Overview Of: &Quot;Time: the Fundamental Things Apply&Quot; (Special Topic Session)

Rebecca H. Holman, Pennsylvania State University
M. Venkatesan, University of Oregon
[ to cite ]:
Rebecca H. Holman and M. Venkatesan (1979) ,"Overview Of: &Quot;Time: the Fundamental Things Apply&Quot; (Special Topic Session)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 34-37.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 34-37


Rebecca H. Holman, Pennsylvania State University

M. Venkatesan, University of Oregon


This special topic session consisted of a panel of six individuals doing research on the topic of time and consumer behavior. They are: Douglass K. Hawes, University of Wyoming, Phillip Hendrix, Florida State University, Rebecca H. Holman, Pennsylvania State University, Robert B. Settle, San Diego State University, Christine Urban, Harvard University, and M. Venkatesan, University of Oregon. The session was a direct outgrowth of informal meetings among some members of the panel at the 1977 Association for Consumer Research Conference. While there is increasing recognition that temporal dimensions of consumer behavior should be studied systematically (Jacoby et al, 1976), no major conceptual treatment has so far been focused on the topic. It also became clear that some of the research that is presently underway by some members of this panel related to "time perception," while some of the others were engaged in studying the allocation of time by consumers, often called "time-budget studies." The organizers of this session wanted to merge these two streams of emerging research in this area and to expose the membership of ACR to the variety of perspectives taken in the study of time as a variable in consumer behavior research. It was felt that such an exposure would be more meaningful than presenting an inventory of research findings.

The session was organized so that more general, theoretical issues would be dealt with first, proceeding through specific applications, to overviews of broad areas of research. The subjective-objective dichotomy was present throughout the session, however, with the panel showing roughly equal attention to these two dimensions. The balance of the paper summarizes the remarks made by members of the panel and is arranged (not chronologically) in such a way to take the reader first through a review of the variety of treatments of time as a variable, some perspectives on perception of time and individual differences associated with it, then presenting illustrative views of "objective" approaches currently being utilized and ending with a critique of "time budget" studies and some of the problems associated with conducting research in this area.


Douglass Hawes' remarks provided needed perspective on the topic. He reviewed the large number of ways in which time has been conceptualized and how time is seen as a variable in various models of consumer behavior, suggesting directions for future research. (Also see Hawes 1978 for more elaboration.)

Seven different meanings of time were identified by Hawes. These are as following:

a. Baseline: Time is a way in which activities are evaluated. Pleasant activities pass quickly, unpleasant ones seem to take an inordinate length of time.

b. Benchmark: Time provides a means for recollecting or anticipating the sequence of activities relative to one another.

c. Reference point: By knowing the "objective" time one knows what one ought to be doing and where that activity should be done; time locates the individual in space.

d. Biological clock: The organism maintains an internal rhythm which can be conceived of as a physiological clock.

e. Drug-altered: Through the influence of certain drugs, one's subjective experience of time can be altered.

f. Constraint on activities: Time limits one's activities, especially activities that may be discretionary (leisure activities).

g. Resource: Much like money and other resources, time is something to be "saved" "spent" "lost" or "sold," and different amounts of this resource may be an indicator of one's relative affluence (or poverty).

In reviewing nine major models of consumer behavior, Hawes found a variety of treatments of time as a variable, although all models treated time in some way. (See Hawes (1978) for extensive discussion.)

Areas needing future research were suggested by Hawes. The bulk of the research to date has been done on time budgets and Hawes called for a movement beyond time budget research perhaps looking at how some of the perceptual or subjective dimensions affect time budgeting activities. A merger of the two fundamental streams of research represented by the panel members is clearly indicated.

In suggesting specific topics of interest, Hawes mentioned cultural determinants of time orientation citing Whorf's work (1966) with the Hopi as indicative of the effort of culture upon both perceptual processes and budgeting activities. Hawes also mentioned the individual's personal value of time and how this impacts upon the allocation process (activities allotted a measure of time as they are variously valued).


Robert Settle and his colleagues (Pamela L. Alreck, Michael A. Belch, John W. Glasheen, and Robert W. Haas) are interested primarily in individual differences in time orientation and how these individual differences are related to a variety of consumption behaviors. Alreck (1976) developed the F-A-S-T Time Orientation Test and in the session, Settle explained the dimensions tapped by this instrument. F-A-S-T stands for the four dimensions that are the focus of this test, viz, focus, activity, structure, and tenacity.

Focus refers to an individual's tendency to experience events along the full spectrum of a time continuum. Some individuals tend to spend more time remembering (and reliving) past events while others imagine (and live) a not-yet-experienced future. The remainder of individuals direct their consciousness at present events instead of those in both the future and the past. In scoring this and all other dimensions of the F-A-S-T, individuals instead of being typed are arrayed along a continuum, the end points, for Focus being future and past orientation.

Settle pointed out in later discussion that the Focus scale is not necessarily age-dependent. Intuitively one might think that older-aged individuals, with a limited real future, would necessarily turn to the past for images. This is not necessarily the case, as an improbably imaginary future can be as compelling as one that has a high probability of being realized.

Activity refers to the individual's perception of the supply of time available for use. As one end point of the Activity spectrum is the perception that time passes slowly, and that there are not enough activities to fill into the unit of time available.

Structure concerns how an individual imposes (or fails to impose ) rigid units upon the time dimension. Highly structured individuals are those who conceptualize time in discrete units anchoring events in terms of objective measurements of time (hours, days, years, etc.). Highly structured individuals have specific "times for" certain activities (meal time, work time, leisure time, bed time, etc.), whereas those low in structure tend to engage in the same activities whenever it seems appropriate, not at fixed intervals. Individuals low in structure see time as a commodity without boundaries and engage in activities accordingly.

Tenacity refers to the degree to which an individual has a need for extrinsic rewards at short intervals of time or whether longer intervals between rewards will satisfy. Individuals able to "delay gratification" consider time as irrelevant when engaging in activities, whereas those needing a frequent and continuous schedule of reinforcements in order to sustain an activity consider the length of time between reinforcements critical.

Settle pointed out that the scale has been validated with a large number of adult subjects. There is also high reliability with the scale using a number of different measures of reliability. Additionally, the scale has been used to differentiate life styles among consumers (Settle, Alreck and Glasheen 1978).

In contrast with Settle, et al, Rebecca Holman (and her colleagues, Roger D. Evered, The University of Illinois and Michael D. Reilly, The Pennsylvania State University) are more concerned with future orientation. Since the future is a purely imaginary event, it is reasonable to assert that individuals have different and systematic ways of constructing that imaginary future, linked in some way with other cognitive processes. In operationalizing Evered's conceptual view (Evered 1973) Holman et al have developed the Futurizing Style Questionnaire (FSQ). Three types of ways that individuals conceptualize the future were identified by Evered. Holman explained the ideal types of each of the three.

Participants see the future as a logical, linear extension of the present. They have a clear image of how the future will be different from the present and can easily see the steps needed to get from the present to the future. Participants can easily work within the systems in which they find themselves, using those systems as a means for achieving the futures they see for themselves.

By contrast Prospectors can envision many varied futures and can deal easily with a future that might be radically different from the present. They entertain the notion that the future might be discontinuous with the present and therefore see no necessity for a logical connection between the present and the future. Whereas the participant plans for the future by setting down goals and objectives that move one closer to one's goals, the prospector plans for the future by keeping as many options open as possible and by acquiring a multitude of capabilities to be able to cope with the variety of things that "might" happen.

Producers, on the other hand, see the changes that occur in the future as superficialities. Producers see the future as being fundamentally like the present. To the producer, the only things that change over time are the things that do not matter, and if there is basic change, it is gradual over long periods, much greater than the span of one person's life. Planning for the producer means devising a strategy to cope with the status quo and perfecting that strategy over time.

Holman pointed out that the FSQ has been validated with only a limited population, but that a French translation had been made (by Alain Jolibert, University of Grenoble) and that data from French students was currently under analysis. Holman suggested the linkage of language with ability to imagine a future and suggested this as a further area of potential fruitful activity.


Sociologists have been interested in the amounts of time people spend in different activities. They were interested in all the activities of individuals, which included what we would term as "consumer-behavior related" activities. Such studies have utilized a "time-budget" method, whereby time allocation for the entire day (24 hours) for different activities are ascertained. The well known work in this area is by Szalai (1972). The two major studies that report time allocation in the United States are by Chapin (1974) and Robinson (1977). Robinson's data comes from the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, of the University of Michigan, which has been collecting time allocation information for some time as part of their "Time Use Study."

Hendrix's study is based on the data collected by the Institute for Social Research. However, his presentation at this session and his paper published elsewhere (in its entirety) in this volume of the ACR Proceedings are intended to provide a conceptual framework for analysis of the time budget data. His conceptual approach is based on the view that if we analyze "why people spend various amounts of time, then we have good ideas as to which goods and services relate to various activities." He provides a framework for classifying the activities and then provides a model for allocation of time based on his classification (See paper by Hendrix, Kinnear and Taylor for details).


Robinson and Converse (1972) examined the developmental changes in media use patterns as a function of the increasing intrusion of television. Others (e.g. Chapin, 1974) have considered television watching as a passive form of activity. Christine Urban focused her remarks on the allocation of time for media usage -- a form of consumer behavior that is not only important in defining an individual's life-style and allocation of "disposable'' time for other activities, but is also, in itself, a most time-intensive and time-ordering activity.

She pointed out that one can examine volume of media use as a means of gaining understanding of how different people 'order' their day. Recent studies have found that there are sub-groups within the media 'market' that are obviously 'heavy' or 'light' consumers of media. In addition, these findings seem to suggest that: (1) The volume of media consumption not only affects "real-time" allocation for other activities, but also perceptions of available (disposable) time; (2) That heavy media involvement affects (or is effected by) a greater stability in daily routine than is evidenced in the group as a whole; and (3) That the definition of each medium (e.g. as an "active" or "passive" way of spending time) differs for these heavy and light groups. "Media-heaviness,'' then, might provide a useful explanatory variable for research investigating time use and orientations: providing clues about the priorities, motivations and characteristics that distinguish different "time-user" segments.

Secondly, since media play such an important role for social integration, much of the 'purchase decision' (especially for television) appears negotiated according to the "least-objectionable" rule (i.e. no one in the decision-making unit usually maximizes satisfaction), we can hypothesize that negotiated time-use decisions will provide more stable patterns, and will be less reflective of an individual's true preferences. This distinction has important consequences when analyzing time-budget data.

A third area of findings in media research is that of cyclicality of overall preference trends in the total audience, and the direct interdependence of media trends and time-use trends. Just as certain modes of presentation and topics have a natural "life-cycle" within the media, so also are there fads or fashions in time-use (e.g. jogging, handicrafts, etc.). These are strongly interrelated, and it could be profitable to understand the influence that media coverage has on the adoption cycle of certain behaviors or activities -especially leisure time activities.

Looking at these kinds of findings within media research, then, can provide not only insights into the rich, multi-dimensional behavior toward a most time-sensitive activity media use, but also highlight more general factors to be investigated in research on time-budgeting and orientation.


Venkatesan pointed out some of the major difficulties associated with the collection of time allocation data for consumers. He said that while Szalai (1972), Chapin (1974) and Robinson (1977) had collected time allocation information for all of the activities, our interest is in obtaining information related only to consumer behavior. While these "time budget" studies had obtained information on all sorts of activities, they invariably collapsed information relevant to consumer behavior into one category and named it "marketing activities."

The second problem faced by researchers attempting to get time budget information is the "classification" of activities. Activities have been grouped into either "primary" and "secondary" or "obligatory" and "discretionary.'' Many activities of interest to consumer behavior researchers occur simultaneously, such as talking about a product or consumption activity while watching television, and the like. The binary classification system is inadequate. Even the three category classification proposed by Hendrix (1979) does not fully solve this problem of getting time allocation information for activities occurring simultaneously. Another approach used by some has attempted to get time allocation information from respondents based on the chronological order of all of the activities during a 24-hour period. This approach, too, may miss information on concurrent activities. Thus, a better classification is needed for research in this area that may be useful for consumer researchers.

Venkatesan next addressed his comments on the method utilized for data collection. Much of the time-use data is obtained from respondents for a 24-hour duration relating to all the activities taking place during this time period. Other techniques have utilized a "yesterday'' format, in which respondents are to recall all the activities and their corresponding time allocation; or "tomorrow's activities" format, in which case a "diary" is left with the respondent with instructions and which is collected the day after its completion. Different proportions of the sample are contacted for differing days of the week, thus assuring data collection for the whole week. While the data may be aggregated for the whole week, such information is not likely to reveal any patterns or variations in consumer behavior. Such patterns can only be discerned from information collected from the respondents for a longer period of time and preferably for different periods of the year. Such a requirement points to the use of consumer panel methods to obtain consumer time-use information. However, he pointed out that panel method introduces its own peculiar problems and the costs associated with setting up a panel and its maintenance would preclude many researchers from collecting time-use information.

Another problem relating to the collection of time-use information, according to Venkatesan, is that all the information comes from "self-reports" from consumers. Thus, they may contain data of varying reliability and validity. Other measures must be utilized as "reliability checks." There are other problems of data collection in this area, such as "units of recall," inclusion of travel time, and appropriate ways of including "window shopping" and other time-use activities. Venkatesan concluded by saying that these problems that are indicated are not insurmountable, and in fact this area appears to be most promising for research, as the data obtained on time allocation is amenable for varying levels and elegance of analysis.


All participants in the session (both panel and audience) seemed to find the session valuable and stimulating. Panel members invited audience members to contact them if mutual interest was uncovered. Offers were made to trade papers and references, the latter being elaborated upon by Robert Settle who offered to coordinate an annotated bibliographic exchange. Rebecca Holman offered to look into the possibility of a special mini-conference on the topic if sufficient interest was generated in the future. In general, it was felt that the interaction among those interested in the topic of time was quite valuable and that it was rewarding to know that others were engaged in complementary research.


Alreck, Pamela L. Time Orientation and Behavior. Unpublished manuscript, San Diego State University, 1976.

Chapin, Jr., F. S. Human Activity Patterns in the City. New York: Wiley, 1974.

Evered, Roger D. "Conceptualizing the Future: Implications for Strategic Management in a Turbulent Environment.'' Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1973.

Hawes, Douglass K. "The Role of Time in Models of Consumer Behavior," Research Paper No. 270, Institute for Policy Research, College of Commerce and Business Administration, University of Wyoming, October, 1978.

Hendrix, Philip E., Thomas C. Kinnear, and James N. Taylor. "The Allocation of Time by Consumers" in the Proceedings of the Association for Consumer Research, W. Wilkie (editor), 1979.

Jacoby, J., G. J. Szybillo and C. K. Berning. "Time and Consumer Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Overview." Journal of Consumer Research, 2-1 (1976), 320-339.

Robinson, J. P. and P. E. Converse. "The Impact of Television on Mass Media Usage: A Cross-national Comparison'' in A. Szalai (editor) The Use of Time. Paris: Mouton, 1972.

Robinson, J. P. How Americans Use Time. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977.

Szalai, A. The Use of Time. Paris: Mouton and Co., 1972.

Settle, Robert B., Pamela L. Alreck and John W. Glasheen. "Individual Time Orientation and Consumer Life Style." H. Keith Hunt (editor) Advances in Consumer Research, V. Ann Arbor: Association for Consumer Research, 1978, 315-319.

Whorf, Benjamin L. Language Thought and Reality. Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1956.