Belief Systems and Consumer Innovative Proneness

Donald R. Emery, Jr., Concordia University
ABSTRACT - This study hypothesizes that an individual's belief system predisposes that individual towards specific behavior that is linked to a type of product innovation. Respondents expressed purchase intentions for products rated as innovations and classified into four types of innovations. The results of the study did not support the hypothesis.
[ to cite ]:
Donald R. Emery, Jr. (1980) ,"Belief Systems and Consumer Innovative Proneness", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 737-740.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 737-740


Donald R. Emery, Jr., Concordia University


This study hypothesizes that an individual's belief system predisposes that individual towards specific behavior that is linked to a type of product innovation. Respondents expressed purchase intentions for products rated as innovations and classified into four types of innovations. The results of the study did not support the hypothesis.


Recently attention has focused on the relationship of consumer's personality characteristics with specific types of product innovations (Blake, Perloff and Heslin 1970; Jacoby 1971; Coney 1972; Goldberg 1971; Donnelly 1970; Donnelly and Etzel 1973; Donnelly and Ivancevich 1974). The results of these studies indicate the existence of a behavioral relationship between personality variables and particular types of innovations. However, questions remain as to which personality measures should be used and the appropriate typology of products.

In terms of personality measures, two theoretically based approaches have shown intriguing results. One approach involves Reisman's Social Character Theory (Donnelly 1970; Donnelly and Ivancevich 1974), and the other utilizes Rokeach's dogmatism construct (Blake, Perloff and Heslin 1970; Jacoby 1971; Coney 1972). An alternative theory that encompasses both approaches and has theoretical implications for behavior toward innovations would improve our understanding of the role that personality plays as an antecedent to such behavior. Harvey, Hunt and Schroder (1961) have presented such a theory of personality organization, Belief Systems Theory.

With respect to innovative products and types of innovations, except for one replication, no two studies have utilized the same typology of innovations or the same products. This reflects the lack of theoretical base. However, typologies have been suggested in the literature (Robertson 1971; Rogers 1962; Rogers and Shoemaker 1971) and it is surprising that none have been addressed in empirical research. Research should systematically explore the proposed typologies before new ones are used.


Belief Systems Theory (Harvey, Hunt and Schroeder 1961) maintains that each individual has core concepts that together form a conceptual or belief system. These core concepts identify and place the elements and events of a person's world into meaningful relevance. The core concepts dispose a person towards a selective and sometimes distorted perception of the external environment. Variations in this process produce individual differences in the kinds of cues a person is sensitive to, and in the type of perceptions and reactions they will have toward these cues.

Belief systems differ in both content and structure. Structure refers to the ways a person can discriminate, organize and integrate parts of a concept. Content refers to the subjects or objects that make up a person's belief system (religion, the American way-of-life, marriage, etc.). It is the interaction of a belief system's conceptual organization and the context of a situation that develops into patterned variations among individuals.

The most important dimension of belief system organization is referred to as "concreteness-abstractness" (Harvey, Hunt and Schroeder 1961). Variations along this continuum determine the degree of openness and closedness in a system. It is thought that individuals develop from a state of absolutism (concreteness) toward greater relativism (abstractness). Not all individuals evolve in the same manner. Environmental factors, training and natural abilities result in individuals that develop to a point on the continuum of concreteness to abstractness. Four basic levels of concreteness-abstractness have been isolated and each is treated as a separate conceptual or belief system. Each of the four belief systems have been characterized (Harvey, Hunt and Schroeder 1961), and a brief review follows:

System I functioning is the most concrete. They are relatively undifferentiated and poorly integrated in comparison to the other systems. System I representatives have a tendency to make extreme and polarized judgements that follow the social values and status positions established by others. Relying on an external source as a guide to "proper" actions or judgements, they have a high need for consistency and therefore a low tolerance for ambiguity or dissonance. They are generally quick to evaluate with minimum information search, and display a tendency to hold beliefs in accordance to clear-cut, black and white definitions.

System II functioning can be characterized by negativism and an anti-rule, anti-authority orientation. Being low in self esteem and high in alienation and cynicism, these persons have a high need for structure and a low tolerance for ambiguity. Therefore they display a suspiciousness in all things institutional and avoid commitment at every turn. They reject social institutions like churches and religions, avoiding dependence on any god or institutional representative. System II persons, like System I, are highly dogmatic and high in absolutism, and expend considerable energy maintaining system structure.

System III persons are next to the most abstract, and have a different orientation from Systems I and II. Their domain of central concern is social and emotional. They manifest a great need for interaction, friendship and group functioning. However, this sociability is primarily aimed at generating personal acceptance, approval and dependency from others. They tend to need constant feedback from meaningful people in order to guide their behavior and attain the degree of acceptance they need. They prefer to act in groups, avoiding situations where they are on their own. However, they do have a degree of autonomy and self-causality not seen in System I or II's, especially socially.

Of the four systems, System IV representatives are the most abstract and integrated. System IV persons tend to be highly task oriented, high information seekers and users, do not avoid risk, and have an open and creative approach to problems. They tend to make judgments with the context of the situation.

The characteristics of the four belief systems suggests a theoretical relationship between an individual's belief system and a behavioral predisposition towards different types of innovations. Persons who have a common belief system should express similar buying intentions toward certain types of innovative products.

The conceptual organization of System I persons suggests that they would avoid novelty and the ambiguity and risk associated with the purchase and trial of innovative products across all types. As products or ideas became more widely accepted and gained institutional sanction, System I persons would be expected to purchase the product.

H1:  System I representatives will score the lowest of the four systems on buying intentions for each type of product innovation.

System II persons are only slightly less concrete than System I's, but their generalized negativism, low self-esteem, and anomie suggest some differing responses. System II's tendency to reject authority and institutional values would be expected to extend to products offered by such institutions. They would, however, welcome products or ideas that run counter to societies accepted institutions.

H2:  System II representatives will score highest of the four systems on buying intentions for anti-institutional product innovations.

Behavior toward innovative products displayed by System III persons should strongly reflect their high need for affiliation, friendship and social contact. They would be expected to reflect newness as soon as it is socially approved. While one would not expect them to initiate a trend, one would expect them to be highly sensitized to trends and to be the early adaptors. As Robertson and Meyers have indicated with regard to sociability, "Innovativeness in clothing correlates somewhat with sociability'' (1969, p. 166).

H3:  System III representatives will score highest of the four systems on buying intentions for stylistic product innovations.

Being the least dogmatic, most abstract, open and information seeking of systems, System IV persons would be expected to display a highly situational awareness of newness, novelty or real differences. In general, their greater creativity, cue sensitivity and their ability to change set in a situation suggests that they would be alert and open to products or ideas that offer technical or functional alternatives to present products.

H4:  System IV representatives will score highest of the four systems on buying intentions for technical product innovations.

H5:  System IV representatives will score highest of the four systems on buying intentions for functional product innovations.


The data for this study were collected in the Spring, 1977 from a convenience sample of 209 undergraduate students enrolled in the School of Business at the University of Colorado. Of the 209 questionnaires administered, three were disqualified, leaving 206 respondents for analysis.



Conceptually, an innovator is an individual who adopts an innovation earlier than other members of his or her social system (Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971). As this study is concerned with the antecedents to innovative behavior and their relationship to innovative products that have been clustered by type of innovation, it is not concerned with the conceptual problems of trial versus adoption or the earliness of the individual's trial or adoption. We are therefore interested in a cross-sectional, purchase-probability approach (Rogers and Shoemaker 1971, Juster 1966, Ostlund 1973).

From a list of sixteen products, representing four innovation types as previously judged by experts, subjects were asked the question:

"Taking everything into account, what are the prospects that you will buy or try each of the following products sometime during the next six months; between now and next August?"

Answers were selected from an eleven-point probability scale (100 through 0) with descriptions for each scale value. The probabilities for products within an innovation type class provides a mean innovativeness score by type of innovation.

Belief Systems

The instrument to measure belief systems, the "This I Believe Test" (TIB), is a semi-projective, sentence completion test that asks the respondent to indicate his or her beliefs about several socially and personally significant items (construct validity reviewed by Kirtzburg (1965)). The respondent completes in a few sentences the phrase, "This I believe about ________", the blank being replaced by a referent. Some of the referents used for this study included the American way-of-life, religion, marriage, friendship, and life after death. The respondents are limited to two minutes response time per item. Using a professionally trained reader, the responses are graded along several dimensions (openness, candor, evaluativeness, cynicism, and complexity) and classified into one of the four belief systems. The distribution of belief systems in the sample is presented in Table 1.



Selection of Products

The empirical literature, in general, ignores that innovations can be of different types. Recently there has been recognition that there may indeed be different types of innovations which effect behavioral outcomes (Blake, Perloff and Heslin 1970; Jacoby 1971; Goldberg 1972; Coney 1972; Donnelly and Etzel 1973). Unfortunately, there is little in the way of theory from which to build a discrete innovation typology. Robertson (1971) provides two separate typologies, neither of which with empirical support. The first is a consumption effects typology which is based on a continuum that defines "a new product by its effect upon established patterns of consumption". The second typology is based upon three ways a product can be new. Products can be functional innovations by performing a function not previously performed, or an existing function in an entirely new way. Products can be technical innovations by using new materials, ingredients or forms, and products can by stylistic innovations when they are intended to create a perception of newness by "cosmetic" or external changes.

Observable in the current market-place is a phenomena not captured by either typology, anti-institutional innovations. These innovations are those ideas and/or products that the "Underground" or "Counter-culture" picks out as symbols that marketers later capitalize on. These innovations have been viewed as "trickle-up" phenomena, conceptually analyzed, for example, by Rogers and Shoemaker (1971) in the adoption and diffusion of marijuana.

In order to select and classify products, a typology study based on the ways a product can be new (functional, technical, stylistic and anti-institutional) was designed. From a list of 44 products selected on the basis of a pilot study, expert judges classified the products into one of five categories (not an innovation at all, functional, technical, stylistic, or anti-institutional), and rated the degree of innovativeness of the product within its innovation category.

Of the 24 judges selected, 14 responded. In order to test the degree of consensus among Judges for each product, a null hypothesis was formulated stating (H0) the judges categorization into five categories is a random (or maximum disagreement) event; the alternative (H1) is that the categorization is a nonrandom event (agreement. The likelihood ratio test (Wilks 1962) is a multinomial test that is approximated by a X2 distribution. Using this method it is possible to compare the likelihood of getting one set of ratings for products by the judges against the hypothesized random model. In the case where more than enough products are selected for a category, judgement is based upon the comparative degree of innovativeness within the product category.

Of the 44 products, 34 received scores that were significantly different (p < .01) from the hypothesized random model. Of these, five were classified as "not an innovation at all". The product types were reduced to a best set of four each, were numbered and then randomly positioned on a list in the innovativeness questionnaire (Table 2).




The questionnaires for each respondent (206) were evaluated for belief systems. The hypotheses were tested using a step-wise discriminate analysis in order to statistically determine if a belief system differs significantly from the other systems in relation to their response on multiple measures on an interval buying intentions scale using an .05 level. Procedurally the analysis for each hypothesis began by comparing one belief system group with the combined scores for the remaining groups. This analysis was then explicated by considering the four belief system groups simultaneously.

System I

When the two-group discriminate analysis between System I versus the combined other groups mean buying intentions scores for each type of product innovation is performed (H1), the results are as presented in Table III. Examination of Table III indicates that with the exception of anti-institutional product innovations the results are contrary to the hypothesis. Rather than scoring the "lowest of the four systems", System I respondents scored the second highest on buying intentions for functional, technical and stylistic product innovations when contrasted against the combined remaining systems. None of these relationships were significant at the .05 level.



Turning to the four-group discriminate analysis, examination of Table IV indicates that the results are contrary to the hypothesis. Rather than scoring the "lowest of the four systems", System I respondents scored the second from the highest for functional and technical innovations, the highest for stylistic innovations and next-to-lowest for anti-institutional innovations. None of these relationships were significant at the .05 level.



System II

When the two-group discriminate analysis between System II versus the combined other groups mean buying intentions cores is performed for anti-institutional product innovations (H2), System II mean score is 3.24 versus 3.16 respectively. This indicates support for the hypothesis, but not at a statistically significant level of .05. The four-group analysis further explicates these findings (Table IV). System II representatives now score next to the highest. However, the differences were again not significant at an .05 level.

System III

The two-group discriminate analysis between System III and the combined other groups produces mean buying intentions scores for stylistic product innovations (H3) of 4.34 and 4.35 respectively. These results are contrary to the hypothesis, although the difference is not significant at an .05 level. A four group analysis (Table IV) finds System III representatives scoring second from the highest, but still not significantly different at an .05 level.

System IV

The two-group discriminate analysis between System IV versus the combined other systems results in a mean buying intentions score for technical product innovations (H4) of 2.91 versus 2.97 respectively. Shifting to a four-group analysis (Table IV), System IV representatives score next to the lowest on buying intentions for technical products. The hypothesis is clearly not supported. None of the above differences are significant at an .05 level.

The two-group discriminate analysis between System IV and the combined other systems results in a mean buying intentions score for functional product innovations (H5) of 3.16 for System IV and 3.47 for the combined systems.

The data are contrary to the hypothesis. System IV respondents scored lower than the combined other systems, however the differences were not significant at the .05 level. Changing to a four-group discriminate analysis does not alter the results (Table IV).


The results of this study do not support the thesis that an individual's belief system acts as a predispositional factor influencing innovative proneness towards types of product innovations. The study's essential theme is that specific characteristics of each belief system are behaviorally linked to the characteristics of certain types of innovations. In almost every case, the data from this study do not harmonize with this theme. System I representatives were not found to be less prone than the other systems to purchase product innovations. In fact, for three of the four types of product innovations, they were the most prone to purchase product innovations. System II persons were not any more inclined to purchase anti-institutional innovations, nor were System III persons any more inclined than the others to purchase stylistic innovations. And, in direct contradiction to the theoretical prediction, System IV persons were less prone than the other systems to purchase technical or functional innovations. Further, none of these relationships were found to be statistically significant at the .05 level.

There are several possible explanations for these results. Perhaps the most obvious is the possibility that the characteristics of the four belief systems do not act as predispositional personality variables for innovative proneness. This does, however, suggest that belief systems theory may not be appropriate for explaining or predicting innovative behavior toward consumer products.

From a slightly different viewpoint, it may be that this study is attempting more than is reasonable. Using Sherif's "frame of reference" (1969) as a model, perhaps a person's belief system is a predispositional factor that only becomes salient in a consumer behavior context when there is an inter-action of several external and internal variables of high involvement. The products used in this study do not seem to be of that nature, nor was the situation.

Several limitations to this study need to be emphasized. The relationships tested took place within an artificial and emotionally sterile situation. The subjects of the study were students, and not representative. The study deals with consumer product innovations and therefore the results may not generalize to other types of innovations or innovative behavior. Lastly, the products selected may not have been judged as innovative by the subjects themselves and may not have been relevant to student purchase patterns. No measure of subjects perception of innovativeness was attempted, and no control for a subject's prior purchase of an item was included.

Even so, the results of the study have important implications. Further research is needed into innovation typologies. This study has indicated some of the problems encountered in operationalizing a conceptual typology. Of methodological interest is the use of judges and the statistical scoring technique. Further studies are needed to empirically explore the validity of other innovation typologies in the literature, and perhaps more importantly, to develop an empirically based innovation typology that is formed around independent dimensions that reflect consumer perceptions.


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