Low Involvement:&Nbsp; a Second Look

Harold H. Kassarjian, University of California, Los Angeles
ABSTRACT - Low involvement decision-making seriously challenges the cognitive orientation of present-day consumer research. However, product involvement may well be more complex than assumed thus far in that there may be an interaction effect with individual or personality characteristics. This paper proposes a six-fold classification of involvement including both high and low product involvement and also high and low involved personality types.
[ to cite ]:
Harold H. Kassarjian (1981) ,"Low Involvement:&Nbsp; a Second Look", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08, eds. Kent B. Monroe, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 31-34.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 8, 1981      Pages 31-34


Harold H. Kassarjian, University of California, Los Angeles

[Written while visiting professor, Copenhagen School of Business Administration and Economics, Denmark.]


Low involvement decision-making seriously challenges the cognitive orientation of present-day consumer research. However, product involvement may well be more complex than assumed thus far in that there may be an interaction effect with individual or personality characteristics. This paper proposes a six-fold classification of involvement including both high and low product involvement and also high and low involved personality types.


In most fields of endeavor, new ideas are occasionally introduced which profoundly alter the prevailing status quo. In the physical sciences these may actually alter conceptions of physical reality - for example, the strange ideas of Copernicus thoroughly discredited the earlier views of philosophers and theologians alike. The systematic relationship of the ideas of men like Maxwell, Hertz and Einstein severely limited, and perhaps crippled, Aristotelian and Newtonian thinking. And in turn, what was to become known as field theory in physics had a profound effect on conceptualizations in biological and social sciences as earlier viewpoints crumbled.

In art and architecture, literature, humanities and music, similar turning points can be pointed out. For example, Elvis Presley and the Beatles altered musical conceptions as New Orleans Jazz had done earlier. Similarly in psychology, the contributions of Freud and his followers succeeded in destroying earlier views on the behavior of man as the unconscious and the impact of society on the mind were emphasized.

In less far-reaching areas of inquiry such as consumer behavior, similar patterns are evident. The elegant, yet simple, utility theory of economics was to give way to the psychoanalytically oriented motivation researchers. In turn, the clinical complexity of Freud was to make room for Hullian conceptions of learning theory. Even the idea of determinism began to be challenged with the introduction of mathematical learning theory into the field, culminating in Base's (1974) proclamation that "man is substantially stochastic." And through the influence of social psychology and Bauer's (1964) claim of the "active audience," cognitive theory began to reign imperial - the notion, "... of a highly rational goal-striving, problem solving, information seeking, extracting,, processing consumer ..." (Markin and Narayana, 1975). Topics such as attitude decision rules, as veil as virtually every flow chart model of consumer decision-making have unquestioningly joined the "cognitive revolution" (McGuire 1976).

Perhaps it is too early to make the claim, but it may well come to pass that the cognitive view may also have to be modified. The concept of low-involvement might profoundly alter our present conceptions of the consumer.


There is certainly no argument that under some conditions, at least for the purchase of some categories of goods and services, consumers do behave as information processing, problem solving, cognitive individuals reaching for a reasoned decision. These, of course, are the high involvement situations involving important, expensive, high risk, ego-related or value-expressive products. Actions and decisions are often highly sophisticated. And these decisions we have studied. We have analyzed, dissected, mapped and flow-charted the cognitive processes assumed to exist.

The problem is that the world of the consumer consists of more than highly involved decisions. In fact, very few of the hundreds of decisions made daily by the consumer are of an involved nature. In others, the low involvement decisions, the consumer unconcernedly purchases and consumes the product, tries new products, switches brands, obliviously ignores promotional activities and worries about the important events in his or her life - the automobile's need for repairs, the children's grades in school, irritants at work or what have you.

In the last few years, numerous empirical and conceptual papers and a splendid review by Olshavsky and Grandbois (1979) clearly point out that the behavior of the consumer toward the high involvement, high risk, important product is simply different than toward the unimportant, low commitment, trivial product. Research in the future is simply going to have to take into account these two different sets or fields of decision making. For most types of consumer research the distinction will have to be made as to whether the products under study are of a high involvement nature or low involvement for the sub-set of respondents that comprise the subject pool. For example, Kay and his colleagues (1973) have proposed two hierarchies of effects, one for low involvement and another for high involvement situations.

Research on the hierarchy of effects in marketing communications is an excellent example of the fact that cognitive activity for low involvement and high involvement are simply different and that one cannot generalize research results from one situation to the other. Thus, research must measure the concept of involvement first, then turn to the hypotheses at hand. At this point it is unfortunate that a simple instrument or tool has not yet been developed to measure the concept of involvement but if in fact, "necessity is the mother of invention," that will come in time - for the measure of levels of involvement is unquestionably a necessity - one that can no longer be ignored (See Hupfer & Gardner 1971).

Other topics in consumer research that may be seriously affected by the concept of low involvement are presented in Table 1.

The Involved Consumer

Segmenting products by the level of involvement although seemingly essential, may not fully account for all of the variance associated with the concept of high and low involvement. It may come to pass that we discover or personality variable related to the concept.



It is undeniable that independent of the product class, there are some persons that tend to be more involved in the consumer decision process. They may be the addicted readers of Consumer Reports, those who pay greater attention to advertising and personal influence, and to the business and consumer sections of the newspaper. Some individuals may well be more price conscious, more alert to brand differences, generally more capable of discriminating quality differences, the more alert, the more conscious, the more interested and involved consumer. The category of person might include the wise housewife, the consumer activist, marketing people and professors of consumer behavior, among others

The Non-Involved Consumer

Equally evident is the fact there are other individuals who do not wish to concern themselves with marketing and buying activity. These might be individuals holding strong theoretical or aesthetic values who are simply oblivious to the practical affairs of the day to day world including marketing, advertising, consumption of goods, or to the accumulation of wealth. They have other interests and other concerns and just do not care and are uninvolved about consumer activities. This group might be termed detached individuals, those who put an emotional distance between themselves and the marketplace. [The term "detached type" seems particularly descriptive but does necessarily imply that it is similar to Horney's Detached Orientation (1937, 1945) nor necessarily measurable on Cohen's CAD Scale (1968).]

It might also include the "know-nothings" of days past, the uneducated, and those who simply care very little about anything outside of their self-centered orbit. This group might very well be the utterly "no opinion" group on political polls, those who do not respond to mail questionnaires no matter what the issue, and refuse to try free samples, try new products, or be interested in any of the issues that are of interest to this audience.

Hence the low involvement consumer consists of two groups. Those that are concerned about more significant problems and issues than consumer topics and those that can be best described as Know-Nothings.

Moreover, in consumer research, an interaction effect between product involvement and individual involvement may exist suggesting perhaps a six-fold classification schema as presented in Table 2.



The upper left hard cell - the high involvement personality, high involvement product group - consists of those people and behavior patterns that have been heavily studied in the past. Research on information processing, attitudes and consumer behavior models of decision making is discussing this sub-set of consumers. They are the ones that fill out questionnaires, allow researchers to examine their behavior, and sit still for the numerous inane tasks that are required of them in experimental and descriptive research.

The upper right hand corner - the high involved consumers with low involved products - refers to the field of low involvement research as it has evolved to this point. Interested, concerned, cooperative subjects that have been presented with products in which they simply are not involved. The low involvement products may include a variety of consumer goods, politicians, causes, or a host of other objects and issues about which the individual simply is not concerned.

The detached individual with a highly involved product perhaps causes the greatest conceptual difficulty. He or she generally is unconcerned about the practical affairs of marketing and yet from time to time a product or issue may emerge which is of great importance. In this case, it is hypothesized that the embryonic interest, although perhaps temporarily intense, would be extremely narrowly focused. Once the politician is elected (or defeated), the issue is resolved or the product purchase decision consummated, he returns to his basic state of apathy and detachment.

The lower left-hand cell consists of the "know-nothings" who from time to time may be placed in a position where they simply must become involved in a product decision. Under these conditions the decision process probably is not the analytic, cognitive approach of the high involvement or detached type, but choice is determined by what is most easily available or whether or not one simply has enough money to pay for the object. The influence of attractive packaging or a glib salesman may be far more significant than a cognitive analysis of the product characteristics. "But it looked so pretty, and the man was so nice," may better describe the decision process than compensatory or lexographic decision rules.

The final group in the lower tight hand corner can best be described by the terms, "don't know," "don't care," and "no opinion." This group is seldom, if ever, concerned about the affairs of the world - be it politics or canned spinach. Under a low involvement product condition, their contribution to consumer research primarily consists of filling the "no opinion" cells of a research design and contributing to the error term in any statistic.

Perhaps if research on low involvement is to be meaningful, the personality characteristic of involvement should be accounted for in research designs. Typically the "know-nothings" particularly in a low involvement product condition are naturally eliminated from research designs by their unavailability, but the differences between detached individuals with high involvement products and high involved persons with low involvement goods may be confounded in data analysis at present.

Space and time constraints do not allow for further elaboration ,it this point but such a personality - product in-involvement interaction effect seems quite conceivable and researchable, once tools or instruments are available for the measurement of product involvement and personality types.


If in fact involvement is an important topic, we should see it- effects permeating research other than in the usual cognitive processing type of study. For example, the work of Kroeber-Riel and his colleagues on psychobiology seems particularly amenable and relevant (Kroeber-Riel 1979, 1980: see also Ryan 1980). Furthermore, the fascinating research being carried out by Flemming Hansen and his colleagues seems to be taking these types of distinctions into account (Hansen and Lundsgaard 1981, Hansen (In Press)). Hansen reports in his review of right-brain. left-brain laterization research that in low involvement situations right-brain processes dominate whereas higher degrees of involvement give rise to left-brain processes. Thus, under high involvement conditions, information processing and deliberate choice-making occur. Under low involvement conditions information is received holistically and choices made without any high degree of awareness. He continues that under low involvement the number of exposures needed before a sufficient amount of learning has occurred may be greater when right-brain processes dominate.

In addition, there is some evidence to indicate that there may be individuals who are right-brain dominated and others who are left-brain dominated. The Hansen and Lundsgaard paper to be presented at this conference on Sunday morning presents the introductory report of their attempt to measure this variable with a paper-and-pencil test. If their stream of research is successful and a reliable-valid instrument emerges for measuring right or left brain domination, that approach would probably be superior to the high-low involvement personality characteristic proposed here. In either case, it is becoming more and more evident that high and low involvement is not merely a product or situational characteristic but in some way involves the individual either on the molar level of otherall disposition or on a more molecular or physiological level such as brain hemisphere research.

In summary, the simple concept of involvement offhandedly introduced by Krugman some years ago, may well qualify as one of the more important scientific ideas to emerge in consumer research in recent years, If I am correct, the topic should have an impact that will alter many if not most of our conceptions of consumer behavior models and our middle range theories and seriously challenge the supreme role of cognitive theory in our thinking.


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