Special Session Summary Children As Decision Makers

Kim Corfman, New York University
[ to cite ]:
Kim Corfman (1997) ,"Special Session Summary Children As Decision Makers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 125-127.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 125-127

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

CHILDREN AS DECISION MAKERS

Kim Corfman, New York University

Children have become a major consumer market, with estimated total spending power of around $150 billion in 1993. Not only do they have a large amount of their own discretionary income, they also influence a wide variety of minor and major family purchases, from toys to restaurant meals to cars. As a result of this and the projected growth in the number of children, we are seeing a steadily increasing stream of new child-oriented products and advertising. Despite this boost in child-directed marketing activity, we still know remarkably little about how children make decisions, what determines how much influence they have when parents are involved, and how these vary across different ages. This session succeeded in bringing together researchers interested in children who are exploring various dimensions of children’s decision making in different ways, providing some perspective on the processes involved, and identifying remaining gaps in our understanding.

The literature on children’s decision making is quite sparse. While we know that children younger than 10 or 11, are far less able to adapt to increasing complexity in decision environments than older children, previous work has not addressed how adaptive decision making develops as children mature. The first presentation, delivered by Jennifer Gregan-Paxton and Deborah Roedder John, explored age differences in children’s decision making and how children become adaptive decision makers. Though we know that adaptivity develops during early and middle childhood, we know virtually nothing about the mechanisms responsible for this development. The authors proposed that young children face two general classes of obstacles, called knowledge deficits and utilization deficits, in adapting to complex decision environments. They then reported empirical evidence to support their view that utilization deficits can be the sources of younger children’s difficulties in effectively adapting their decision-making strategies to more complex tasks.

When children are not making consumption decisions alone, they are most often making them with a parent. The second and third papers in this session addressed the influence processes surrounding parent/child consumption decisions.

The second presentation, delivered by Kay Palan (co-authored with Robert Wilkes) investigated parent-child interaction in family decision making. I the family purchase decision making process, adolescents often try to sway the purchase decision through a variety of influence strategies. Parents react to adolescent influence attempts with their own inventory of response strategies. This paper examined the interaction process that occurs between parents and adolescents in family purchase decisions. Through the use of discovery-oriented research methods, both adolescent influence strategies and parental response strategies to adolescent influence were identified. In addition, the authors used interpretive analysis to develop underlying motivations that determine strategy choice, which are used to propose a conceptual framework of parent-adolescent interactions.

The third presentation, delivered by Kim Corfman and Bari Harlam (co-authored with Paschalina Ziamou), examined the relative influence of parents and children in the purchase of products for children. The authors proposed and presented preliminary tests of a model of children’s influence in the family choice process, which included a) the effects of factors relating to the child, the parent, the family structure, and past decisions and b) what determines whether children will be influential in a particular product category. The focus was on the role of the communal consequence of the product category represented in the decisionCthe degree to which other family members are involved or affected when a child consumes a product. Their method allowed objective assessment of relative influence by examining the decision making process through an experiment in which parent-child dyads make a series of joint choices.

While these papers shared the common theme of children as decision makers, the differences among them added to their value as a set. First, the combination of papers permitted comparison across a wide range of agesCfrom 7 to 17. Studies of children rarely make the explicit comparisons among age groups that were possible with the juxtaposition of the papers in this session. Second, the methodologies used in this session represented a broad range of approachesCfrom information display boards, to observation of choices in an experimental setting, to discovery-oriented, in-depth interviews. These papers provided encouraging evidence of innovation in our approaches to studying children as consumers and that we have moved far beyond learning about children by simply asking their parents.

PRESENTATION SUMMARIES

 

"AGE DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’S DECISION MAKING: DECIDING HOW TO DECIDE"

Jennifer Gregan-Paxton and Deborah Roedder John

How do children become adaptive decision makers? Though we know that adaptivity develops during early and middle childhood, we know virtually nothing about the mechanisms responsible for this development. In this paper, the authors proposed that young children face two general classes of obstacles, called knowledge deficits and utilization deficits, in adapting to complex decision environments. Knowledge deficits refer to the lack of basic skills and knowledge needed to perform a task. Utilization deficits, on the other hand, refer to difficulties in using whatever knowledge or skills are available in a particular learning or problem-solving situation. When these obstacles are removed, either through experience, maturation, or the task environment itself, more adaptive decision making emerges.

These propositions were tested empirically by focusing on utilization deficits as a source of young children’s decision-making difficulties. Specifically, the authors report the results of an experiment with children aged 7 to 11 years, in which children’s decision-making strategies were monitored as they made a series of choices from information boards. Second grade and fifth grade children plyed a game called "treasure hunt," in which they were allowed to pick a "treasure box" from several depicted on information boards. Each child made a choice from four different information boards that varied in complexity, manipulated by the number of treasure boxes (alternatives) they could choose from and the number of individual prizes (dimensions) included in each treasure box. Information about the prizes in each treasure box could be obtained by uncovering "curtains" hiding the information on the display board.

Children’s abilities to adapt to increasingly complex information boards were assessed by monitoring the overall amount and proportion of information they gathered prior to choice, the general nature of their search strategy (e.g., exhaustive versus satisficing), and the degree to which they selectively gathered information from some alternatives, but not others. To examine whether young children could be prompted to be more adaptive in these respects, search costs were made salient for half of the subjects by requiring them to pay (i.e., give up a piece of candy) for each peice of information gathered from the board. The introduction of search costs was viewed as providing a cue to young children that exhaustive processing of information had a substantial cost, encouraging them to utilize whatever simplifying strategies they might have available.

Consistent with prior research, results indicate that younger children were often less effective in adapting to complex decision environments than older children. But, when provided with a cue in the form of substantial search costs, younger children used whatever strategies they possessed in a more effective manner, sometimes equaling that of much older children. These findings provide evidence, for the first time, that age differences in decision making are attributable, in part, to utilization deficits and that younger children can be encouraged to be more adaptive with the aid of decision-making cues that facilitate strategy usage.

 

"ADOLESCENT-PARENT INTERACTION IN FAMILY DECISION MAKING"

Kay M. Palan and Robert E. Wilkes

In the family purchase decision making process, adolescents often try to sway purchase decisions through a variety of influence strategies. Parents react to adolescent influence attempts with their own inventory of response strategies. The interaction between adolescent strategy choice and parental strategy choice determines the impact of the adolescent influence attempt on the purchase process. That is, some adolescent-parent interchanges will be more effective than others in affecting the purchase decision outcome. In order to increase our understanding of adolescent-parent interactions in purchase decisions, a discovery-oriented research method-depth interviews with one hundred mothers, fathers, and adolescents-was conducted for two purposes. First, both adolescent influence strategies and parental response strategies to adolescent influence attempts were identified. Seventeen adolescent influence strategies and twelve parental response strategies were identified; based on the understanding of these strategies that emerged from the interviews, the strategies were organized into seven different strategy categories-bargaining, persuasion, emotional, request, expert, legitimate, and directive.

Second, interpretive analysis was used to suggest underlying motivations that determine both adolescent and parental strategy choice. Specifically, the authors proposed that adolescent strategy choice is determined by two factors: (1) adolescent expectations of parental resistance to adolescent influence attempts, and (2) adolescent willingness to engage in resource expenditure. Parental response strategy choice is motivated by the degree of management parents choose to exert in the interaction process. These motivations were combined to propose a conceptual framework of parent-adolescent interactions. It was proposed that parent-leveraged decision making is characterized by high parental resistance, high adolescent esource expenditure, and high parental management; despite adolescent influence attempts, parents will be the primary decision makers in parent-leveraged decisions. Adolescent-leveraged decision making, on the other hand, occurs when there is low parental resistance, low adolescent resource expenditure, and low parental management; for these decisions, adolescents are successful in their influence attempts and may actually make purchase decisions with very little parent interaction.

 

"RELATIVE INFLUENCE OF PARENT AND CHILD IN THE PURCHASE OF PRODUCTS FOR CHILDREN"

Kim Corfman, Bari Harlam, and Paschalina Ziamou

Parents and, increasingly, marketers understand the importance of children’s influence in the purchase of a wide variety of products for use by the family and children themselves. We know from past studies that there is substantial variation among families and product categories in the amount of influence children have over purchase decisions and we know a little about reasons for variation among families. However, we know much less about reasons for the observed variation among product categories. This study looked at the effects of parent preference intensity, the outcomes of past joint choices, child personality, parenting styles, and family structure on children’s influence and what determines whether children will be influential in a particular category.

A variety of methods have been used to assess children’s involvement in family decision making. Almost all past studies have used parents’ perceptions of children’s influence. Only a very few studies have used more objective approaches and observed the outcome or the influence process and outcome, permitting accurate inferences about relative influence to be made. These authors observed both the influence process and outcome, and measured a more comprehensive set of predictors than has been possible with other methods.

In this paper the authors described and reported preliminary tests of a model of influence in the family choice process that includes the factors indicated above, which are expected to determine children’s influence in the purchase of products and services. Of particular interest were characteristics of the product category in determining how strongly the parent feels (preference intensity) and, thus, how much influence he or she exerts. They examined the parent’s perceptions of how good or bad the product is for the child, the product’s price, and the communal consequence of the product category. Communal consequence is a construct developed for this study, which indicates the degree to which other family members are involved or affected when a child consumes a product or service. A product low in communal consequence might be a book or puzzle. A loud drum set, messy paints, and clothing (to the degree that it reflects on the parents) may have greater communal consequence. Items jointly consumed, such as a family movie or restaurant outing, are high in communal consequence.

The decision making process was examined using an experiment in which parent-child dyads made joint choices from four pairs of products, after rating the items independently. The four choice pairs were designed based on the individual ratings to ensure that the parent and child had conflicting individual preferences. They were from four product categoriesCtwo low and two high communal consequence categories. Preliminary results indicate that how good or bad the product is and its degree of communal consequence affect relative influence through the parent’s preference intensity. Other factors affecting relative influence include aspects of parenting style (consistency, control, and child’s spending power), child personality (cooperativeness and compliance), and family structure (number of parents in household, hours parents spend at work, an income). The outcomes of past decisions did not appear to play a role.

REVIEW OF DISCUSSION

The discussion revolved around two integrative questions. First, what are the key influences on a child's decision making? Answers to both questions were pursued from the perspectives of what we know and what we do not know as children's researchers.

Each paper made a unique contribution to answering these questions. The synthesizer mad the following observations. The first paper, by Gregan-Paxton and John, reminded us of the importance of task design when conducting research with children. They devised a clever game called "treasure hunt" that provided us with a view of when and how children of different ages adapt to complex decision environments. The second paper, by Palan and Wilkes, informed us of the complexity of adolescent-parent decision making. Using interpretive analysis. these authors revealed how the adolescent's influence attempts in the purchase process are affected by the interaction between the child's strategy choice and the parent's strategy choice. Third, Corfman, Harlam and Ziamou provided insight into the decision making process by considering factors related to the child, the parent, the family structure, past decisions, and the product category. These authors examined actual parent-child dyads in an experimental setting.

The synthesizer observed that the three papers also shared major themes and invited discussion of them. The following commonalities were discussed: 1) the emphasis shared by the first and second papers on strategic development of competencies, 2) the use by the first and third papers of unique experimental designs with an emphasis on age-appropriateness, and 3) the similarity of the last two presentations in their focus on the family unit, with parent-child dyads included in the data collection process.

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