it to understand" (Privette 1981; Arnould and Price 1993).

PEAK EXPERIENCES AND THE EXTENDED SELF

A defining characteristic of the peak experience is the renewal of self and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life (Arnould and Price 1993; Celsi, Randall, and Thomas 1993; Wuthnow 1978). This intensification of self is often characterized by increased self-confidence, discovery of internal strength, personal growth in attitudes and feelings, a general sensation of learning more about yourself, increased ability to believe in yourself, and an overall feeling of rejuvenation and exhilaration (even when physically exhausted) (Arnould and Price 1993; Privette 1981; Yeagle, Privette, and Dunham 1989; Wuthnow 1978). The experience often works to crystallize and center your sense of self due to the necessity of extreme focus (Arnould and Price 1993; Privette 1981; Wohl 1977).

In many leisure activities, certain pieces of equipment are essential for achieving the desired experience. Examples of such objects are mountain bikes, rafting equipment, parachutes, motorcycles, or off-road vehicles. McAlexander and Schouten (1995) propose that in a peak experience situation, the object intimately involved in the experience will be associated with the feelings evoked by the experience and incorporated in the resulting modified self-concept and social identity. The object involved in the peak experience may itself symbolize the new self-concept because it embodies the sensations of the experience and is a reminder of the self-revelatory incident. This possible association between the emotions and transcendence achieved through a peak experience and the object involved in that experience is also relevant when considering that possessions act to store memories and feelings (Belk 1988). By symbolizing and attaching our selves to our past, objects can act to help us know who we are. Objects associated with peak experiences may not only be a reminder of the experience, but may also become valued for their potential to lead to subsequent peak experiences.

The object associated with the peak experience may also become a symbol that acts to identify the person socially with the characteristics of the chosen leisure activity. According to Haggard and Williams (1992), leisure activities are selected for their ability to construct situations that provide individuals with information that they are who they believe themselves to be, and provide others with information about who they are as well. Participation in leisure activities functions to affirm participants' identities because activities symbolize certain desirable character traits, or identity images. Symbols associated with a particular leisure activity (e.g. mountain bike, running shoes, river raft, parachute) are adopted by a person so that she or he will be identified with the characteristics of the activity (Haggard and Williams, 1992). A peak experience may help a person identify characteristics she or he wishes to display everyday. Therefore, the object associated with the experience will become an important personal and social symbol of those characteristics and desired identity. A mountain bike rider, for example, might have a peak experience which evokes feelings of confidence, mastery, self-control, and achievement. The bike will then become a symbol to both the rider and to others that she or he maintains these qualities.

Studies concerning the concept of the extended self have proposed that those objects most closely identified with an individual's sense of self will be valued more highly by that individual and maintain a position of heightened importance within her or his life (Belk 1988; Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981). The model of extended self used in this paper is based on Belk's work which presents the extended self as a multi-layered construct including the body of the person, external objects and personal possessions, other persons, places, and group possessions (1988). Objects within the extended self work to help the individual learn, define, and remind her or himself of who she or he is, and can include those objects that best exemplify the individual's identity and are representative of the individual's attitudes and beliefs.

A high emotional attachment to objects within the extended self separates the self-relevant aspects of a possession from the functional, non-self attachment (Belk 1989; McAlexander and Schouten 1987). Consequently, a functional object such as a bike will have more meaning to the individual whose self it is a part of than merely being a means of transportation. The bike will be considered a part of self and if it is stolen or removed, there will be a sense of loss of self (Belk, 1988; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). In addition, because the individual's identity is expressed through the object, the object will be highly cared for (Belk 1988), and this may be reflected through careful maintenance and the purchase of associated products.

Incorporation of a particular object into a person's extended self generally occurs at a transitional time when a person desires to reconstruct self (Andreasen 1984; Csikszentmihalyi 1981; McAlexander and Schouten 1989; McAlexander et al. 1993; Schouten 1991). Objects associated with the new self are those most closely incorporated into the extended self. Peak experiences are considered turning points that lead to a change in self-concept and identity (Privette and Bundrick 1991), so there is a strong possibility that objects associated with a peak experience will be incorporated into the extended self during the role modifications that occur following a peak experience.

STUDY DESIGN

This study proposes to test the relationship between the occurrence of a peak experience while mountain biking and the incorporation of the mountain bike into the rider's extended self.

Hypothesis: Experiencing a peak experience while mountain biking is positively correlated to the incorporation of the bike into the biker's extended self.

In addition to testing the basic hypothesis that peak experiences are related to a product's incorporation into the extended self, this study will also explore the influence of incorporating the bike into self on purchase activity for bike-related products.

Data Collection

Data were collected using a survey of 66 mountain bike owners. A purposive sampling technique was used for this study, and mountain bike owners were approached at two Western universities in two states and asked to participate. It is important to recognize that this study occurred in the American West, and mountain biking experiences in the West may be different from mountain biking in other parts of the country.

Measures

The survey instrument included a number of items which measured the constructs defining attainment of a peak experience, incorporation of the bike into the extended self, purchase behavior, and personal discovery about the mountain bike or biking as a result of the peak experience.

After initial refinements, peak experience was operationalized through items drawn from the literature rated on six-point agree-disagree scales. The focus was on respondents' most memorable mountain biking experiences. These constructs were intended to measure whether a peak experience was attained. Based on prior research, the peak experience constructs included: self discovery, positive self-feelings, reflection on the experience, experience not easily described, absorption, spontaneity, newness, lasting influence on life, intensity, sense of emotion, and desire for repetition (Csikszentmihalyi 1990; Privette 1982; Privette 1983; Privette 1985a; Privette 1985b; Privette and Sherry 1986; Wuthnow 1978). See Table 1 for the measures of these constructs.

Additional items were created to address the specific focus of this study on the association of an object with the experience. The constructs for this included: reliance on bike, connection to bike, and quintessential application of bike. See Table 1 for the measures of these constructs.

Incorporation into the extended self was similarly measured through the operationalization of items which were rated on six-point agree-disagree scales and six-point important-not-important scales. The extended self constructs were developed based on previous extended self research and included: centrality to identity, attachment, contamination, care, dependence, and disposition (Belk 1988; Belk and Austin 1986; Sivadas and Machleit 1994). Two of the items, "My bike helps me narrow the gap between what I am and what I try to be" and "My bike is central to my identity" are measures taken directly from Sivadas and Machleit (1994). See Table 2 for the items used to measure extended self constructs.

To measure the desire to purchase goods related to mountain biking, four measures were developed that included liking to buy products related to biking, owning things to associate the individual with biking, buying new things specifically for the bike, and the importance of the bike having the latest accessories. See Table 3 for these measures.

A number of items were also created to measure personal discovery and attitude change following the peak experience about the mountain bike and mountain biking. These eight measures are listed in Table 4.

Additionally, an open-ended question was included that requested respondents to recall their most memorable mountain biking experience and describe it. The question preceded the peak experience questions, which it helped to frame. For purposes of this paper, the open-ended question was analyzed to provide qualitative data regarding mountain biking as an activity that may involve peak experiences and incorporation of the bike into the extended self. Finally, demographic data such as number of bikes owned, length of ownership of current bike, number of years riding mountain bikes, most important use of mountain bike, gender, and age were asked of the respondents.

Sample Characteristics

The sample of 66 mountain bike owners had a modal age of 22 years (range of 18 to 46 years) and included 7 female respondents. Respondents reported owning their current bike (the one considered when answering the survey questions) for a mean of 3.3 years, although the mode was 1.0 year and the range from 0.5 to 14 years. Number of mountain bikes ever owned ranged from 1 to 5, and the mode was 1. The number of years involved in mountain biking ranged from less than one year to 14 years, with a mean of 5.2 years and a mode of 8.0 years. Recreation and sport was reported as the most important use of their bike by 42 respondents, as compared to exercise (18 respondents), commuting (4 respondents), or racing (1 respondent).

TABLE 1

PEAK EXPERIENCE SURVEY ITEMS

TABLE 2

EXTENDED SELF SURVEY ITEMS

TABLE 3

PURCHASE BEHAVIOR SURVEY ITEMS

TABLE 4

DISCOVERY SURVEY ITEMS

Analysis and Results

The experience. The open-ended question provided evidence that mountain biking is a sport which allows for diverse biking opportunities and memorable experiences. Of the sample, 43 respondents reported their most memorable bike memory as one which contained many of the characteristics of a peak experience. The experiences reported ranged from riding around the neighborhood with friends to extreme competitive riding (performance situations). For example, one 24-year-old male described his peak experience:

Winning a State points race in the expert class. It was at Solitude Ski resort. There were about 60 people in my class. On the last lap I moved from 4th up to 1st. I was riding a Specialized StumpJumper Epic (carbon filter) custom-built. I felt great! I felt like I deserved it! A whole audience of people were there.

Peak riding experiences also focused on communion with nature. According to one 26-year-old male:

Riding Spider's Rim in Moab . . . getting to the cliff edge after 20 or so miles and looking out over the valley floor a mile below. Big sense of accomplishment and experience; humbling that nature is so huge and grand.

Incorporation of Mountain Bike or Mountain Biking. Factor analysis of the Extended Self measures clearly indicated that respondents did not differentiate between incorporation of the bike versus incorporation of biking. The measures loaded on the same factors, and in many cases loaded with exactly the same value. Thus, respondents did not differentiate between the incorporation of their mountain bike and the incorporation of mountain biking in their extended selves.

Peak Experience and Incorporation into Extended Self. Analysis of the quantitative data was performed by creating summated variables for both Peak Experience and Incorporation into Extended Self. These variables included measures of the identified constructs, and reliability tests resulted in a Cronbach's alpha for Peak Experience at .95 and a Cronbach's alpha for Extended Self at .92.

The key correlation, between Peak Experience and Extended Self was significant at p<.001 and had an R2=.36. This indicates that 36% of the variance between having a peak experience and incorporating the bike into the extended self was accounted for through this relationship, and there is a probability less than .001 that this was due to chance. Thus, the hypothesis that having a peak experience is related to the incorporation of the bike into the extended self is supported. The remainder of the paper examines consequences of this association between peak mountain biking experiences and feelings that the bike is a part of self.

Discovery about mountain bike and mountain biking. A scale was also created for the measures of discovery and attitude change following the peak experience about the mountain bike and mountain biking. This Discovery variable included eight measures and had a reliability Cronbach's alpha of .90. When correlated to the Extended Self variable, the result was an R2=.37 at significance p<.001. The results of this correlation indicate that there is a significant relationship between discovery about the mountain bike and mountain biking and incorporating the bike into the extended self; 37% of the variance is accounted for with a very low probability that this is due to chance. Therefore, discovering new things about the bike and what the bike means to the rider, as a result of a peak experience, is related to the incorporation of that bike into the rider's extended self.

Purchase Behavior and Extended Self. The scale for Purchase Behavior included four items and had a Cronbach's alpha of .83. A correlation between Purchase Behavior and Extended Self was significant at p<.001 and had an R2=.35. This result indicates that there is a relationship between the desire to buy new accessories for the bike and products associated with biking if the bike is incorporated into the extended self. Similarly, a correlation between Purchase Behavior and Peak Experience was significant at p<.001 and had an R2=.18. Although the relationship is not as strong as the one found between Purchase Behavior and Extended Self, this correlation does indicate that there is some relationship between the occurrence of a peak experience while mountain biking and the desire to buy bike-related products.

DISCUSSION

The results reported here support the hypothesis that there is a positive association between peak experience while mountain biking and the incorporation of the mountain bike into the biker's extended self. Unfortunately, from this associational study it is not possible to determine the direction of this relationship. It may be either that a peak experience leads to incorporation of the object into the extended self and/or that having something highly cathected into the self leads to a greater propensity for a peak experience. These two possibilities are captured by excerpts from two memorable accounts:

I was timid yet not hesitant cruising along the ridge on the poison spider trail in Potash. I knew then that I had bonded with my Cannondale.

22-year-old male

I'm just not [yet] that close to my bike to really have a memorable experience.

22-year-old male

Although it is not possible to determine the direction of the relationship between peak experience and cathexis into extended self, the correlation of Discovery and Extended Self does indicate that greater resultant discovery and attitude change due to a peak experience relates to greater incorporation of the mountain bike and mountain biking into the extended self. Intuitively, the relationship would seem most likely to move from peak experience toward incorporation into the extended self as the mountain bike is recognized as an avenue to fulfillment and self-discovery, and one respondent described this relationship succinctly:

Slick Rock, Moab . . . My first time on Slick Rock . . . Incredible experience with biking. I found a true passion for biking then. I felt free.

The relationships between Extended Self and Purchase Activity and between Peak Experience and Purchase Activity have relevance for understanding the consequences of an object becoming incorporated into the self. Belk (1988) describes that when parts of the extended self are highly cathected they are better cared for and maintained. According to the present results, the tendency to care for something within the extended self expands to include the willingness to purchase accessories for the cathected object and devote resources to its care and improvement.

The inability of a factor analysis to separate the measures of incorporation of the mountain bike versus incorporation of the activity of mountain biking indicates that respondents viewed the two as intertwined. That is, the intrinsic value of the mountain bike and mountain biking are undifferentiated among the respondents. This inability to separate the tangible object with the experiential activity reflects on the proposed importance of the object in achieving a peak experience, as a peak experience while mountain biking is the same as a peak experience with the mountain bike. The relationship between a peak experience and incorporation into extended self would then indicate that a peak experience while mountain biking will result in incorporation of both the mountain bike and the activity of mountain biking into the self.

A final point of discussion is the importance of other people to the attainment of a peak experience. Privette and Bundrick (1991) and Arnould and Price (1993) report that other people are a consideration in a total experience. However, they do not indicate whether people are important or unimportant in the attainment of a peak experience. Further research might explore the impact of other people on a peak experience, and if having others along enhances the tendency to incorporate the object and activity into the extended self or inhibits it. According to one respondent:

My best experience with my current bike was during the summer of 1994 riding downhill at Skibowl. It was a full day of intense terrain with 5 great friends who I've ridden with since we were 11-years-old. I learned a lot about what makes a person a true friend, but I couldn't put it in writing.

21-year-old male

The potential brand loyalty, accessory interests, and word of mouth of individuals who have incorporated an object involved in a peak experience into their extended self provide marketing opportunities unlike those found with consumers who are only minimally self-invested in particular products. Such opportunities include providing means and opportunities for consumers to achieve peak experiences and marketing accessories to a population who has a particular activity-related object highly cathected to self.

At a different level, this study introduces the relationship between peak experiences and incorporation of related objects into the extended self and opens the door for further research into this relationship. Consumers are able to personalize mass-produced products through their unique experiences with these objects. A peak experience is notable for its apparent ability to extend mere personalization of an object to cathexis into extended self.

Exploring the influence of companions on peak experience, determining if extrinsic motivations make a difference, and pursuing the relationships between the type of peak experience, biking experience of the rider, and incorporation into self are examples of potential research to build upon this study.

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