Special Session Summary the Dynamic Nature of Culture and Consumer Behavior

Loraine Lau, University of Minnesota
Donnel Briley, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
[ to cite ]:
Loraine Lau and Donnel Briley (2002) ,"Special Session Summary the Dynamic Nature of Culture and Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 453-454.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 453-454



Loraine Lau, University of Minnesota

Donnel Briley, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

While the trend towards multiculturalism is often used to establish, from a practical standpoint, the importance of understanding the role of culture in consumer behavior (Maheswaran & Shavitt, 2000), at the same time it challenges contemporary cultural theories and frameworks that conceptualize culture as stable and homogenous as opposed to dynamic and complex (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

In particular, most cross-cultural research is based on the assumption that individuals have a single cultural meaning system that is used to interpret social and other phenomena. This single system, according to this assumption, chronically influences how they form judgments about and respond to products, services and brands (e.g., Aaker & Maheswaran, 1996; Bagozzi, Wong, & Yi, 1999; Han & Shavitt, 1994). However, an emerging stream of work suggests that consumers often negotiate between multiple and conflicting cultural meaning systems, and in fact, aspects of the situation in which decisions are made can influence the temporal accessibility of culturally-influenced norms and values (Aaker, 2000; Briley, Morris, & Simonson, 2000; Hong, Chiu, Benet-Martinez, & Morris, 2000). These few pieces of research provide empirical support for the ideas long suggested by cultural anthropologists (e.g., Berry, 1986; DuBois, 1934; LaFrombroise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993; Penaloza, 1994) and a few experimental psychologists (Singelis, 1995; Triandis, 1989; Yamada & Singelis, 1999) that multiple and conflicting cultural meaning systems can coexist within individuals, and that culture is dynamic rather than stable in nature. Additional research is needed to provide a deeper understanding of how consumers integrate, balance and maintain these systems, and to identify when they can and do maneuver between patterns of behavior.

The purpose of this special session was to explore the complex, dynamic nature of culture and examine its effects on consumer judgments and behaviors. Three papers showed how consumers can shift between cultural meaning systems due to changes in the basis for their identification with a character in an ad (Brumbaugh & Grier), in the accessibility of different culture-related selves prompted by certain ad content (Lau), and finally, in awareness of an important group to which an individual belongs (Briley & Wyer). All relied on the assumption that more than one cultural meaning system exists within every individual and the strength of any system in directing judgments and behaviors is determined by features of the particular situation at hand. At the same time, however, each of the three distinct pieces of research pursued a unique set of questions, and investigated distinct moderating variables that influence consumers’ access to and reliance on a particular cultural meaning system in constructing judgments and decisions.

This session brought attention to the advantages of viewing culture as dynamic, multiple and conflicting, as opposed to stable, singular and monolithic, and demonstrates that such a consideration offers significant insight into consumer judgments and decision making. The discussant, Sharon Shavitt, astutely synthesized the three papers and addressed their distinct contributions, as well as the contribution of the session as a whole, in the light of additional work in psychology and consumer behavior that focuses on culture.



Donnel Briley, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Robert S. Wyer, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Global managers struggle to understand what behavioral differences, if any, distinguish worldwide consumers. For this reason, research on the factors that underlie the consumer behavior of Western and East Asian cultural representatives has been important (e.g., Aaker & Maheswaren, 1997; Han & Shavitt, 1994). At the same time, experiments in both marketing (Aaker, 1999; Aaker & Lee, 2000; Briley, Morris, & Simonson, 2000) and psychology (Briley & Wyer, 2001; Hong et al., 2000; Oishi, Wyer, & Colcombe, 2000) have demonstrated the influence of situational forces on culture-relevant judgments and behaviors. The effects of these situational factors illustrate the need to adopt a dynamic approach in conceptualizing cultural influences (cf., Briley et al., 2000) rather than assuming that cultural dispositions are stable and resistant to change. Under some circumstances, consumers from one culture are likely to make judgments and behavioral decisions that typify members of another culture. The research reported in this article examines an important set of conditions in which this is true.

Cultural differences in behavior can depend in part on the extent to which culture-relevant norms and values are easily accessible in memory at the time decisions to perform the behavior are made (e.g., Aaker & Lee, 2000; Briley & Wyer, 2001; Hong et al., 2000). (For more general reviews of theory and research on the effects of knowledge accessibility; see Bargh, 1997; Higgins, 1996; Wyer & Srull, 1989.) In the present research, however, we are primarily concerned with the influence of motivational forces. In particular, we propose that calling individuals’ attention to their national or cultural identity can alter the motives that might otherwise underlie their judgments and decisions in both social and nonsocial situations. This possibility is suggested in part by the importance of national identity in individuals’ self-definitions (Druckman, 1994). To this extent, making this identity salient is likely to induce strong feelings and motives. Moreover, the widespread tendency for people across countries to embrace nationalism (Davis, 1999) that these motives may generalize over diverse cultural groups.

Our central proposition is that making individuals aware of their national identity is likely to stimulate them to adopt a group mindset. We further assume that the activation of this mindset, which is characterized by a concern with preserving harmonious interpersonal relationships, can affect not only interpersonal behavior but also individual consumer choices. Our first three experiments show that making people conscious of their membership in a group influences their decisions in interpersonal situations, and our last two experiments provide compelling evidence that the decision strategies individuals apply in interpersonal situations when group membership is salient generalize to the consumer choice domain.



Loraine G. Lau, University of Minnesota

Extant cross cultural persuasion research has compared the attitudinal responses of individuals with a predominantly Western cultural orientation (monocultural Westerners) against those of individuals with a predominantly Eastern cultural orientation (monoculural Easterners) toward different types of culturally-based persuasion appeals. These studies generally have found that persuasion appeals congruent with culture (or culture-related self) are more favorably evaluated than appeals that are culturally incongruent (e.g., Han & Shavitt, 1994; Wang, Bristol, Mowen, & Chakraborty, 2000; Zhang & Ghelb, 1996). Specifically, individually-focused appeals tend to be more favorably evaluated by monocultural Westerners than by monocultural Easterners while interpersonally-focused appeals tend to be more favorably evaluated by monocultural Easterners than by monocultural Westerners. However, little is known about how biculturals, defined here as individuals who have been exposed to and influenced by both Western and Eastern cultures, would react to such appeals.

The primary objective of this research is to understand how biculturals relative to monoculturals process and evaluate different types of culturally-based persuasion appeals. Although all individuals are presumed to have the potential to access both cultures (Singelis, 1995; Triandis, 1989), the current research argues that biculturals are more capable of doing so than monoculturals because both cultures have been equally nurtured and therefore are equally accessible. Moreover, for biculturals relative to monoculturals, cultural cues embedded in a persuasion appeal are expected to activate the culture used to process and evaluate the appeal. In other words, exposure to a particular type of persuasion appeal should cause a shift in processing style and attitudinal response toward that appeal among biculturals but not among monoculturals.

Results from the first two experiments uncovered a shift in processing styles for biculturals when they received either an individually-focused or an interpersonally-focused persuasive appeal. In contrast, when monculturals were exposed to an individually-focused or interpersonally-focused appeal, they processed both appeal types through the culture deemed more chronically accessible. Similar to Western monoculturals, biculturals generated more private self thoughts and were more favorable towards an individually-focused persuasion appeal than Eastern monoculturals. However, when exposed to an interpersonally-focused persuasion appeal, biculturals reacted similarly to Eastern monoculturals by generating more collective self thoughts and having more favorable attitudinal responses than Western monoculturals. These results lend support for the notion that culturally based cues embedded in a persuasion appeal help activate the culture used to process and evaluate the appeal among biculturals relative to monoculturals.

A third study aimed to identify when biculturals would react less favorably toward a cultural-based persuasion appeal relative to monoculturals. It was hypothesized and found that a persuasive appeal containing both an individually- and interpersonally-focused message activates both cultures among biculturals, which in turn leads to heightened awareness of the contradiction that exists particularly within these individuals and less favorable attitudes toward the appeal. Implications for the malleability versus stability of culture, and the increasing cultural heterogeneity of the consumer marketplace are discussed.



Anne M. Brumbaugh, Wake Forest University

Sonya Grier, Federal Trade Commission

Research exploring the effect of culture on advertising responses has shown that people from the same cultural group as a source in an ad will like that ad morethan they would had the source been from a different cultural group (Williams & Qualls, 1978; Whittler & DiMeo, 1991). The process underlying such similarity effects is identification (Kelman, 1957), whereby the similar source causes the viewer to make a connection between the self and the source and to adopt the attitude of the source. Results such as these provide the rationale for creating executions for different American sub-cultural groups on the premise that those targeted will identify more strongly with similar subculture sources pictured in these ads and have more favorable attitudes toward the ad.

While these effects are robust and likely drive the effectiveness of targeted ads, this study suggests that for members of subcultures, the impact of culture-based identification is highly malleable and "competes" for impact on ad attitudes with other bases of identification shared by non-members. For example, gender is one of the alternate bases on which individuals, irrespective of their cultural affiliation, might feel similar to an ad source and therefore experience more favorable ad attitudes. Role portrayed is another important basis for similarity that advertisers use to create a link between a source and a viewer. For example, an ad showing a professional at work will likely be more effective among viewers who also work in white collar occupations than among those who do not (cf., Deaux, 1985; cf., Hall, 1971).

This research, then, examines several propositions about how source-viewer similarity based on shared cultural group membership, similarity based on shared gender, and similarity based on shared role affect viewers’ ability to identify with sources portrayed in the ads. In the study, black and white female graduate students viewed one of two actual Reebok ads with nearly identical layouts and text that differed only in the cultural group portrayed (black women or white women). Results show that, as expected, a match in culture between viewer and source lead to greater identification based on shared culture, and that this effect was stronger for black viewers, consistent with prior research on distinctiveness (Aaker, Brumbaugh, & Grier, 2001; Deshpande & Stayman, 1994). However, this identification had no direct impact on ad attitudes. Rather, when identification based on shared gender and identification based on shared role as an athlete were included in the analyses, identification based on culture was shown to favorably impact ad attitudes only when the other sources of identification were absent. Findings suggest that while subculture members’ ability to identify with same-culture others does have a favorable impact on their ad attitudes, other bases for identification shared by non-members may predominate under some circumstances. Implications for identification and self-referencing among biculturals are discussed.