Individual Time Orientation and Consumer Life Style

Robert B. Settle, San Diego State University
Pamela L. Alreck, San Diego State University
John W. Glasheen, San Diego State University
ABSTRACT - F-A-S-T, a four-dimensional, trait-specific personality test was used to measure the time orientations of 599 adult subjects. These were compared to their responses to 406 Activity, Interest and Opinion items. The study reveals clearly discernible translations of individual time orientation into differing life style patterns.
[ to cite ]:
Robert B. Settle, Pamela L. Alreck, and John W. Glasheen (1978) ,"Individual Time Orientation and Consumer Life Style", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 315-319.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 315-319


Robert B. Settle, San Diego State University

Pamela L. Alreck, San Diego State University

John W. Glasheen, San Diego State University


F-A-S-T, a four-dimensional, trait-specific personality test was used to measure the time orientations of 599 adult subjects. These were compared to their responses to 406 Activity, Interest and Opinion items. The study reveals clearly discernible translations of individual time orientation into differing life style patterns.


Of the wide variety of concepts and variables used by researchers to explain consumer behavior, personality factors have provided some of the most disappointing results. Yet despite the negative findings, we continue to pursue these illusive relationships because the concepts of personality have great intuitive appeal. Common observations of everyday life reveal persistent individual differences, earmarking specific personality types or traits, in both ourselves and in others. Judging from the literature on personality and buyer behavior, however, the role of personality in determining behavior in this area must be miniscule, indeed. Kassarjian (1971) cites four possible causes for the failure of personality studies to explain variation in buyer behavior: (1) Few studies have been designed to test specific hypotheses obtained from a theoretical base, (2) we often expect the influence of personality variables to explain too large a portion of the variance in consumer behavior, (3) the instruments used are seldom designed to measure traits that could be expected to directly influence consumer decisions, and (4) the tests used are often standardized on special groups, rather than consumers in general. We agree.

This study has been designed to assess the role of one aspect of personality in influencing consumer behavior, while avoiding the pitfalls cited above. A point by point consideration, without extraneous detail, may clarify the intent of the project. First, the theoretical justification for the study arose from the belief that a holistic approach to the understanding of consumer behavior is ultimately more productive than a reductive-functional view (Markin, 1974, pp. 62-76). We were, then, more interested in discovering the relationship between a set of personality traits and consumer behavior patterns, rather than the selection of Brand X as opposed to Brand Y.

The typical general model of consumer behavior comprehends buyer influences that can be divided into three basic groups: Those relating to the various stimulus factors, those which affect the situation, setting or circumstances in which the behavior is performed, and those that fall under the rubric of personal factors. Among the latter, "personality" is but one of many very potent variables. Beyond this fact, personality, itself, can be divided into a myriad of traits and dimensions. Consequently, we sought traits that might be major influences, but were determined to be satisfied with broad patterns of relationships and relatively small proportions of explained variance.

The instruments used in the study were designed to measure traits that can very definitely be expected to directly affect consumer decisions. Both of the instruments were designed by consumer psychologists, and focus directly on personality attributes and behavior characteristics directly relevant to purchase and consumption of goods and services. Lastly, the instrument used to measure personality traits was standardized and validated on large numbers of adult consumers, rather than groups such as patients, students, or convicts.


The individual consumer is faced with a world that is often described in terms of three factors: time, space, and possessions. An extensive literature in the areas of economics and anthropology is devoted to the concepts of property, utility, and the artifacts of man. Geographers and psychologists in the areas of proxemics and kinesics treat human experience in and behavior toward space. The theoretical development and empirical research are less often focused on human existence, experience, and behavior in time. The lack of standard measure of time orientation may have inconvenienced, if not inhibited an abundant literature in this area. The requirement for such an instrument was satisfied by the construction of the F-A-S-T Time Orientation Test (Alreck, 1976). The test includes four dimensions of time orientation: Focus, Activity, Structure, and Tenacity. The name of the test is an acronym formed from the initials of each scale, and henceforth each will be identified by its initial letter.

Focus. We know from both personal observation of others and from psychological research (Seiden, 1969) that some people tend to direct their consciousness toward the past. They often recall previous experience and relive past occurrences. Others are immersed in the present moment, completely engaged in the here and the now. Still other people can be identified as projecting their thoughts and images to the future and living for what will be. There are also those who see human experience in terms of a span of time, considering the antecedents and consequences, over time, of any present phenomenon. The F scale of the time orientation test was designed to tap this tendency to recollect, to sense, to project, or to spread human consciousness across the time spectrum. It yields a continuous measure of the trait, rather than a typological assignment.

Activity. People differ widely in their perceptions of the supply of time. Some perceive time as passing very slowly, and in effect they have an "over supply" of time, relative to the activities they have available to fill it. At the other end of this spectrum are those who feel that time passes all too quickly, that there are not enough hours in the day. And of course, there are those between these extremes who feel that the supply of time is appropriate to the amount of activity in which they engage themselves. The A scale of the time orientation test measures the degree to which an individual is over- or under-active, relative to the fixed supply of time common to all of us.

Structure. Some people view time as a continuous, smooth, flowing substance; a never ending river flowing from past to present to future. They "take it as it comes," engaging in one activity after another without much regard for the particular time it is or the time it takes to complete a task. Others perceive time as a discrete commodity, neatly packaged in boxes called "noon hours, Wednesday, the 60's," or "the 17th century." Each of these discrete structures is then regarded as appropriate to some particular activity, experience, or phenomenon. Those between the extremes find planning, scheduling, and accounting for time to be acceptable when necessary, but also enjoy a certain amount of spontaneity and freedom from regulated periodicity. The S scale of the time orientation test identifies the location of an individual on this dimension of time experience.

Tenacity. There are those who can engage in an activity almost as though they regarded time as irrelevant so far as external rewards are concerned. These people are able to delay gratification for long periods of time, while pursuing some far-distant goal. Their mirror images are persons who demand rewards almost continuously as their efforts are exerted. Unwilling to wait for the outcomes of their endeavors, they shy away from those tasks or processes that require long delays between sacrifice and receipt of extrinsic reinforcement. Between the extremes are those who find it acceptable to delay gratification for a short period of time, but not for prolonged periods. The T scale provides an indication of each person's willingness to "hang in there" when there is a delay between exertion of effort and receipt of rewards.

Statistical characteristics of F-A-S-T. The test was originally standardized on 930 adult consumers and current norms are based on approximately 2,500 similar subjects. Reliability coefficients for the scales range in the 70's and 80's, while item redundance and correlations with scale scores are well within acceptable ranges. The scales were validated against spouse observations of time-relevant behavior, job satisfaction with time-related characteristics, and several standardized psychological measures of relevant constructs (Hix, 1976). Focus was reported to be related to Jungian typology (Mann, Siegler and Osmond, 1968) but did not prove to be so when correlated with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator scores (Myers, 1962). Activity was significantly correlated with the time attitude scales of Calabresi and Cohen (1968) while structure was associated with other generalized control constructs (Budner, 1962; Moresko, Schontz and Marrow, 1954). Tenacity proved to be significantly related to the need for achievement measures of Hermans (1970) and Mehrabian (1968). Based on these characteristics of the test and on the constructs measured by the various scales, the test appeared to be an appropriate measure of consumer time orientation. The test had been standardized on consumers, and the traits might be hypothesized to influence consumer behavior.


Before focusing on the relationship between time orientation and more specific aspects of consumer behavior, it seemed appropriate to first determine if time orientation traits influenced the more general patterns of consumer behavior. These patterns could be measured by a library of items relating to consumer Activities, Interests and Opinions (Plummer, 1971; Wells and Tigert, 1971; Plummer, 1974). The emphasis was not on identification of individual activities, interests and opinions that significantly relate to time orientation, but rather on identification of patterns of response that would point to a life style more typical of one type of time orientation than another. Thus, we hypothesized that each of the four time orientation dimensions would be indicative of a particular life style pattern, as revealed by the activities, interests and opinions.


The data to measure the relationships between time orientation and life style patterns were obtained in a field survey of 599 adult consumers in December of 1976. The sample was selected on a convenience basis, with quotas on the distributions of sex, age, and occupational group. As a result, 54 percent of the respondents were male, 64 percent were married, 63 percent were in white collar occupations, and 65 percent indicated they were in the middle class.

The self-administered questionnaire consisted of a cover letter explaining the nature of the project, the F-A-S-T Time Orientation Test, a section containing 406 activity, interest and opinion items, and a final set of questions to obtain the demographic status of the respondents. The questionnaire booklet was twenty pages in length, and was completely self-administered. The field worker contacted the potential respondent, explained the nature of the project, and solicited the person's cooperation. As an inducement to respond, the individual was offered a complete, six-page, computer generated interpretation of his or her own time orientation. Field workers briefly displayed a copy of the print-out and assured the respondent that most people found it both interesting and informative. If the person decided to participate, he or she was provided with a booklet and given a few days to complete the task. The field worker called back and subsequently picked up the completed questionnaire. To avoid fatigue effects, respondents were encouraged to complete only one or two sections at a sitting, and to set the instrument aside if interrupted or tired.

Each respondent, was, of course, provided with the test interpretations, which proved to be a very potent inducement. The procedure also provided an opportunity for 100 percent validation of the field data collection, since every respondent was contacted a second time. A total of 668 questionnaires were given to potential respondents, with a completion rate of 94 percent. After elimination of those responses which were unacceptable, the final sample size was 599.

The 64 items of the time orientation test were scaled from one to five, with extremes labeled "Exactly like me" and "Not at all like me." After reflecting and congregating items, the scoring provided summated scores. Activity, interest and opinion items were scaled from one to six, with extremes labeled "Definitely agree" and "Definitely disagree," or were simply the number of times the individual had engaged in the activity. The relationships between time orientation and AIO items were measured by correlation analysis.


The results of the study are depicted in Tables 1 through 4. Each table is devoted to a single scale of the F-A-S-T Time Orientation Test: Focus, Activity, Structure, or Tenacity, respectively. The first column of each table contains the number of AIO items that were significantly correlated with the time orientation test scale at the .01 level and were indicative of a particular aspect or dimension of life style, based on similarity of item content. These life style dimensions are listed in the body of the table in descending order, beginning with the ones that contained the greatest number of items with systematic associations with time orientation.


The summary of life style dimensions related to time focus is shown in Table 1. Of the total of 406 items, 81 were significantly correlated to the F scale. The AIO items were not highly correlated to the scale, since the largest coefficient was only .32; however, the number of items, together with the fact that the signs of the coefficients were consistently in the appropriate direction, indicates that there is a very clearly discernable relationship between consumer life style and individual time orientation.

Past oriented consumers tend to be the more cautious shoppers. They more often agreed with items such as: I often worry that something I buy will turn out to be a mistake. I tend to do things pretty much the way my mother did. Grocery shopping for my family means sticking to a strict budget. On the other hand, the future oriented consumer more often agreed that: The new styles turn me on. I would like to own the most expensive things. The past oriented consumer was also less secure, in general, tending more often to agree that: I dread the future. Things are changing too fast. Modern life is anxiety ridden. Some items relating to other dimensions were: I work very hard most of the time.



I would not work if I did not have to. Future oriented people tended more to agree to the first of these, and past oriented leaned toward the second. So, too, future oriented persons saw themselves as opinion leaders, were generally more cosmopolitan, flexible, and innovative than their past oriented counterparts. They were more ambitious, involved, adventurous, and mobile, while the typical past oriented person was more pessimistic about financial matters and more indifferent to cars, leaning more toward the home.


The consumer life style dimensions related to activity level are depicted in Table 2. Highly active consumers indicated their involvement on such items as: I do more things socially than do most people. I am active in community projects. Low activity people tended to agree: The old ways are the best ways. They also more often agreed: When I retire, I want to sit and take it easy. Highly active people, on the other hand, had more positive attitudes toward work: I take pride in my job. These people were also more family centered, they were more confident shoppers, and they demonstrated a greater satisfaction with life in general. Low active respondents expressed conservative attitudes toward innovations, indicated more insecurity and uncertainty, and were more often the homebodies. It is also interesting to note that they were more often in agreement with maintenance of sex roles and more indifferent to appearances.

Correlation coefficients between AIO items and the A scale ranged to a high of -.33 for an opinion leadership item: Nobody cares what I think. Signs on coefficients were consistently in the predicted direction. In all, there were 89 items from the 406 AIO items that provided a significant correlation with the A scale. Of the four dimensions of time orientation, the activity scale scores were correlated with more items than any of the other three.




The 10 dimensions of consumer life style defined by 58 AIO items significantly correlated with time structure are shown in Table 3. The dimension containing the largest number of items was related to shopping, with those who were time structured also tending to be careful shoppers and those low on structure leaning toward more casual shopping habits and attitudes. Examples of items positively correlated with structure are: Before going shopping, I sit down and prepare a complete shopping list. I would not shop in a store that looked dirty, even if the prices were very low. When I get a price off coupon, I save it and use it if I can. I watch the advertisements for announcements of sales. I rely on facts, not emotions when I make decisions. The AIO items with the highest correlation with the S scale, +.24, was: My days seem to follow a definite routine, e.g., eating meals at a regular time, etc. Those high on time structure also tended to agree that: Visitors often comment on how nice our home or apartment looks. I keep my house very neat and clean. On the other hand, those who tended not to structure time also agreed: I don't spend very much time cleaning my house. I find cleaning my house an unpleasant task.

On the whole, highly structured consumers also tended to be work oriented, principled, and risk averse. They also exhibited more propensity to be financially optimistic and car conscious, while those low on structure



were more pessimistic about their financial condition and future and relatively indifferent to cars. Opinion leadership and leadership in general were more typical of highly structured people than those low on structure, Another interesting characteristic of low structure respondents was their preference for activity at night, rather than during the day. Highly structured persons also preferred, to a greater degree, to get up and get going in the morning. They were more often "day" people.


The T scale of the time orientation test provided the weakest systematic relationship to consumer life style. Only 33 of the 406 AIO items were significantly correlated with tenacity scores, and these were grouped into six life style dimensions. Of the six, shopping activities, interests and opinions were the most numerous. The more tenacious the individual, the more likely the person would agree: I do most of my grocery shopping in one store. When I start to shop for furniture, I usually know exactly what I want. I always buy quality brands. Those who were less tenacious also less often: Shopped for household articles. Went shopping for clothes. Returned an unsatisfactory product.

Other life style differences between low and high tenacious consumers related to housekeeping and attitudes toward the past. Tenacious people also tended to express more compulsive tendencies toward housekeeping: I think dirty dishes should be washed promptly after each meal. I can usually work for long periods of time around the house without tiring. Those low on tenacity more often tended to agree: I dread the future. I dread the unknown. Things are changing too fast. The tenacious consumer is more assertive: I am more independent than most people. They agreed less often that, I have never been really outstanding at anything.



Highly tenacious individuals also exhibited more conservatism in: I am in favor of very strict enforcement of all laws. More typical of low tenacity was the item: I like to think I am a bit of a swinger. The more tenacious, the more family oriented the respondent: My major hobby is my family. Even though this dimension of time orientation was less related to the activities, interests and opinions of consumers, the differences in life style are still evident.


The results of the study indicate that individual time orientation is translated into measurable differences in consumer life style. In summary, the following relationships were manifest:

1. The more the individual tends to habitually direct his or her consciousness toward the future, the more consumption oriented the person will be. Such people are also more secure and positive about their work. They tend to be opinion leaders with more cosmopolitan interests. Those who direct their thoughts and fantasies toward the past also tend to be more rigid in their moral outlook, more conservative, cautious, and detached. They exhibit less ambition. They are less mobile than their future oriented counterparts and they are also less car conscious than the future oriented consumer.

2. The highly active person, who perceives time to be in short supply, also tends to be more involved, family centered, and positive about the future. This is the more confident person and that confidence is also manifested in the marketplace. The active person tends to be more secure and satisfied with life than the less active, who tend to be homebodies, less satisfied with their work, and reluctant to volunteer. These less active folks are also more conservative in their views, tend to trust traditional sex roles, and to be more indifferent about their appearance.

3. The greater the consumer's propensity to see time as a continuous, flowing substance, the more likely the person is to display casual shopping patterns, to be leisure oriented, flexible, and indifferent to risk. On the other hand, those who tend to structure time into discrete segments also seem to emphasize housekeeping, regard day for working and night for sleeping, and be more car conscious. Structured consumers value both opinion leadership and leadership in general to a greater degree than those who are less structured.

4. The tenacious individual is more of a structured shopper, assertive and future oriented. The person with less tenacity is also the one who is more likely to be a casual shopper and less compulsive about housekeeping. Tenacity is directly related to family-centered activity and interests and inversely related to flexibility in attitudes and habits.

Obviously, the summary presented above provides more of a caricature of life styles for various time orientations than classifications or typologies. The relationships discovered represent only persistent tendencies and there is a great deal of "overlap" in the life styles of individuals on opposing extremes of any of the time orientation dimensions or scales.

Aside from the more specific findings cited above, the results taken as a whole indicate that "personality" can be related to variations in consumption patterns. This study used a trait-specific personality test that was designed to measure the characteristics of normally functioning people. The test was standardized on the general public, and the "dependent" variables consisted of molar behavior patterns, rather than molecular units, such as the selection of one brand over another. As expected, the proportions of variance explained were not large in magnitude; however, the associations between time orientation, on the one hand, and life style, on the other, were unmistakably visible. An optimistic interpretation of these results is that personality does influence the behavior of consumers in measurable ways. Further investigations of the role of personality may yet prove fruitful.


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