Consumer Decisions on Discretionary Time: a Sociocognitive Perspective

June Cotte, University of Connecticut
S. Ratneshwar, University of Connecticut
ABSTRACT - This paper presents an integrative conceptual framework for how consumers make decisions on discretionary time. We assume that individuals possess an organized category structure for discretionary time which is influenced by the symbolic meaning of time and cognitive planning style. These antecedents in turn are shaped by a number of individual-level, family, and cultural factors. Decisions are made by categorizing perceived stimulus time units in the individual’s planning horizon. The likelihood of the stimulus being categorized in a particular manner is influenced by temporal characteristics of the stimulus, perceptual framing, and the relative cognitive accessibility of different categories. Categorization leads to retrieval in working memory of associated activities in which the individual can engage; these activities constitute a small consideration set of alternatives from which a final choice is made.
[ to cite ]:
June Cotte and S. Ratneshwar (1998) ,"Consumer Decisions on Discretionary Time: a Sociocognitive Perspective", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 268-275.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 268-275

CONSUMER DECISIONS ON DISCRETIONARY TIME: A SOCIOCOGNITIVE PERSPECTIVE

June Cotte, University of Connecticut

S. Ratneshwar, University of Connecticut

ABSTRACT -

This paper presents an integrative conceptual framework for how consumers make decisions on discretionary time. We assume that individuals possess an organized category structure for discretionary time which is influenced by the symbolic meaning of time and cognitive planning style. These antecedents in turn are shaped by a number of individual-level, family, and cultural factors. Decisions are made by categorizing perceived stimulus time units in the individual’s planning horizon. The likelihood of the stimulus being categorized in a particular manner is influenced by temporal characteristics of the stimulus, perceptual framing, and the relative cognitive accessibility of different categories. Categorization leads to retrieval in working memory of associated activities in which the individual can engage; these activities constitute a small consideration set of alternatives from which a final choice is made.

INTRODUCTION

Joan gets home from work at 5:00 on a sunny summer day. She has no plans with friends for the evening, but must be in bed by 10:00 in order to get up for work the next day. By the time she has dinner she’ll only have a few spare hours; she considers seeing a movie or browsing in her neighborhood bookstore, but decides to rollerblade in the park before it gets dark.

Doug wakes up on Saturday morning with his two kids, ages 4 and 6, jumping on the bed and asking him what they are going to do today. Doug has some errands to run today, but figures he can finish them by noon. Calculating the amount of time left, he thinks of a couple of possibilities: they have time for a visit to Chuckie Cheese Restaurant, or they could go to the new children’s museum. In the end, he tells his kids that they will all go to a Disney movie for the afternoon.

Scenarios like those presented above are fairly commonplace for many consumers. They involve decisions regarding the consumption of discretionary time and a corresponding choice of activities in which one should engage in a given unit of time. While much consumer research has focused on brand-level choice among a narrow set of alternatives, there is a dearth of research on how consumers make choices among different products and different consumption activities (Huffman, Ratneshwar, and Mick 1996). In particular, the topic of consumer decisions regarding discretionary time has been relatively neglected, even though consumers in this country find that discretionary time is an ever-shrinking resource (Robinson and Godbey 1996; Feldman and Hornik 1981).

We sketch in this paper a conceptual framework for how consumers go about decisions regarding discretionary time. Our approach falls in the genre of sociocognitive analysis, best exemplified in consumer research by Ward and Reingen (1990) and Sirsi, Ward, and Reingen (1996). As in their work, we relate consumer decisions to cognitive structure, and we assume that cognitive structure is the product of individual factors acting in conjunction with influences derived from the social structure and context in which a particular individual is located. Another parallel with their approach is that while we consider decision making in terms of information-processing concepts, we also stress the mutual interaction between social and cognitive processes. Our conceptual approach is consistent with the suggestions of cognitive psychologists such as Rosch (1978) who stressed the importance of "...the interface between an analysis of social structure and culture and an analysis of individual psychology... the level of theory at which we can specify how culture and social structure enter the individual mind" (pg. 43). We also regard our approach as being consistent with theories of leisure behavior that stress person, social, and time dimensions to leisure choice (see, e.g. Iso-Ahola 1980).

Note that our approach represents a significant departure from some previous approaches to the problem of time use (see Hirschman 1987 and McGrath and Kelley 1986 for reviews). The economic approach, characterized best by Becker (1976), treats time as a fixed resource and assumes consumers want to maximize use of money and minimize time expenditures on all activities. A somewhat related approach is that of Feldman and Hornik (1981), whose conception of time usage involves consumers choosing among desirable activities, and then making time and money tradeoffs. The time-budget approach is primarily empirical, and it concentrates on collecting and analyzing time diary data. This approach, as a methodological necessity, treats time as monochronic (i.e., one thing is done at a time) and blocks time use into large discrete categories (e.g. career vs. leisure). Both the economic approach and the time-budget approach have conceptual similarities in their reliance on a fixed, objective view of time.

Research on perceptions of time has two distinct paradigms: psychophysical research, which compares perception of time to "clock" time and phenomenological research which views time as a mental construction having purely subjective meaning (e.g. Bergadaa 1990). For many sociologists, (e.g. Marks 1977; Lewis and Weigert 1981) time is a social construction, a convenience that cultures agree on. However, studying time in this way does not allow study and prediction of what actual consumers might do, their preferences and motives for thinkig about time. Hirschman’s own experiential perspective also assumes that social time is the dominant temporal perspective for an individual. She proposes that the prioritization of time-consuming activities is a function of intrinsic rewards and extrinsic social obligation. Thus, psychological, sociological, and experiential views of time share in common their focus on time as perceived by the consumer.

The proposed conceptual framework, shown in Figure 1, draws and integrates key ideas from a number of disciplines, including cognitive psychology, sociology, leisure studies, and cross-cultural studies, as well as consumer behavior. Our goal is (1) to provide an organizing framework for understanding how consumers make decisions regarding discretionary time and (2) to establish a theoretical foundation for future empirical work in this area. In brief, we suggest that individuals possess an organized category structure for discretionary time. This category structure is influenced by the symbolic meanings of time to the individual as well as the person’s cognitive planning style. These two antecedents in turn are shaped by a number of individual-level, family, and cultural factors. Decisions are made by categorizing perceived stimulus time units in the individual’s planning horizon on the basis of the preexisting, available category structure. The likelihood of the stimulus being categorized in a particular manner is moderated by the relative cognitive accessibility of different categories. Categorization of the stimulus time unit leads to retrieval in working memory of associated activities in which the individual can engage; these activities constitute a small consideration set of alternatives from which the consumer makes a final choice.

SYMBOLIC MEANING OF TIME

Much past research suggests that the symbolic meaning of time plays a critical role (Hirschman 1987; Bergadaa 1990; Manrai and Manrai 1995). Our model posits that the symbolic meaning of time has three key dimensions: self vs. social time, monochronic vs. polychronic, and temporal orientation: past, present, or future.

Self Vs. Social Time

In identifying a self vs. social time dimension, we recognize that an individual has a subjective perception of time (self-time) but must also interact with others: family, organizations, and cultural systems (Kaufman and Lane 1990). We group all others as a social component; albeit recognizing that within this component there are hierarchies of importance (for example, for some people family time is subjugated to work time), the essential distinction for many people is "time for me" versus "time with/for others". This distinction is similar to Hirschman’s (1987) idea of an intrinsic versus extrinsic time structure, whereby intrinsic, personally rewarding activities are higher priority than extrinsic, socially obligated activities. This distinction is also consistent with Bergadaa (1990) who asserts that an individual’s temporal cognitive structure is made up of personal time and environment time. Personal time includes the individual’s aims and motivations, while environment time is the effect of family and other cultural networks on an individual’s perception of time.

There are individual differences on this self vs. social dimension. Men and women differ on perceptions of time usage for both work-related and leisure activities (Arndt and Gronmo 1977; Feldman and Hornik 1981;Manrai and Manrai 1995). In addition to gender, age influences this dimension-as people age, they tend towards solitary activities vs. other-directed activities (Havighurst 1973).

Within families, children learn to pattern their behavior after their parents, as role models. Attitudes towards valuing self-time versus time with others can be learned through modeling or through direct communication and in this way parents can influence their children’s temporal orientation (Bergadaa 1990). Thus, the self vs. social dimension of the meaning of time, just like other higher level values, is likely transmitted intergenerationally (see, e.g. Moore-Shay and Berchmans 1996).

Manrai and Manrai (1995) discuss how cultural context affects perceptions of time usage along a self vs. social dimension. Their conception of cultural context posits two models of time orientation: high versus low context, or the extent to which the social context of interactions is important (Hall 1976). High context cultures (like Asia, Latin America and the Middle East) emphasize social interaction, not necessarily schedules and promptness. In low context cultures (like the US, Canada, and Western Europe) time is treated as a tangible asset, and self-time is preeminent (e.g. "Why was the meeting so late getting started-this makes me late"). The self versus social dimension also likely varies across cultures because the role of others is less central in individualistic versus collectivist cultures. The above discussion leads to our first proposition about the symbolic meaning of time:

P1: Individual-level factors, family influences, and culture affect the self vs. social dimension of the symbolic meaning of time.

Monochronic Vs. Polychronic

A second key dimension of the symbolic meaning of time involves whether time is symbolized as monochronic or polychronic (Graham 1981; Feldman and Hornik 1981; Kaufman, Lane and Lindquist 1991). Treating time monochronically means emphasizing "one thing at a time". For people perceiving monochronically, time is linear and separable, capable of being divided into units and so these individuals can logically do one task at a time (i.e. serial processing). Symbolically treating time as polychronic means using time for many purposes at once (i.e. parallel processing).

There are individual differences on capabilities to handle monochronic versus polychronic activities, even within a culture emphasizing one or the other. These differences include gender and life goals (Hall 1976; Feldman and Hornik 1981; Manrai and Manrai 1995). Kaufman, Lane and Lindquist (1991) also found a positive relationship between polychronic time use and education, full-time employment, and social club membership.

Family influences will affect the monochronic versus polychronic symbolic nature of time for an individual. Through socialization agents, children learn "what time is"-the family mediates outside influences and is likely the strongest influence through learning, communication, and modeling (Moschis 1987). Children watch how their parents treat time, and seeing a parent repeatedly try to juggle two things at once, versus methodically proceeding through each task, will influence the child’s own monochronic / polychronic orientation. This perception will likely be mediated by a judgment of how successful the parent was at handling time (Moore-Shay and Berchmans 1996).

The monochronic vs. polychronic dimension of the symbolic meaning of time also varies across cultures. When time is symbolized as linear-separable and capable of being split into perceptual categories, peoplesymbolically represent time as monochronic-this is the traditional Western, Anglo cultural perception of time. In this type of culture serial processing is encouraged and reinforced (common phrases in the U.S. would include "Now is not the time for that" or "Do one thing at a time"). When time is treated as a system where the same events reoccur in natural cycles, the representation of time is polychronic (e.g. many Latin American cultures) (Graham 1981). In these cultures parallel processing is common and a businessperson may conduct several meetings at once, elongating the "time" each meeting takes. Culture works to influence the individual’s orientation to monochronic or polychronic time. Thus:

P2: Individual-level factors, family influences, and culture affect the monochronic vs. polychronic dimension of the symbolic meaning of time.

Past, Present, or Future Time Orientation

The final dimension of the symbolic meaning of time concerns an individual’s time orientation: to the past, present, or the future. Cognitive temporal representations of experience help create an individual’s unique personality (Graham 1981; Kaufman and Lane 1990). Individual history variables like education, events experienced and social class influence the temporal orientation of an individual-people may also be classed as present-oriented or future-oriented based on other sociodemographic variables such as age and gender (Cottle 1976; Bergadaa 1990). For example, Cottle (1976) found men to be more future-oriented while women tended to be present-oriented. There are also racial differences in cognitive beliefs about time, including temporal orientation toward the past, present or future (Jones, 1988). This is not to say that, for example, future-oriented individuals will only consider the importance of the future in their lives, but this temporal orientation helps us differentiate individuals based on the relative influence they give to the three temporal zones (Cottle 1976).

FIGURE 1

A CONCEPTUAL MODEL FOR DECISIONS REGARDING DISCRETIONARY TIME

The parents’ role in teaching their children about time will greatly influence the children’s temporal orientation (Bergadaa 1990). In addition, studies of intergenerational influence show that children react to a parent’s perceived incompetence (in financial planning, for example) by orienting themselves in an opposing way (by becoming materialistic), but when parents are perceived to be good at planning, children will learn those skills (Moore-Shay and Berchmans 1996). In an analogous way, one might hypothesize that in families where parents are perceived to have a dysfunctional temporal orientation, (for example, where parents "live in the future" without accomplishing their goals in the present), children will be influenced to become "better" at temporal orientation. Living in families where parents seem to "live in the past" may influence children to future orient themselves.

Cultures differ in the significance they attribute to a past, present or future temporal orientation (Jones 1988). In fact, Cottle (1976) suggests we can categorize cultures based on the relative emphasis placed on past, present or future. The influence of culture on time orientation is important because "... perception of time is a part of an individual’s culture and... it has an important influence on the individual’s world view and subsequent behavior" (Graham 1981, pg. 338). Hence:

P3: Individual-level factors, family influences, and culture affect the past, present, or future orientation dimension of the symbolic meaning of time.

COGNITIVE PLANNING STYLE

The second mjor aspect of the model to be discussed is cognitive planning style. Cognitive style is the manner in which people perceive, organize and think about themselves; cognitive planning style is how an individual perceives, organizes and thinks about planning his or her time. The main dimension of cognitive planning style we examine is the continuum from a highly analytical style, where the emphasis is on the creation of minute, mutually exclusive temporal categories to a less concrete, flow orientation where the temporal categories are coarse and potentially overlapping. For example, while some people plan their work days in 15 or 30 minute intervals captured in a day planner notebook, others simply plan for "things to do this week", without highly analytic planning.

There are personality correlates with the analytic versus flow dimension of cognitive planning style (Gorman and Wessman 1977). People vary on the degree of time planning they do, and in the level of cognitive effort they devote to decisions regarding time (Kaufman and Lane 1990), and they also vary on their analytic ability (Hutchinson and Alba 1991). These findings indicate that there are likely to be individual differences affecting the analytical versus flow dimension of cognitive planning style.

Planning style is a part of the cognitive model that individuals develop to adapt to their environments. Children learn cognitive models within a given culture the same way they learn other cultural knowledge (Neisser 1987). To a large extent, this is through socialization and family learning. Children share their parents’ economic management and budgeting skills, and the choice rules they use (Moore-Shay and Berchmans 1996)-it seems likely they will share cognitive planning style as well, especially on the analytic versus flow dimension we are examining. Parents provide cues to their children about appropriate planning styles and thus family influences affect cognitive planning style.

While there is no clear evidence of cultural difference in basic cognitive processes (perception, learning, etc.) there are cultural differences in when and how certain processes like categorization are used (Cole and Scribner 1974). Cultures tend to share "idealized cognitive models" about the way the world is organized and the coherence of cognitive categories may vary cross-culturally (Neisser 1987, Medin and Wattenmaker 1987). Variations in cognitive models and in the application or non-application of analytic temporal categories would seem to indicate that there are likely to be cross-cultural variations along the analytic versus flow dimension of cognitive planning style. This leads us to:

P4: Individual-level factors, family influences, and culture affect the analytic vs. flow aspect of cognitive planning style.

PERCEPTUAL FRAMING OF STIMULUS TIME UNIT

When an individual perceives a stimulus unit of discretionary time in the person’s planning horizon he or she must decide how to "account" for this time. Germane to this idea is the literature on prospect theory, mental accounting, and mental budgeting.

In prospect theory perception of value is based on changes in wealth, and windfall gains are treated differently from expected gains. While in the theory gains are monetary, the authors allude to it being applicable to other issues and state "... the proposed value function for money should apply to other attributes as well" (Kahneman and Tversky 1979, pg. 288). We posit that the principles of prospect theory apply to the perception of a stimulus time unit because framing effects create differing perceptions of objectively similar units of time (Leclerc, Schmitt and Dube 1995).

Mental accounting theory (Thaler 1985) states that people will frame their outcomes (accounts) in ways that reflect their life preferences. We posit that people will perceive and account for windfall time and expected time differently. Thaler contends that the most relevant budget constraint for behavior is current income, not lifetime wealth - in terms of our model this means that when people are deciding how to "post" a given stimulus unit of time to an account (windfall versus expected) they do not consider all the time they will ever have, but merely how much time they have currently. This consideration will influence their framing of the stimulus time unit. The idea of mental budgeting (Heath and Soll 1996) carries this idea further, examining how people label their resources (like money or time). This act of framing or labeling of a stimulus time unit will likely differ for the same person across situations, and across different people in the same situation (see also Bishop and Witt 1970).

TEMPORAL CHARACTERISTICS OF STIMULUS TIME UNIT

When categorizing a stimulus unit of discretionary time, people will consider its duration and point in time. That is, in attempting to slot some time unit into an appropriate mental category, people will look to its actual length (e.g. in hours, minutes, etc.) and when it occurs (e.g. time of day or evening, day of week, month, season, etc.).

CATEGORY STRUCTURE FOR DISCRETIONARY TIME

Several consumer researchers have studied how people organize product knowledge in a categorical manner in memory (e.g., Alba and Hutchinson 1987; Cohen and Basu 1987; Loken and Ward 1990; Ratneshwar and Shocker 1991). However, early work in psychology on categorization and time also asserted that there seemed to be basic temporal categories (Rosch 1978), and that these are part of larger networks of on-going cognitive processes (Gorman and Wessman 1977). Accordingly, we posit that consumers organize their knowledge regarding discretionary time in a categorical structure so as to permit classification and differentiation of future time episodes. To anticipate our later arguments, our framework essentially suggests that categories concerning discretionary time are first formed in long-term memory and then "consulted" during the decision process.

Category structures can be taxonomic and reflect attribute correlations in our physical environment (e.g., in categories such as "birds," "trees"), or they can be goal-derived (e.g., "things to take on a camping trip"; see Barsalou 1991). We propose that discretionary time categories contain aspects of both taxonomic and goal-derived categories. In reference to taxonomic aspects, the category structure should reflect inherent temporal attributes of instances of discretionary time such as duration (e.g., an hour vs. four hours) and point in time (e.g., weekday evening vs. a Saturday afternoon; summer vs. winter), as well as correlations among these attributes (e.g., four hours of discretionary time may be strongly associated with Saturday afternoons). Notwithstanding, from a pragmatic perspective, categories for discretionary time in cognitive structure should also reflect instrumentality: what one can do or what one should do with a particular category of time (Barsalou 1991; Ratneshwar and Shocker 1991). Thus, discretionary time categories may also exhibit many properties of goal-derived categories, since particular categories should be characterized by their suitability for attaining goals or fulfilling the consumer’s needs (e.g., "time that I can spend by myself watching TV").

An emphasis on instrumentality also implies that the symbolic meanin of time should be carried forward into the manner in which categories are structured in an individual’s mind. Dimensions such as self vs. social, monochronic vs. polychronic, and time orientation should characterize various categories and, perhaps, to various degrees for different individuals. Indeed, the classic work of Rosch (1978) and Murphy and Medin (1985) as well as more recent work in the area of cognitive anthropology (see D’Andrade 1995) strongly suggests that symbolic meanings (e.g., those that are culturally mandated) permeate category structure.

The structure of discretionary time categories and their imputed meanings may vary both across individuals as well as within-individual across contexts (Barsalou 1987). For example, the thought of time spent "all by myself" may be relaxing or stressful for the same person in different contexts. For this to happen, category knowledge stored in long-term memory must have several characteristics simultaneously including mutual exclusivity (time can be stressful or relaxing, not both), continuity (there is no clear-cut boundary between relaxing and stressful time), global organization (relaxing and stressful are contained within higher-order relations such as schemas and scripts) and episodic organization (previous stressful or relaxing episodes will be integrated with generic knowledge of stressful and relaxing times); see Barsalou (1987). Again, the symbolic meaning of time for an individual will likely impact the category structure accessed at certain times, or in certain contexts.

Cognitive planning style will, almost by definition, impact on the distinctness of category structure. An individual with a highly analytic planning style will likely have categories that are finely graded and discrete. Those with a more flow orientation to planning will likely have a category structure for discretionary time that has more fuzzy boundaries between categories, and more encompassing or overlapping categories. To summarize,

P5: Individuals organize their knowledge of discretionary time in a categorical structure.

P6: The category structure for discretionary time has both taxonomic and goal-derived properties.

P7: The categorical structure for discretionary time is influenced by both the symbolic meaning of time for an individual as well as the person’s cognitive planning style.

CATEGORIZATION OF STIMULUS TIME UNIT

Our framework posits that stimulus time units in the individual’s planning or decision-making horizon are categorized on a "best fit" basis by utilizing the cognitive structure that is already available. We propose that this general principle of best fit is a similarity-based matching process (see Medin, Goldstone, and Markman 1995) that, however, is subject to three additional, more specific principles. These principles determine the likelihood that the stimulus time unit will be mapped on to any particular category in the individual’s cognitive repertoire.

First, as alluded to earlier, the inherent temporal characteristics of thestimulus time unit place constraints on its categorization (Smith and Medin 1981). These characteristics correspond to the taxonomic properties of the available category structure, and the higher the degree of correspondence, the greater the likelihood of a particular categorization.

P8: The temporal characteristics of the stimulus time unit will affect its categorization.

Second, the relative accessibility of different categories in the cognitive structure will influence the likelihood that a particular category will "capture" the stimulus. Kelly (1955), in his personality theory, suggested that constructs or categories that are used frequently or habitually will influence how an individual perceives others. Bruner (1957) emphasized that categories recently used or those related to currently salient needs and goals are more likely to be accessed from memory, and that accessible categories are more likely to be used in categorizing stimuli. We note that the goal-derived properties of the category structure play a critical role in this regard. When certain needs or goals are salient for the individual, categories associated with those goals will be activated in memory and thus highly accessible (Barsalou 1991). So, for example, when a salient goal for a consumer is "landscaping the yard", the category for time spent working in the yard is relatively accessible, and how a given stimulus time unit (e.g. a weekend afternoon) is categorized will be influenced by the accessibility of this category. Contemporary social psychologists continue to stress the role of cognitive accessibility in terms of the individual’s readiness to perceive and encode stimuli in a selective manner (see, e.g., Srull and Wyer 1986; Higgins 1990). Accordingly,

P9: Categorization of the stimulus time unit will be influenced by the relative accessibility of different categories in the individual’s cognitive structure for discretionary time.

P10: Relative accessibility of different categories is a function of frequency of use, recency of use, and the salience of associated values, needs, or goals.

Third, the perceptual framing of the stimulus time unit as expected (e.g. a routine Saturday) versus windfall (e.g. a surprisingly short meeting leads to leaving work much earlier than expected) should influence the categorization of that time unit, much as money is accounted for and categorized differently, depending on its source. We propose that categorization of windfall time will be more fungible than expected time. The intuition is that consistent with the findings in the mental accounting literature (e.g., Thaler 1985), windfall time will be perceived and accounted for as a "bonus" for which the consumer might reason that the norms, rules, and scripts of time use don’t apply. Thus, instead of assimilating the stimulus time unit into the category structure in a routine and fairly reflexive manner, the consumer may engage in more constructive, ad hoc processes of categorization (cf. Kahneman and Miller 1986).

P11: The categorization of the stimulus time unit will be influenced by whether it is perceptually framed as windfall or as expected; framing as a windfall will lead to more constructive or ad hoc categorization.

DECISION MAKING PROCESS

Prior research by Barsalou (1991), Nedungadi (1990), Ratneshwar and Shocker (1991), and Ratneshwar, Pechmann, and Shocker (1996) suggests a simple mechanism for linking stimulus categorization to decision process. We assume that as part of their goal-derived properties, discretionary time categories are associated in memory with appropriate activities or action sequences in which the individual might engage. Categorization of the stimulus time unit causes activation of the activities associated with that particular category in long-term memory. These activities are then retrieved into working memory as a small-sized consideration set of options from which the individual might make a final choice. Our model does not make any specific prediction with regard to how consumers might actually make a decision from this consideration set. We expect if the alternatives are fairly similar, they may use one of several different choice heuristics, similar to the case of brand-level choice (see Bettman, Johnson, and Payne 1991 for a review). When the alternatives are fairly heterogeneous, abstraction strategies such as those described in the literature on noncomparable alternatives might be employed. Notwithstanding, the process suggested here, at the very least, offers a potential explanation for how consumers narrow down the "What-do-I-do?" decision regarding discretionary time to a few possible options from a multitude of action possibilities.

P12: Categorization of the stimulus time unit leads to the memory-based formation of a consideration set of alternative activities from which the consumer makes a final choice.

SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION

We presented here a conceptual framework for how consumers make decisions regarding discretionary time, a relatively neglected area in consumer reearch. The integrative model we outlined takes a sociocognitive perspective (cf. Sirsi, et al 1996; Ward and Reingen 1990) and it incorporates cultural, social, and individual-level influences on time decisions. Our approach significantly differs from previous research on time usage but synthesizes key insights from several different literatures including time perception and use (e.g., Feldman and Hornik 1981; Hirschman 1987; Bergadaa 1990), categorization and decision making (e.g., Barsalou 1991, Loken and Ward 1990; Nedungadi 1990; Ratneshwar and Shocker 1991; Rosch 1978), mental accounting (e.g., Kahneman and Tversky 1979; Thaler 1985) and leisure activity decisions (Manrai and Manrai 1995; Holbrook and Lehmann 1981; Iso-Ahola 1980). Rather than studying discretionary time use in an economic resource allocation mode, we have enlarged the study of time "outward" from the individual to include interaction with social structure, and "inward" to study internal perceptual time processing, as first suggested by Kaufman and Lane (1990).

Discretionary time decisions require that we process temporal information. How such temporal information is actually cognitively represented and processed is an important research question. Decisions about discretionary time allocation are complex, and potentially require a lot of cognitive effort. However, these decisions may be often fairly low in involvement (for example, when one is choosing what to do on a Saturday afternoon). Further, numerous such decisions need to be made by consumers almost everyday. Therefore, consumers are likely to seek ways to simplify such decisions. Relying on previously constructed categorical knowledge about discretionary time is one way of simplifying decision-making. Note our theory also advances prior research by adding a missing perspective to the literature on discretionary time allocation. Our approach departs from traditional models of consumer time allocation in that the mental representation of the time unit, rather than the activity per se, is considered first. Contrasting with classic approaches, where consumers choose among desirable activities and then make time and money tradeoffs, we posit that consumers first map the stimulus time unit to their category structures and then ask themselves "What would I like to do?"

Limitations And Future Research Directions

Given space limitations, this conceptual model of the decisions regarding discretionary time is of necessity a sketch at this point. Many important issues are merely touched upon, and have not been elaborated in detail. However, the model does accomplish its objective of providing a broad organizing framework for how consumers make decisions regarding discretionary time.

Based on the model and propositions we introduced, there are a number of promising directions for future research on discretionary time decisions. However, we should first point out some of the limitations of our theory. First, the outlook of the model is cognitive and as such no clear role is accorded to emotional inputs to decision-making. The model is not affect-based and as such cannot adequately deal with more experiential views of time use. Future research may be able to suggest how an affect component can be added to the present model. Second, the model is fairly specific up to the point when an individual forms a consideration set of possible activities in which he or she might engage. At that point, our theory treats the final decision much as brand level choice is assumed to occur from a consideration set. Further empirical research may be able to shed more light on this issue. More generally, there is clearly a need for empirical work to validate the assertions in our conceptual model. Prior research has established methodological approaches for areas such as cross-cultural differences, intergenerational influence, the symbolic meaning of time, and time orientation. Further, experimental approaches are already available for studying categorization, perceptual framing, and decision-making. We foresee that furthe research on consumer decisions regarding discretionary time allocation will benefit both from a sociocognitive perspective and a multimethod approach.

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