An Empirical Investigation of the S-O-R Paradigm of Consumer Involvement

Thomas L. Parkinson, The Pennsylvania State University
Carolyn Turner Schenk, Burke Marketing Research
ABSTRACT - This paper deals with an operationalization of the S-O-R paradigm of consumer involvement proposed by Houston and Rothschild within the context of consumer purchase behavior. Specifically, the paper explores the nature of preresponse involvement and investigates its impact on response involvement. The results offer support for the multifaceted nature of involvement, however, they fail to support the authors' predictions regarding the impact of situational and enduring involvement on presearch response involvement.
[ to cite ]:
Thomas L. Parkinson and Carolyn Turner Schenk (1980) ,"An Empirical Investigation of the S-O-R Paradigm of Consumer Involvement", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 696-699.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 696-699

AN EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION OF THE S-O-R PARADIGM OF CONSUMER INVOLVEMENT

Thomas L. Parkinson, The Pennsylvania State University

Carolyn Turner Schenk, Burke Marketing Research

[This research was funded in part by a grant from the College of Business Administration's Center for Research at The Pennsylvania State University. The study was undertaken while the second author was an M.S. student in marketing at the University.]

ABSTRACT -

This paper deals with an operationalization of the S-O-R paradigm of consumer involvement proposed by Houston and Rothschild within the context of consumer purchase behavior. Specifically, the paper explores the nature of preresponse involvement and investigates its impact on response involvement. The results offer support for the multifaceted nature of involvement, however, they fail to support the authors' predictions regarding the impact of situational and enduring involvement on presearch response involvement.

INTRODUCTION

The concept of involvement has been a part of the social psychological literature for over three decades, and has generated an increasing amount of interest and research in recent years [Apsler and Sears 1968; Atkins and Bieri 1968; Johnson and Scileppi 1972; Krugman 1966-67; McGinnies, 1968; McGinnies 1973; Rhine and Polowniak 1971; Rhine and Severance 1970; Rothschild and Houston 1977; Sherif, et al. 1973; Sherif and Cantril 1947; Sherif and Sherif 1967]. Likewise, there has recently been increased interest in involvement as an explanatory or moderating variable among consumer researchers [Houston and Rothschild 1978; Hupfer and Gardner 1971; Krugman 1965; Lastovicka 1979; Lastovicka and Gardner 1977; Newman and Dolich 1979; Robertson 1976; Swinyard and Coney 1978]. Nevertheless, until now, research concerning consumer involvement has been characterized by its lack of a common conceptual or methodological approach. This shortcoming has contributed to the lack of a "common thread" which could serve to unify this increasingly popular and promising stream of research.

However, the diverse findings from both social psychology and consumer behavior have recently been synthesized into a potentially useful paradigm by Houston and Rothschild [1977]. This paradigm of consumer involvement which is based on the classic S-O-R paradigm of learning theory, breaks down the concept of involvement into three major types and suggests possible relationships between them. The purpose of this paper is to operationalize the involvement constructs contained in this paradigm within the context of consumer behavior in order that both the constructs themselves and the relationships between them can be explored.

THE S-O-R PARADIGM

[This section is drawn extensively from the original development of the paradigm by M. J. Houston and M. L. Rothschild [1977, 1978].]

The Houston and Rothschild paradigm breaks down the global concept of involvement into three types. The first, situational involvement, is viewed as being external to the individual and is a product of the specific buying situation. The second, enduring involvement, is internal to the individual, reflecting the pre-existing relationship between the individual and a particular purchase decision. These two are hypothesized to combine and elicit a third type of involvement, called response involvement. Thus, the analogy to the S-O-R paradigm involving an external stimulus, the organism, and a response.

Situational Involvement

Situational involvement refers essentially to the ability of a situation to elicit from individuals, concern for their behavior in that situation. The levels of the situational involvement aroused by a particular buying situation is viewed as resulting from two major classes of stimuli. First, there are objective stimuli relating to the particular product or service being considered. Specifically, Houston and Rothschild identify economic and time costs, the elapsed time of consumption, and the complexity (number of performance-related dimensions) of the product or service under consideration as contributing to situational involvement. They postulate that the greater the perceived level of these object-stimuli, the greater the level of situational involvement. The authors identify the second major class of stimuli that affect situational involvement, as stimuli emanating from the social psychological environment surrounding the purchase and consumption of a product or service. Specifically, the authors identify the visibility or conspicuousness of a product during its purchase and use as being positively related to situational involvement.

Basically what the authors have done is to define situational involvement in terms of the "consequences" component of the perceived risk model [Bauer 1967] with both its functional and psychosocial dimensions. In both cases, higher levels of consequences are associated with greater levels of situational involvement.

Enduring Involvement

Whereas situational involvement captures the between-products perspective the concept of enduring involvement captures the between-individuals perspective. Enduring involvement is related to the pre-existing relationship between the individual and a particular buying situation. Houston and Rothschild identify two major linkages between an individual and a purchase situation. The first is the individual's amount of prior experience in purchasing and/or using the product, while the second, is the strength of the values (ego-involvement) to which the usage situation is relevant. The paradigm hypothesizes that considerable prior experience, with a product related to centrally held values, generates a high level of enduring involvement among consumers.

Response Involvement

Houston and Rothschild state that situational and enduring involvement combine to influence response involvement i.e., the complexity or extensiveness of cognitive and behavioral processes characterizing the overall consumer decision process. The authors further state that the nature of response involvement differs depending on the stage in the decision process. However, in this study only the presearch stage of the decision process is considered.

In an early paper, the authors have described a "consumer involvement matrix" as a measure of presearch response involvement [Rothschild and Houston, 1977]. This measure which is based on Sherif's latitude of acceptance and the number of evaluative criteria utilized, results in a matrix-like portrayal of presearch response involvement. Within this matrix, the number of evaluative criteria used is measured on the vertical axis, and the range of tolerable attribute levels on the horizontal. The following ratio of these two dimensions was then used as a measure of presearch response involvement.

Number of attributes subject indicated would be put to some use

Total number of acceptable scale points on attributes included in numerator

Total number of scale points on attributes included in numerator

At the presearch stage, the paradigms authors' postulate that consumers with a high degree of response involvement will utilize a large number of evaluative criteria, but will have a rather stringent set of requirements as to what constitutes an acceptable rating on those criteria.

Having thus defined situational, enduring and presearch response involvement, Houston and Rothschild postulate the following relationships between them:

1.  Situational involvement has a positive effect on response involvement at the presearch stage resulting in more extensive cognitive structuring.

2.  The effects of situational involvement on the pre-search stage are enhanced by higher levels of enduring involvement.

METHODOLOGY

A questionnaire dealing with commonly purchased student products was developed and administered to 144 student-volunteers who were enrolled in four undergraduate marketing sections. For each product considered, the students were first asked to complete eleven Likert-items designed to measure the various aspects of situational and enduring involvement. Then, they were asked to indicate which attributes (evaluative criteria) they would use to evaluate the product under consideration. The attributes included for use with each product category were selected based on previous research using the same products and on pretests to determine the criteria used by students [Olson and Muderrisoglu 1978; Parkinson and Reilly 1978]. In each case a maximum of six criteria were included and the subjects were asked to indicate whether or not they would use each one. Finally, the subjects were confronted with a set of seven-point scales on each attribute and asked to identify their ideal point, and tolerable levels for each attribute that they previously had indicated as being utilized.

This procedure was repeated for four different products with the order of presentation being randomized within the questionnaires. The four products included in the study were athletic shoes, ballpoint pens, blue jeans and toothpaste. These products were chosen based on their high level of use and familiarity among college students, and with the objective of including products which were judged a priori as generating different levels of involvement.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Pre-Response Involvement

The paradigm defines involvement prior to the response stage as being made up of two separate types, which have been previously identified as situational and enduring involvement. Situational involvement is affected by both the objective and social psychological aspects of a given purchase and usage situation, while enduring involvement is a function of an individual's prior experience with the product and the relationship of that product to the person's centrally held values. In order to explore the existence of these different aspects of pre-response involvement, the 11 items utilized to measure the various aspects of situational and enduring involvement were subjected to a factor analysis. Using the criteria of including all factors with eigenvalues greater than or equal to one, three factors were identified that accounting for 62% of the variation present in the data. The varimax rotation procedure was utilized and the resulting loadings appear in Table 1.

Inspection of the results of the factor analysis appears to give fairly strong support to the paradigm's description of pre-response involvement. Five of the seven situational involvement items loaded heavily on Factor I. These five items all relate to either the objective or social psychological consequences associated with a given purchase situation. However, the subjects did not appear to differentiate between these two types of consequences. The results, therefore, would appear to support the proposition that situational involvement is related to the general level of perceived consequences associated with a given purchase situation.

TABLE 1

FACTOR LOADINGS FOR THE 11 PRE-RESPONSE INVOLVEMENT VARIABLES

The results of the factor analysis, do clearly identify the two distinct aspects of enduring involvement. As predicted by the paradigm, enduring involvement is affected by both ego-involvement with the product and prior purchase and use experience. It is also interesting to note that the two remaining items (complexity and concern for performance), while not loading significantly on anyone factor, do load heaviest on the experience dimension. This would seem to indicate that these items are more related to the pre-existing relationship between the individual and the product rather than to the immediate buying situation as suggested in the paradigm.

In summary, the results of this study would appear to indicate that consumer involvement prior to the response stage is related to three factors. The first of these is a consequences or cost component. Involvement with the purchase situation appears to increase as the economic, time, and/or social cost of a wrong decision are increased. The second and third factors are those identified by Houston and Rothschild as the components of enduring involvement. Prior experience and the degree that the product is linked to one's sense of self, both appear to affect involvement. This finding is also consistent with the findings of Lastovicka and Gardner [1977] who did not consider situational involvement, but did identify "familiarity" and a "normative importance" as aspects of consumer involvement.

Response Involvement

With the pre-response elements of the Houston and Rothschild paradigm having been substantially confirmed by the initial factor analysis, an investigation of the hypothesized relationships between situational, enduring, and response involvement was carried out. To accomplish this, the factor scores resulting from the previous analysis were used as input data for a series of regression analyses.

The first proposition to be tested is that situational involvement has a positive effect on response involvement resulting in a more extensive cognitive structure. To test this proposition, the factor scores on Factor I were used as the independent variable, and the presearch response involvement ratio was utilized as the dependent measure. The results of this analysis are shown in Table 2. As the table shows, situational involvement is, in fact, positively related to response involvement, however, an overall R2 of only .089 was obtained. Therefore, while the relationship hypothesized by Houston and Rothschild is supported, the extremely low R2 indicates that only a small portion of the variation in response involvement is explained by the situational involvement constructs.

The second proposition is that increased levels of enduring involvement will enhance the effect of situational involvement on presearch response involvement. To investigate this proposition, both the situational factor scores (I) and the two enduring factor scores (II and III) were incorporated in the analysis as independent variables. The prediction of the paradigm would be that the inclusion of the enduring involvement variables would significantly increase the explanatory power of the dependent variables. The result of this second regression analysis are shown in Table 3, and are again only marginally supportive of the paradigm. While the weight associated with the ego-involvement factor (III) is significant, an overall R2 of only .118 was obtained. Computation of the likelihood ratio statistic [Kendall and Stuart 1973] results in an F-Ratio (17.56) which is significant. This result, which indicates a significant increase in the amount of explained variation, is supportive of the second relationship, but despite the increase, the total explained variation remains very low.

TABLE 2

RESPONSE INVOLVEMENT AS A FUNCTION OF SITUATIONAL INVOLVEMENT

TABLE 3

RESPONSE INVOLVEMENT AS A FUNCTION OF SITUATIONAL AND ENDURING INVOLVEMENT

Further analyses of the impact of situational and enduring involvement on the individual components of the response involvement ratio was revealing. The results of these analyses, suggested that, for these subjects, the explained variation in the response involvement ratio was attributable to differences in the number of evaluative criteria used to judge the product rather than any change in the subject's tolerance for attribute variability. Apparently the subject's latitude of acceptance for such variation was not significantly influenced by the antecedent involvement conditions. This finding questions the appropriateness of the response involvement matrix [Rothschild and Houston 1977] as a measure of presearch response involvement when dealing with consumer product evaluations.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

The findings of this study, which is one of the first to apply the Houston and Rothschild paradigm to non-political situations, is limited by the number of products considered (4), the subjects (students), and the exploratory nature of the research. However, several of the results are interesting and should be considered when conducting future research in this area.

First, the finding that pre-response involvement is multifaceted and appears related to situation-specific factors as well as enduring factors is noteworthy as it extends the existing notion of involvement to include both individual and situational influences. Previously, work by Lastovicka and Gardner [Lastovicka 1979; and Lastovicka and Gardner 1977] has focused only upon individual constructs such as familiarity, knowledge, experience and/or normative importance as determinants of consumer involvement. The paradigm suggested by Houston and Rothschild [1977] and the results reported here, indicate that the perceived consequences inherent in the buying situation should also be included in any pre-response involvement determination. However, continued research into the dimensions of involvement is necessary before any definitive statement about its components can be made.

The second finding of interest is that although both situational and enduring involvement have some impact on pre-search response involvement and especially on the number of attributes used to evaluate products; the explanatory power of these antecedent conditions is low. This finding would appear to support the contention that involvement, as it is currently defined, is most likely a mediating influence on consumer behavior rather than a strong determinant of the same. Future consumer research should, therefore, continue to monitor involvement while exploring the impact of other variables.

The last finding relates to the viability of the Houston and Rothschild paradigm as an explanation of consumer behavior. The results are generally supportive of the paradigm, if one views involvement as a mediating variable, in that both situational and enduring aspects of involvement were noted. In addition, the relationship of these variables to presearch response involvement was significant and in the predicted direction. However, the results do not give much support to the future usefulness of the response involvement matrix as a useful measure of presearch response involvement outside of the realm of voting behavior.

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