Special Session Summary Lessons Learned: New Methods For Research With Children

Claude Pecheux, LABACC, Catholic University of Mons
[ to cite ]:
Claude Pecheux (2002) ,"Special Session Summary Lessons Learned: New Methods For Research With Children", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 529-530.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 529-530



Claude Pecheux, LABACC, Catholic University of Mons


The objective of this special session is to emphasize methodological issues regarding kids/teens research and more precisely, how new methods and/or multi-method approaches enable the extension of research in this area and consequently our knowledge about children, teens and family consumption behaviors. The number of articles recently published in leading academic journals (Roedder-John 1999, Moore and Lutz 2000) dealing with young consumers is a good evidence that the academic community is still eager to understand more fully how children and teens behave as consumers, and how they react to advertising and other marketing stimuli. With the emergence of new technologies and new media (such as the internet), new research topics are appearing. In order to address these new issues as well as more classical ones, a methodological debate seems to be necessary. Numerous authors have argued that -when working with young consumers- different methodological approaches should be used due to the limited (or different) cognitive abilities of these age groups (e.g., their higher reliance on visual aspects of a problem, the dominance of affect in most of their reactions, etc.). Harrigan (1991) suggested that one of the three priorities of research on children’s populations was the development of appropriate measurement tools, but we believe a broader methodological discussion is needed. Therefore, even though this session will address aspects such as scale development (addressing questions such as "Are constructs really different in young populations or is it only a problem of vocabulary ?"), the focus is more on the methods (and the combination of methods) that can be used and what can be gained from that broader focus. For example, we will discuss the benefit of using qualitative (interpretive) research in combination with more "classical" techniques (surveys, experimentation).

The session includes two papers that illustrate multi-method approaches. The first paper by Palan focuses on adolescent populations and reports two studies using multiple methods of data collection (depth interviews and questionnaires) and multiple informants (adolescents, mothers and fathers) in the context of adolescent and parental influence in purchase decision making. This paper shows that using multiple family members provides a richer understanding of how families make decisions compared to questioning one informant only, as well as a better understanding of influence strategy usage. In addition, the author discusses how the use of multiple methods avoids some threats of methodological artifact. The second paper by Pecheux and Derbaix first illustrates the use of different methods (qualitative, scale development, experimentation) in the context of children’s reactions to advertising and how this enabled the authors to build on previous work in this area. Specifically, the authors emphasize how multiple methods in a scale development context provide a richer understanding of the constructs investigated. Next, elaborating on the results obtained, this paper raises methodological questions such as the use of moderating variables when children are the subjects of the study.

Leading the discussion of this session, Deborah Roedder John gave examples from her own experience of conducting research with children. It was stressed how useful multiple methods approaches could be both for academic and applied research.


Harrigan, Judy A. (1991), "Children’s Research: Where it’s Been, Where it is Going", in Advances in Consumer Research, vol 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo UT: Association for Consumer Research, 11-17.

Moore-Shay, Elizabeth S. and Richard J. Lutz (2000), "Children, Advertising and Product Experiences: a Multimethod Inquiry", Journal of Consumer Research, 27 (1), 31-48.

Roedder-John, Deborah (1999), "Consumer Socialization of Children: a Retrospective Look at Twenty-five Years of Research", Journal of Consumer Research, 26, 183-213.



Kay M. Palan, Iowa State University

Conducting research with children poses several challenges. One set of challenges relates to the fact that this group of consumers is studied infrequently. Consequently, studies are often exploratory in nature, using qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews. But, collecting data from children, whether it be through qualitative or quantitative methods, leads to the second set of challenges. Since younger children do not always have well-developed reading and writing skills, they are unable to complete written surveys; furthermore, younger children often have less well-developed social and cognitive skills, making them difficult interview subjects (Rust and Hyatt, 1991). Nor are teenagers necessarily any better as research subjectsµgiven the sullen, disinterested attitude of many teenagers, they may be careless survey respondents and less-than-fully talkatie interviewees (Palan 2000). A third challenge is the relative inaccessibility of children as study subjects; obtaining access to children requires patience and perseverance and often a great deal of creative problem solving that most consumer researchers do not have to bother with. Given all these difficulties, many studies examine children based on data collected from parents (Mangleburg 1990).

This paper focuses on the methodological issues confronting researchers who choose to study children. Specifically, this paper examines the value of using both multiple methods and multiple informants when conducting research with adolescents. Within the context of examining the value of research methods, two studies, Study 1 and Study 2, are reported.

Study 1 (Palan and Wilkes 1997) sought to understand how parents and adolescents try to influence each other when making purchase decisions. Although previous research had established that adolescents had purchase influence, the mechanism by which influence occurred was unknown. Consequently, separate in-depth interviews were conducted with adolescents, mothers, and fathers (n=100 families). In addition, all three family members completed questionnaires that were intended to supplement the interview data. The use of multiple methods and informants proved to be very beneficial in this study. First, the primary aim of the study was accomplished the types of influence strategies used by parents and adolescents were identified and a beginning understanding of how these strategies were used emerged from the data. The results significantly broadened knowledge of how adolescents and parents interacted in decision- making. Moreover, and salient to this paper, reporting the emergent results from multiple informants strengthened the findings. Had interviews been conducted with mothers only (the parent most typically chosen to provide feedback about children [Mangleburg 1990]), the findings, while informative, would have been subject to criticism, since there would have been no way to verify that mothers’ perceptions about their adolescents’ strategy usage were accurate. If only adolescents had been interviewed, similar concerns about their perceptions of parental strategy usage would have arisen. But, by conducting multiple interviews, not only were the researchers able to capture the perceptions of each family member with respect to his or her influence strategy usage, but also the perceptions of other family members with respect to his or her influence strategy usage. In effect, using multiple informants served to establish the veracity of the findings. Specific examples of this are discussed in this paper. In addition, the paper shows how studying data from multiple family members enabled examination of the family as a unit, which provided a much richer understanding of how a family communicates in decision making than what previous research had allowed.

The second method of data collection used in Study 1, the questionnaire, measured several variables that had been previously linked to either children’s influence or family processes. While some of these variables were found to be significant, of greater interest to the current paper is the fact that the qualitative data proved to be very informative with respect to some of the quantitative findings. In particular, three areas examined in the questionnaire shed further understanding on the qualitative data: (1) consumer socialization; (2) the quality of communication between parents and adolescents; and (3) adolescents’ power resources. The combination of data collection methods provided the ability to better understand in what types of situations parents and adolescents used certain types of influence strategies; such discernment would not have been possible with either data collection method alone.

Subsequent to Study 1, a second study was conducted for the purpose of confirming the original qualitative findings, i.e., the influence strategies used by adolescents and parents. However, since the original study reported adolescent and parental influence strategies discovered through the use of an interpretive method, Study 2 collected data through a questionnare. This was done to ensure that the findings from Study 1 were not the result of methodological artifacts (Mangleburg 1990, McGrath 1982). Thus, the use of multiple methods between Study 1 and Study 2 served a twofold purpose. First, the exploratory findings from Study 1 provided a foundation on which to develop a subsequent quantitative study. Second, the findings from Study 2 provided verification that the reports of adolescent and parental strategy use in Study 1 held true when data were collected with a different method and a different sample. Study 2 (Palan 1998), collected questionnaire data from adolescents (n=86), mothers (n=76), and fathers (n=48); 86 family units were represented, but not all mothers and fathers completed questionnaires, accounting for unequal sample sizes. Findings supported the frequency of both adolescent and parental strategy use that had emerged from interviews with parents and adolescents in Study 1. In addition, factor analysis was conducted to collapse influence strategies into strategy groups; the results in Study 2 closely approximated the results of similar analysis conducted in Study 1. Consequently, the results of Study 2 confirmed the findings of Study 1.

Overall, then, this paper presents a strong case for using multiple methods and multiple informants when conducting children’s research. Not only does the complexity of children’s research require the use of multiple methods and informants, but the ability to advance knowledge in this domain also is dependent on research that is rigorous and soundly implemented.