Self-Consciousness Disposition Sheds Light on Consumers' Reactions to Waiting

Marie Marquis, University du Quebec a Montreal
[ to cite ]:
Marie Marquis (1998) ,"Self-Consciousness Disposition Sheds Light on Consumers' Reactions to Waiting", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 544-550.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 544-550

SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS DISPOSITION SHEDS LIGHT ON CONSUMERS' REACTIONS TO WAITING

Marie Marquis, University du Quebec a Montreal

INTRODUCTION

This paper is concerned with a personality disposition likely to explain variations in the level of attention consumers give to the waiting experience: self-consciousness, also known as self-awareness when considered as a transient state. Self-consciousness has two dimensions, the private self and the public self. The main effect of each dimension on attentional focus and causal attributions will be reviewed and hypotheses will be formulated. A hypothesis concerning the effect of interaction between the public self-consciousness disposition and manipulation of physical traits will also be presented. Research using movie theater waiting scenarios was carried out to test the proposed hypotheses. This paper presents the subsequent analyses, discusses the results and identifies areas for future research.

LITERATURE REVIEW AND HYPOTHESES

Private versus public self-consciousness and attentional focus

The private self-consciousness disposition refers to the attention and thought given to the covert and hidden aspects of the self not easily revealed to others, such as inner feelings, fantasies (e.g. daydreams), focal stimuli (e.g. sore muscles), and diffuse internal states (e.g. anger). Cheek and Briggs (1982) uncovered patterns of internal self-attention associated with the private self-consciousness disposition. These authors measured the importance of certain social and personal aspects of identity, and found that subjects with high private self-consciousness tended to select items from a scale of personal aspects of identity (e.g. feelings, emotions), whereas those with high public self-consciousness selected items related to social aspects of identity (e.g. attractiveness). When asked to complete sentences, private self-conscious subjects also had a tendency to use self-focused items (Carver and Scheier, 1978).

The public self-consciousness dimension is concerned with a disposition toward the self as perceived by others. It refers to the subject's tendency to pay attention to or think about the publicly displayed aspects of the self that can easily be examined by others and is linked to overt displays and impression management (Carver and Scheier, 1987; Cheek and Briggs, 1982). Studies have also confirmed that public self-conscious subjects are more concerned with physical appearance and fashions (Ryckman et al., 1991; Miller and Cox, 1982; Solomon and Schopler, 1982) and that they tend to improve their public image by selecting national brands rather than bargain brand products (Bushman, 1993). Other authors have found that these subjects are more likely to seek approval from others by using self-presentation strategies (e.g, self-enhancing/ success and self-effacing/ failure) (Doherty and Schlenker, 1991; Shepperd and Arkin, 1989).

As regards attentional focus, high private self-conscious subjects have a heightened self-knowledge and awareness of their conceptions, beliefs, emotions and drives. This means that they are less susceptible to misleading suggestions concerning their internal states (Gibbons, 1977). Interestingly, high private self-conscious subjects do not have a selective type of self-attention (Franzoi and Brewer, 1984; Franzoi, 1983; Turner, 1978). In fact, Franzoi and Brewer (1984) found that low private self-conscious subjects were more likely to attend to their private self-aspects if those self-aspects were pleasant, while high private self-conscious subjects attended to them whether the effect was pleasant or not. In other words, high private self-conscious subjects are not expected to disengage from self-focusing even if the self-focus experience might reveal negative discrepancies. Therefore, in a situation conducive to self-reflection, such as waiting, high private self-consciousness should facilitate inward focus and increase self-related thoughts rather than concerns for temporal attributes (H1).

Interestingly, Feldman (1995) stated that personalities associated with an acute awareness of internal experiences, such as those of high private self-conscious subjects, might also emphasize arousal focus rather than valence focus. Indeed, Feldman (1995) found that when labeling and reporting their mood experiences, subjects may attend differently to the valence and arousal components of an affective experience, and suggested that individual differences may explain why some subjects emphasize the pleasure components and others the arousal components of such experiences. High private self-conscious subjects should be more likely than low private self-conscious subjects to attend to and report their own arousal as part of their emotional experience (1-12).

As regards the attentional focus of public self-conscious subjects, as was pointed out by Franzoi and Brewer (1984), individuals concerned about their public self-presentation are less comfortable in the public self-aware state than low self-conscious subjects. To understand the phenomenon, the self-awareness theory must be reviewed briefly. According to the theory, individuals in a state of self-awareness step out of themselves to become observers of their own behavior, physical appearance, emotions, etc. (Duval and Wicklund, 1972). The observer perspective leads subjects to compare themselves with a standard-in other words, with the way they think they should be, look or feel. Although Duval and Wicklund (1972) did not say whether this external perspective was related to the public or private self-consciousness dimension, it seems in fact to be strongly related to the public self. Hass and Eisenstadt (1991) showed that the fact of making subjects publicly self-aware (by placing a video-camera next to them) caused them to take the external self-observing perspective, whereas making them privately self-aware (listening to their heartbeats) did not do this.

The self-awareness theory (Duval and Wicklund, 1972) assumes that this self-comparison generates a negative effect since it is likely to reveal discrepancies. Based on Duval and Wicklund's (1972) work, this discomfort maybe followed by two outcomes: an attempt to change behavior, appearance or feelings, or an attempt to avoid the state of self-focus by focusing outward, leaving the site or becoming involved in other tasks. According to Carver and Scheier (1986), in some situations a self-aware subject may wish to withdraw physically, in order to end the discomfort, but the context does not permit or sanction this. They assume that the disengagement is likely to be expressed psychologically, for example by daydreaming, or thinking about things they would rather be doing-in other words, through various task-irrelevant thoughts leading to an outward focus.

Based on the concern of public self-conscious subjects with public self-presentation, and the likelihood that they will engage in self-comparison and experience discomfort when discrepancies are revealed, it may be reasonable to hypothesize that, in waiting situations with other people, high public self-conscious subjects will experience discomfort that may, in turn, lead them to an outward focus and increase their temporal awareness (1-13). Moreover, the outward focus should be greater in situations that exacerbate the negative physical traits of high public self-conscious subjects than in situations that exacerbate their positive traits (H4).

Private versus public self-consciousness and causal attribution

In 1972, Duval and Wicklund argued that causal attributions were determined in part by the focus of attention. They hypothesized and confirmed that attribution to the self would increase when the self was the primary focus of attention (Duval and Wicklund, 1973). This was referred to as the self-focus/self-attribution hypothesis. In a study where self-awareness was induced with mirrors, the researchers asked the subjects to imagine themselves in a variety of situations and to estimate their responsibilities for hypothetical positive and negative outcomes. They found that the subjects who were induced to become self-aware with mirrors attributed more causality to themselves than the others, for both outcomes. This study was subsequently defined by Buss and Scheier (1976) as having manipulated the private self-awareness level.

Buss and Scheier(1976) conducted studies concerned specifically with the attributional biasing effect of private self-consciousness. Their subjects were asked to imagine themselves in a variety of positive and negative hypothetical situations, and to estimate their degree of personal responsibility for each event. High private self-conscious subjects were found to be more likely than low private self-conscious subjects to attribute self-responsibility for both positive and negative outcomes. Their studies were confirmed by Hass (1984). However, Federoff and Harvey (1976) found that inducing self-awareness with mirrors led to internal attributions, but only after a positive outcome. They concluded that in a high-involvement situation, protection of the ego was the primary concern, which explained why the subjects did not make internal attributions for a negative outcome. Briere and Vallerand (1990) tried to replicate the studies of Buss and Scheier (1976) using high-involvement situations with a positive outcome and a no-outcome situation. They found that high private self-conscious subjects made more internal, stable and controllable attributions for their behaviors after successful outcomes. No significant differences were found in the no-outcome situations, suggesting that high private self-conscious subjects do not always make more internal attributions. In short, based on the studies by Duval and Wicklund (1972), Buss and Scheier (1976) and Hass (1984), confirming the self-focus/self-attribution hypothesis in low involvement situations, it may be reasonably predicted that a low-involvement situation, as often found in leisure services (e.g. movie theaters), will follow the self-focus/self-attribution hypothesis. Therefore, in a low-involvement waiting situation, high private self-conscious subjects will have an internal locus of attribution for waiting (1-15).

For public self-awareness, attributional predictions can be based on the self-serving attributional bias approach, also known as the ego enhancement approach. The concept refers to the tendency to attribute success to the self and failure to external factors. Current knowledge of high public self-conscious subjects suggests that they should be more sensitive to protecting and enhancing their feelings of personal worth and competency, and to maintaining or restoring a positive self-image. Cheek and Briggs (1982) showed that public self-consciousness was linked to impression management or overt displays. Moreover, empirical evidence indicates that public self-consciousness and impression management are overlapping constructs, both involving a desire to protect one's public image (Schlenker, 1980). Thus, they should tend to attribute favorable outcomes to internal factors and unfavorable outcomes to external factors. Consequently, it can be hypothesized that, when the situation implies sensitivity to other people (in a waiting situation), the self-serving attributional bias will occur among high public self-conscious subjects (H6).

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The subjects were 250 clients of a movie theater located in the city of Montreal. They were selected randomly by the theater manager while waiting in line, and asked if they were interested in participating in a study on consumer reactions at the theater. Those who responded in the affirmative were given written questionnaires to be completed later and returned to the service company's head office. When the completed questionnaire was received, a free pass was sent to the respondent. A total of 117 questionnaires were returned and 79 were used for the exploratory study described in this paper. The mean age of the 79 subjects was 34.96 years (SD=11.67). Scenarios were used to manipulate public self-consciousness: one inducing positive self-awareness (50 distributed, 26 returned), one inducing negative self-awareness (50 distributed, 19 returned) and one control scenario (50 distributed, 34 returned).

Experimental design

Two independent variables were used: dispositional self-consciousness profiles (private and public), and three manipulations of physical traits (positive, negative, neutral). The subjects randomly received a questionnaire based on one of the three experimental conditions.

The questionnaires were based on one of three scenarios of service situations occurring in a movie theater. The subjects were instructed to read the scenario carefully and then imagine themselves as consumers in the waiting situation described. Situational scenarios and role playing have been used in previous empirical studies in service marketing (Schmitt, Dube and Leclerc, 1992; Bitner, 1990; Surprenant and Solomon, 1987; Folkes, 1984). To see how far the results of the scenarios could be applied to real-life settings, the subjects were asked to provide information on the experimental realism of the scenario.

The positive and negative scenarios were concerned a waiting situation in a movie theater. It is a busy period on a Saturday night, all cash desks are open, and the subject goes to stand in the shortest of the two lines. The line moves smoothly, the service is efficient and the staff courteous. The lines are kept straight with posts and ropes. The subject knows he will have enough time to buy a ticket, get popcorn and stop at the washroom before the beginning of the movie. He hears other clients talking about actors, and looks at movie posters. On entering the lobby, he sees his reflection in the glass of a nearby movie poster, and notices that his hair needs combing. In the positive scenario, he passes his hand through his hair, looks in the glass again, and is satisfied. In the negative scenario, he passes his hand through his hair, looks in the glass again, and sees that his hair is still untidy, and even dirty, although he washed it that morning.

In the control scenario, the subject goes to the theater at a busy time, a Saturday night. A] I the cash desks are open. The lines are straight and move smoothly, and the service is efficient. The subject goes to stand in the shortest line. Two other clients are talking about favorable movie critiques. The door attendant takes the tickets, directs clients to the correct theater, and wishes them a pleasant evening. The scenario ends, the subject is still waiting and believes he will have enough time to buy popcorn and stop at the washroom before the beginning of the movie.

Independent variable

Self-consciousness disposition-To measure individual differences in the tendency to self-focus, Scheier and Carver's (1985) Revised Self-Consciousness Scale (SCS), French version, was used. The Revised SCS comprises 22 items. Each item was rated on a four-point scale ranging from extremely uncharacteristic (0) to extremely characteristic (3). The Revised SCS was translated into French and tested by Pelletier and Vallerand (1990). A median split was used to divide respondents into high and low self-conscious subjects on the total scale and on the private and public subscales.

Dependent variables

Temporal awareness-Subjects were asked to use a 7-point scale to indicate the extent to which the written scenario had caused them to think about themselves (1) or about the waiting situation (7).

Mood (pre- and post- experiment measure)-Mehrabian and Russell's (1974) short-form mood scale was used. The scale has been found to be useful for positioning consumer experience and developing experience-specific emotional profiles (Havlena and Holbrook, 1986). It comprises three dimensions: pleasure, arousal, and dominance (PAD). The PAD mood scale has previously been used in service marketing studies (Chebat ct al., 1995; Marquis, Dube and Chebat, 1994). The emotional responses to the positive and negative scenarios were measured before and after reading. A global measure was also taken; using a 7-point scale ranging from pleasant (0) to unpleasant (7), the subjects were asked to indicate how they would describe their mood if they were thinking about themselves while reading the scenario. This global measure was taken for the three scenarios.

Causal attributions-To assess the subject's perceptions of the major cause of waiting, Russell's (1982) causal dimension scale (CDS) was used. The CDS assesses the causal perceptions of the waiting situation in terms of the locus of causality, stability and controllability dimensions.

RESULTS

Realism-Using a 7-point scale, the subjects were asked to indicate how they perceived the realism of the waiting situation described in the scenarios (1- very realistic, 7- not at all realistic). All three scenarios in the present study were described as very realistic (Xnegative=2.16, Xpositive= 1.88, X control=2.03, F= .28, p=.75).

Revised Self-Consciousness Scale-To classify the subjects in terms of high/low, private/public self-consciousness, a factor analysis using varimax rotation was used on the 22 items. Three factors emerged from the analysis. Table 1 presents the items and factor loading for each factor where the loading was>0.4. Subgroups of high and low self-conscious subjects were formed from the scores obtained on the total scale and the private and public subscales. A median split was used as a cut-off point (median=15 for public and private self-consciousness subscales).

Emotional responses-pre-experiment measure-Factor analysis using varimax rotation was used on the 18 mood items measured in the pre-experimental phase. Three factors emerged from the analysis. Table 2 presents the items and factor loading for each factor where the loading was>0.4. At the pre-experimental phase, high private self-conscious subjects were found to be no more likely than low private self-conscious subjects to attend to and report their own arousal as part of their emotional experience. H2 was therefore not confirmed at this phase. Interestingly, although this was not predicted, the mood item analysis revealed that high public self-conscious subjects differed significantly from low public self-conscious subjects with respect to specific emotions related to the arousal and pleasure dimensions. High public self-conscious subjects were less satisfied (Xhigh public= 2.68, Xlow public= 1.79, t-value= -2.13, df=39, p=0.04), less hopeful (Xhigh public= 2.45, Xlow public~ 1.68, t-value=-2.53, df=37, p=0.02) and had the impression of being more controlled Nigh public= 2.45, Xlow public= 1.59, t-value=-1.89, df=35, p=.07). On the dominance dimension, they tended to feel more influenced Nigh public=3.65, Xlow public=2.75, t-value= -1.81, df= 30.93, p= 0.08), although this result was not significant.

Emotional responses-Post-experiment measures-Factor analysis using varimax rotation was used on the 18 mood items measured in the post-experimental phase. Three factors emerged from the analysis. Table 3 presents the items and factor loading for each factor where the loading was>0.4. On the post-experimental measure, high private self-conscious subjects differed significantly from their low private self-conscious counterparts on the arousal dimensions. The level of private self-consciousness had a significant effect on the arousal dimension Nigh private= 4.00, Xlow private=3.17, F= 4.76, p= .04). Mood item analysis revealed that high private self-conscious subjects felt significantly calmer Nigh private=5.26, Xlow private=3.74, t-value=-2.93, df=38.18, p=.01) and more relaxed Nigh private= 4.17, Xlow private= 3.09, t-value=2.08, df=36.62, p=.05) than low private self-conscious subjects. Therefore, H2 was confirmed at the post-experiment phase, i.e. high private self-conscious subjects were more likely than low private self-conscious subjects to attend to and report their own arousal as part of their emotional experience.

Mood-The level of public self-consciousness had a significant effect on the general mood measure. High public self-conscious subjects who thought about themselves while reading the scenarios had a more negative mood than low public self-conscious subjects Nigh public= 4.41, Xlow public= 3.35, F= 4.85, p= 0.04).

Temporal awareness-Public self-consciousness had a significant effect on the subjects' tendency to think more about the waiting experience than about themselves. In the positive and negative scenarios taken together,high public self-conscious subjects thought more about the waiting situation than low public self-conscious subjects Nigh public= 3.67, Xlow public= 2.25, F= 4.61, p=0.04). H3 was thus confirmed. Interaction between the scenarios and public self-consciousness had no effect on time-related thoughts. Although H4 could not be confirmed, the results were in the expected direction. Outward focus was greater in situations that exacerbated the negative individual traits of high public self-conscious subjects than in situations that exacerbated their positive traits (Xpositive scenario= 3.40, Xnegative scenario= 3.91). Surprisingly, anova analysis also revealed that, in the positive and negative scenarios taken together, high private self-conscious subjects thought more about the waiting situation than low private self-conscious subjects Nigh private= 4.11, Xlow private= 2.00, F= 13.17, p=0.001). HI could therefore not be confirmed.

Causal attribution-The three items defining the locus dimensions obtained a Cronbach alpha of 0.66, and a mean score was computed. The various items were also analyzed. The two items related to the service enterprise's control over the situation obtained a Cronbach alpha of 0.78, and a mean score was calculated. The item related to the subject's level of control was analyzed separately. The three items related to stability had a very low Cronbach alpha, and were analyzed separately. For locus of attribution, no significant differences were obtained for high private and high public self-conscious subjects. Therefore, H5 and H6 could not be confirmed. For the controllability dimension of attribution, although this was not predicted, the level of private self-consciousness had a significant effect on the subjects' attribution of control. High private self-conscious subjects thought they had significantly vless control over the cause Nigh private~ 5.71, Xlow private= 4.64, F= 4.2, p--0.04) and believed the theater owner had more control Nigh private= 3.21, Xlow private= 4.28, t-value= 2.33, df=74.5, p=0.02) (e.g. by opening more cash desks or adding staff on Saturday nights). No significant results were obtained for the stability dimension.

TABLE 1A

FACTOR ANALYSIS OF THE FRENCH VERSION OF THE REVISED SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS SCALE

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

The findings of the study revealed significant differences for the arousal focus of high private self-consciousness at the post-experimental phase. These results provide partial support for the work of Feldman (1995), who suggested that when labeling and reporting mood experiences, subjects may attend differently to the pleasantness or arousal components of an affective experience. To the author's knowledge, this is the first time that differences in arousal focus have been reported for high private self-conscious subjects. Future research should try to replicate these findings and see whether this focus influences satisfaction with the waiting experience. Although no hypotheses were formulated, the finding that high public self-conscious subjects have a more negative mood when thinking about themselves supports Duval and Wicklund's (1973) assumptions that self-comparison would generate a negative affect. It also confirms Cszikszentimihalyi and Figurski's (1982) study. These authors found that their subjects, who used a beeper to report their mood states at different moments, experienced negative affect when they were self-focused. Future research should look at whether or not mood is really a predisposition related to self-focus discomfort or outward focus on the waiting experience.

The finding that high public self-conscious subjects generally report increased temporal awareness supports the self-consciousness/discomfort/disengagement link. Since no significant interaction effects were found for self-consciousness and scenarios, it seems that the necessary presence of others in the waiting experience might have caused discomfort for high public self-conscious subjects, inducing them to disengage from self-focus in favor of outward focus. The absence of significant interaction may be due to the fact that the scenarios were too subtle to induce positive or negative self-awareness. Although the subjects said they found it easy to imagine their own reflection in the movie poster glass, interpretations of these results are limited by the absence of a manipulation check for the scenarios.

TABLE 2A

FACTOR ANALYSIS OF THE FRENCH VERSION OF MEHRABIAN-RUSSELL'S MOOD SCALE AT THE PRE-EXPERIMENT PHASE

The temporal awareness found among high private self-conscious subjects is somewhat surprising. It may be due to the fact that the increased arousal caused by the experimental conditions may have caused these subjects to be much more sensitive and attentive to the experience. Since the experience was concerned with waiting, their temporal awareness may have been enhanced. Moreover, the use of scenarios may have attracted the subjects' attention more than a real service situation would have done. Future studies using service situations or videotapes could be used to confirm or contradict the present findings. Moreover, it would be possible in such studies to measure the subjects' perception of the duration of waiting time.

The significant results obtained for high private self-consciousness and the controllability dimension of attribution are of interest because they may support the argument put forward by Franzoi and Sweeney (1986) to the effect that, since high private self-conscious subjects had a more accurate understanding of their thoughts, they would give more careful and thoughtful consideration to antecedents and the consequences of situations. Further work is needed to establish why this accurate attribution process seem to have dominated for the controllability dimension.

The findings of the study may have interesting implications for the design of waiting areas. It has been common practice to install mirrors alongside elevators or along escalators, to reduce the time perception. However, the preliminary evidence reported here suggests that, for high public self-conscious subjects, mirrors may exacerbate public self-consciousness, negative moods, discomfort and disengagement, causing them to pay greater attention to the temporal attributes of the service. Moreover, self-consciousness may be useful in explaining different attitudes to waiting provided it can be used efficiently as a segmentation basis. Therefore, future research should try to associate self-consciousness with observable characteristics such as age and physical appearance. For example, adolescence and obesity may generate an acute disposition for public self-consciousness.

TABLE 3

FACTOR ANALYSIS OF THE FRENCH VERSION OF MEHRABIAN-RUSSELL'S MOOD SCALE AT THE POST-EXPERIMENTAL PHASE

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