Special Session Summary When Will Consumers Act on Their Attitudes?: New Directions in Attitude-Behavior Consistency

Rebecca K. Ratner, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Gavan J. Fitzsimons, University of Pennsylvania
[ to cite ]:
Rebecca K. Ratner and Gavan J. Fitzsimons (2002) ,"Special Session Summary When Will Consumers Act on Their Attitudes?: New Directions in Attitude-Behavior Consistency", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 139-141.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 139-141

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

WHEN WILL CONSUMERS ACT ON THEIR ATTITUDES?: NEW DIRECTIONS IN ATTITUDE-BEHAVIOR CONSISTENCY

Rebecca K. Ratner, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Gavan J. Fitzsimons, University of Pennsylvania

SESSION OVERVIEW

Psychologists and consumer behavior researchers have been interested in better understanding attitude-behavior consistency for good reasons: 1) predicting behaviors is ultimately what consumer researchers typically care about and 2) the link between attitudes and behaviors is often weak. Previous research has uncovered several moderators of attitude-behavior consistency (e.g., vested interest, personal experience with the attitude object, specificity of the attitudes and behaviors measured).

The purpose of the present session was to introduce three current lines of research that offer new perspectives for improving our understanding of the link between consumers’ attitudes and behaviors.

In the first paper, Ratner and Miller reinterpreted the finding that people with a vested interest in a cause are more likely to act on their attitudes than those who lack a clear personal stake. Whereas previous interpretations of the moderating effect of self-interest suggest that vested people care more than nonvested people about the attitude object, the present findings suggested that even when vested and nonvested people hold similar attitudes, people feel more comfortable acting on attitudes that appear consistent with their self-interest. In the second paper, Tavassoli and Fitzsimons examined how the modality of responseBspoken versus writtenBaffects information recall, brand evaluations and the link between expressed attitude and behavior, and how the modality of response interacts with the modality in which the verbal information was learned (i.e., either in an auditory or visual format). The authors presented evidence that attitudes expressed in new online contexts will not have the same relationships with subsequent behavior as attitudes expressed in traditional contexts. In the third paper, Vargas, von Hippel and Petty presented a typology for considering the link between attitudes and spontaneous and deliberative behaviors, which included four categories of attitude measures (deliberative explicit, deliberative implicit, spontaneous explicit, and spontaneous implicit). The authors developed implicit measures relying on deliberative information processing that reliably predict unique variance in both self-reported and actual behavior, beyond traditional explicit attitude measures, regardless of whether the attitude object under consideration is wrought with social desirability concerns.

Following the presentation of these papers, Frank Kardes led a discussion about the findings from each of the three papers as well as themes that emerged from the session as a whole. Together, the papers and discussion raised new questions about attitude-behavior consistency and suggested a number of fators, including the ways in which attitudes are measured, that can strengthen or attenuate the link between consumers’ attitudes and the behaviors in which they later engage.

 

"WHY DO VESTED PEOPLE SHOW GREATER ATTITUDE-BEHAVIOR CONSISTENCY?: IMPLICATIONS OF A NORM OF SELF-INTEREST"

Rebecca K. Ratner, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dale T. Miller, Princeton University

Vested interest in an attitude object is one commonly-accepted moderator of attitude-behavior consistency (Regan & Fazio 1977; Sivacek & Crano 1982). For example, students who were personally inconvenienced by a university housing shortage were more likely to take action pushing the administration to fix the situation than were those students whose own housing was not affected by the shortage (Regan & Fazio 1977). Although people’s attitudes did not seem to vary as a function of their vested interest in the cause (both vested and nonvested students on average held strongly negative attitudes), individuals showed greater attitude-behavior consistency when they had a vested interest in the issue than when they did not. In a consumer context, for example, we would expect action against a company for unethical behavior or product failures among those individuals who have directly been affected by the firm’s actions. Similarly, organizations trying to elicit financial contributions or volunteers will typically find greater support among individuals who have a vested interest in the cause (e.g., financial contributions to a small local public school will be greater among graduates of the school). What can firms and consumer groups do to encourage nonvested individuals to act on their supportive attitudes?

Previous interpretations of the impact of self-interest on attitude-behavior consistency propose that vested people are more willing to expend the effort necessary to act on their attitudes because they care more about the outcome. As Green & Cowden (1992) explained it, the opportunity to act in support of a cause leads a sympathetic actor to ask "Is it worth it?" The answer to this question (especially if money or time is involved) is more likely to be affirmative, these authors argue, when the actor has a stake in the cause.

We propose another possible reason why the link between self-interest and behavior is stronger among vested than nonvested individuals. We argue that this asymmetrical relationship reflects the influence of a social normBone which specifies that people’s actions typically do and should have some basis in rational self-interest (Miller 1999; Miller & Ratner 1998). As a result, not everyone who cares about an issue will feel equally comfortable taking action on its behalf. The actor faced with the prospect of behavioral involvement must ask not only "Is it worth it?" but "Is it appropriate?" Without a clear vested interest, the potential actor risks taking actions that will confuse and perhaps arouse suspicion in observers. For example, non-parents with strong opinions about education may feel uncomfortable acting on their attitudes for fear that being a non-parent will not give them the standing to take action.

The present research includes several studies that test the proposed link between a norm of self-interest and attitude-behavior consistency. Consistent with predictions, we find that people fear that by acting on attitudes that appear inconsistent with their (measured or experimentally manipulated) self-interest they will provoke negative reactions (e.g., confusion) from others. These fears are grounded at least somewhat in reality: participants in a second study di react negatively to social actors who acted on attitudes in which they lacked a vested interest. Finally, we find that we can make nonvested individuals feel comfortable acting on their attitudes when such action is framed as appropriate.

The results of the present research suggest a new interpretation of previous research that documents the moderating role of vested interest with an attitude object on attitude-behavior consistency. Whereas previous research had focused on how vested vs. nonvested attitudes were formed (i.e., that vested attitudes are developed through personal experience and therefore are stronger than attitudes not obtained through personal experience), the present findings suggest that even when vested and nonvested people hold similar attitudes, people will feel more comfortable acting on attitudes that appear consistent with their self-interest. Organizations that seek to encourage nonvested individuals to act on their attitudes must therefore be sensitive to the fact that nonvested individuals may not want to appear deviant and must be made to feel that their involvement in a cause is appropriate and encouraged.

 

"THE IMPACT OF LEARNING AND EVALUATING IN AUDITORY AND VISUAL DOMAINS ON ATTITUDE-BEHAVIOR CORRESPONDENCE"

Nader T. Tavassoli, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Gavan J. Fitzsimons, University of Pennsylvania

Word-of-mouth has always been a leading source of brand and product information (e.g., Bass diffusion model). Recently, however, word-of-mouth has emerged as one of the most important forces in online branding. Internet markets are literally becoming conversations. Customers participate in or follow discussions for products and services and supply attitudes and satisfaction ratings. Online conversations are becoming a main source of brand equity and of a firm’s long-term success. Increasingly, firms are attempting to use attitudes expressed in online discussions as the bases for forecasts of subsequent consumer behavior. To date, however, it has been assumed that attitudes expressed in these new online contexts will have similar relationships with subsequent behavior as attitudes expressed in traditional word-of-mouth contexts (e.g., a face-to-face communication). We suggest that there are important ways in which the relationship between attitude and behavior may vary between traditional and online communications.

In this paper, we contrast traditional aural word-of-mouth communications with typed (written) communications. Specifically, we examine how the modality of responseBspoken versus writtenBaffects information recall, brand evaluations and the link between expressed attitude and behavior, and how the modality of response interacts with the modality in which the verbal information was learned (i.e., either in an auditory or visual format). Auditory presentations of words include word-of-mouth communications, spoken sales pitches, radio advertisements and the spoken segments of television commercials. Written presentations include print editorials or advertisements, Internet chat and customer ratings, packaging information, and written segments of television commercials.

The research aims to make two contributions. First, it attempts to demonstrate that input and output modalities are intrinsically linked both by shared resources and through the process of priming. Second, it attempts to demonstrate that judgments are not "modality free" in that the modality of expression makes differentially accessible episodic memory traces for words that were presented auditorily versus visually. Previous research has suggested that spoken and writtenwords are encoded in somewhat independent pathways, that individuals can recall the mode of presentation for mixed-modality lists (i.e., containing both auditory and visual words), and that items at recall tend to cluster by modality for mixed lists. This suggests that there is a memory trace for modality, and that it can serve as an associative link in memory. Further, research has also suggested that individual’s input and output mechanism share mental resources. For example, both listening to a spoken brand description and speaking an attitude toward a brand utilize the same brain resources.

In a series of five experiments we demonstrate that these two basic principles of the relationship between spoken and visual learning and expressionBshared mental resources and modality-specific primingBlead to interesting implications for memory, attitude formation, and the link between expressed attitude and behavior. Specifically, we find, for example, that when recall or attitude expression immediately follows learning, a match between modalities (e.g., learned spoken, expressed spoken) leads to a resource overlap that interferes with subsequent memory for learned attribute information and reduces the link between attitude and behavior. However, if sufficient time has passed for echoic and short-term memory buffers to clear, the modality of response acts as a prime and activates information learned previously in this modality, thus reinforcing memory and enhancing the link between attitude and behavior. It is worth noting that while our research may seem to overlap with previous work on the encoding specificity principle, it differs in a substantial way. Encoding specificity requires a reinstatement of cues previously learned to lead to enhanced performance. In our research, no such cues are necessaryBwe merely require that modality at learning and evaluation either match or mismatch. In addition, our findings in immediate recall and evaluation conditions cannot be explained simply using encoding specificity. Interestingly, from the perspective of using attitudes as predictive tools, we find greater attitude persistence and higher rates of attitude-behavior correspondence when the modality in which information is learned matches the modality in which attitudes are expressed. Moreover, attitudes themselves are more persistent at different points in time when they are stated in the same modality than in different modalities. We discuss implications for consumer theory and practice.

 

"UN-CONFOUNDING TYPE OF ATTITUDE MEASURE (IMPLICIT V. EXPLICIT) AND LEVEL OF INFORMATION PROCESSING (SPONTANEOUS V. DELIBERATIVE) TO ENHANCE BEHAVIORAL PREDICTION"

Patrick T. Vargas, University of Illinois

William von Hippel, Ohio State University

Richard E. Petty, Ohio State University

The goal of the present research is to provide a new way to think about how to measure attitudes and how various attitude measures relate to behavior. A 2x2 model of attitude measurement is proposed, and relations of four types of attitude measures with different types of behavior are examined. Attitude measurement has typically relied on explicit tasks, in which respondents must intentionally recall stored evaluations of attitude objects. Such measures have been demonstrated to reliably predict a variety of different behaviors (e.g., Weigel & Newman, 1976). One problem with such measures is, simply, their directness. When respondents do not wish to have their true attitudes known, it is a simple matter to misrepresent attitudes on explicit measures. In response to such problems, researchers developed more indirect, or implicit, attitude measures.

Implicit attitude measures assess evaluative tendencies, but do not require respondents to intentionally recall stored evaluations. They come in a variety of different forms (e.g., disguised self-report, physiological measures, response-time based measures, etc.). Presently, we are concerned with contemporary implicit attitude measures which rely on the automatic activation of attitudes, and response times.

Recent research on implicit and explicit attitude measures has obtained a couple of surprising findings: first, implicit and explicit attitude measures are not consistently correlated with one another (e.g., Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 1997); second, implicit and explicit attitude measures predict qualitatively different types of behaviors. Implicit measures reliably predict only spontaneous, non-thoughtful behaviors; explicit measures predict only deliberative, consciously-chosen behaviors (Wilson, Lindsey, & Schooler, 2000). According to the present research, the inability of implicit and explicit measures to predict deliberative and spontaneous behaviors, respectively, may be due to a confounding of type of attitude measure (implicit v. explicit) and type of information processing (spontaneous v. deliberative).

Contemporary implicit and explicit attitude measures confound type of measure with type of information processingBimplicit measures such as the IAT (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998) rely on the automatic activation of attitudes, and explicit measures rely on the deliberative retrieval of stored evaluative tendencies. The proposed framework for attitude measurement un-confounds type of attitude measure with type of information processing, and proposes four types of measures: spontaneous implicit (e.g., priming task), spontaneous explicit (e.g., speeded response), deliberative explicit (e.g., self-report), and deliberative implicit (e.g., thematic apperception test). Drawing on correspondence theory (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) and transfer appropriate processing (Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977), it is suggested that type of measure may be secondary to type of information processing in predicting deliberative and spontaneous behaviors. That is, attitude measures should predict behaviors to the extent that the measure and the behavior are matched with regard to the type of cognitive processing required by each. Thus, deliberative measures should predict deliberative behaviors, regardless of whether the measures are implicit or explicit; likewise, spontaneous measures should predict spontaneous behaviors, regardless of whether the measures are implicit or explicit.

A series of three studies suggests that deliberative implicit attitude measures can be used to reliably predict unique variance in both self-reported and actual deliberative behaviors. Further, we demonstrate that such measures are useful regardless of whether the attitude object under consideration is subject to social desirability concerns. In study one, attitudes toward dishonesty are examined. A deliberative implicit measure reliably predicts unique variance in both self-reported dishonest behavior, and actual cheating on an anagram test. In study two, a deliberative implicit measure reliably predicts actual political behavior. In study three, a deliberative implicit measure reliably predicts unique variance, above and beyond what can be gained by five explicit attitude measures, in a comprehensive self-reported index of religious behavior.

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