Special Session Summary Linking Values and Consumer Behavior: Understanding the Nature of the Relationship in the Cultural Context


John A. McCarty (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Linking Values and Consumer Behavior: Understanding the Nature of the Relationship in the Cultural Context", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 284-285.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 284-285



John A. McCarty, George Mason University, U.S.A.


Over much of the history of consumer behavior research there has been an interest in the study of values and their relationship to consumer behavior. This interest has existed not only among academic researchers in their theoretical efforts to understand values and their connections with consumer attitudes and behavior, but among marketing and advertising practitioners in their attempts to more effectively market goods and services to consumers. Much of this activity has been aimed at linking personal values to the consumption of specific products or services. Although these attempts have met with modest success, values research has been plagued with methodological and measurement concerns. As with the study of any kind of phenomena, these methodological and measurement issues are heightened when studied in an international context. Therefore, although our understanding of values has come a long way over the past two decades, we are far from a clear realization of the interplay of values with consumer attitudes and behavior.

This session touched on two major themes that have emerged in values research. First, the session highlighted values as cultural phenomena and emphasized the need to understand how values relate to consumption bot within a culture and across cultures. Values, whether personal or cultural, are culturally derived in that people learn their values via the teachings of their culture from educational institutions, religious institutions, and the family. Values, in a sense, define a culture. Although values are part of what distinguishes one culture from another, there may also be great commonality across cultures with respect to these fundamental beliefs.

Cross-cultural considerations are particularly relevant in the case of values. As marketers attempt to understand differences in consumption in different cultures, it would seem that very fundamental beliefs such as values may be of particular importance in explaining differences and similarities in consumer behavior. That is, given the fundamental and basic nature of values, they potentially provide a set of basic dimensions with which to explore the international dynamics of consumer behavior. Two of the presentations in the session (Beckmann; Horn) presented data from several countries that relate to the cross-cultural nature of values and the third paper (McCarty and Shrum) examined the importance of cultural level value orientations in understanding consumer activity within a culture.

Secondly, this session shed further light on the relationships of values to behavior, and the complex nature of these relationships. The study of values is important to consumer behavior only to the extent that values aid in our understanding of consumption. All three presentations tied the abstract constructs of values to specific consumer behaviors.

The session went beyond simply tying values to behaviors by addressing the nature of the relationships between abstract values and behaviors. Two of the papers in the session (Beckmann; McCarty and Shrum), in particular, dealt with these issues. The McCarty and Shrum presentation focused on the cultural valuesBattitudesBbehavior hierarchy in an attempt to understand how cultural level orientations influence behavior, while the Beckmann presentation argued the need to understand general worldviews of consumers and their relationship to more specific attitudes and behavior.




Suzanne C. Beckmann, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Environmental concern of consumer-citizens is commonly considered to be a prerequisite for achieving environmental sustainability. However, as the level of environmental concern seems to have increased considerably over the past decade, related behaviors have not kept pace. This contradiction can, on a theoretical level, be explained by a gap between attitudes and behavior.

However, attempts to clarify the reasons for this gap have been scarce and mainly limited to criticizing the measurement of the constructs. Instead, it is argued here that the overall cultural context, which serves as a blueprint for individual motivations and beliefs, determines the degree to which concern can be transformed into action. Hence, it is the failure to assess individuals’ general frames of reference rather than the refinement of measuring attitudes and behavior that might be responsible for a lack of understanding why individuals act in seeming contradiction to their expressed beliefs in the environmental arena.

It is thus proposed here that researchers have failed to examine the relevant domains, which precipitate environmentally related behaviors. Specifically, the relationship examined suggests that such behaviors are the product of a chain of reasoning leading from one’s "amalgam" of technological, political, and economic beliefs (worldview) to individual value systems to environmental attitudes to behavior. y beginning the analysis with environmental attitudes, as has traditionally been the case, a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of policy and marketing decisions becomes problematic.

To test this proposition, a questionnaire study was conducted in the following countries: Denmark, The Netherlands, Austria, Australia, England, and New Zealand. The concepts measured were worldviews as expression of the institutional level of society, value systems, environmental attitudes, and perceived need for changing course.

The results of this study indicate that the failure to examine the entire chain might lead to environmental policies that are fundamentally incompatible with individual values. This would render such policies ineffective. These findings apply to all countries, though to a different degree. Further, as citizen-consumers are made aware of environmental problems and become increasingly concerned, their behavior might well make problems worse rather than better if they seek their solutions within the dominant social paradigm. The conclusion of the paper argues that to transform environmental behaviors toward sustainability, individual values must be addressed and this effort must be proceeded by an examination of the basic dimensions of the dominant worldview.



Martin I. Horn, DDB Needham, Chicago, U.S.A.

This study investigated the relationship of personal values to product usage across twelve countries in the continents of Europe, Asia, North and South America. The personal values were expressed in terms of self image as operationalized by the terms respondents selected that express how they would like to be seen by others. The aim of the study was to determine whether there was consistency across countries in self image and whether these consistencies could be related to product usage. In particular, the very practical consideration of the study focused on the question of how could information about people’s values be used to position products and communicate to consumers about them.

The study was conducted in 12 countries in the continents of Europe, Asia, North America, and South America. Roughly 1000 people were surveyed in each of these countries. Although there were slight variations in the methodology across the countries that were necessary, the basic methodological approach was similar in each case. Respondents were asked the question "How would you like to be seen by others?" They were then allowed to select value terms from groups of terms in response to this question. Roughly 50 terms were used in the study and these included values such as creative, honest, happy, dependable, hardworking, and friendly. Respondents were also asked about their usage of a number of product categories. Standard cross-cultural considerations were used in the development of the questionnaire in each of the countries (i.e., back-translation).

The results showed that there was a tremendous level of consistency across countries in terms of the values selected by respondents as those by which they would like to be seen by others. More importantly, for a variety of product categories, there appears to be a consistency across countries in terms of the values that are selected by users of the product category. For example, except for one country, those who are heavy users of photographic film value creativity as part of their self image. However, in spite of this consistency across countries in the importance of this one value among users of film, there were context effects with respect to other values selected. This raises the issue of the meaning of creativity vis-a-vie the other values held by the respondents in the different cultures. These context effects have implications for strategic decisions whether to adopt a global communication strategy for a product or service or to follow a multinational approach to communication.



John A. McCarty, George Mason University, U.S.A.

L. J. Shrum, Rutgers University, U.S.A.

This presentation focused on the relationships of cultural value orientations to attitudes and behaviors, with an effort toward understanding the nature of these relationships. Cultural value orientations are very fundamental ways individuals within a culture respond to the world. Value orientations develop as a way of adapting to the world, and these orientations tend to relate to two basic issues with which a culture must deal: people’s relationship to nature and an individual’s relationship to others. Although there may be a great deal of consistency in beliefs across people in a culture with respect to these fundamental orientations, in highly heterogeneous cultures such as the U.S., there are individual differences in these fundamental beliefs.

The study investigated three value orientations (measured at the individual level) and their relationship to pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. The value orientations included:

1) individualismBan emphasis on the individual, the importance of individual achievement and recognition; 2) collectivismBan emphasis on group goals and sharing; and 3) locus of controlB a person’s (or culture’s) beliefs about the extent to which he/she controls nature or is controlled by nature, therefore, related to a fundamental value orientation about people’s relationship to nature. Using structural equation modeling, these value orientations were related to recycling attitudes (beliefs about the importance of recycling and beliefs about the convenience of recycling) and behaviors (the extent to which people recycle newspapers, cans, and jars). Results showed that the value orientations related to attitudes in predicable ways and that the recycling attitudes showed the hypothesized relationships with behaviors. Moreover, as expected, the attitudes mediated the effects of values on behaviors, thus supporting a valuesBattitudesBbehavior hierarchy in our understanding of the ways that values influence behavior.



John A. McCarty, George Mason University, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999

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