Understanding Behaviours With Mixed Motives. an Application of a Modified Theory of Reasoned Action on Consumer Purchase of Organic Food Products

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - This paper studies consumer decision-making in situations where the person knows that both his or her own interests and the interests of others will be significantly influenced by the behavioural choice. A random sample of individuals responsible for a household’s shopping in Aarhus County, Denmark, (N=144) are interviewed twice about their purchase of organic food products and various mental antecedents. Hypotheses based on a popular model in consumer research are tested by means of structural equation modelling and some improvements are suggested.



Citation:

John Thogersen (1998) ,"Understanding Behaviours With Mixed Motives. an Application of a Modified Theory of Reasoned Action on Consumer Purchase of Organic Food Products", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Basil G. Englis and Anna Olofsson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 286-287.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 286-287

UNDERSTANDING BEHAVIOURS WITH MIXED MOTIVES. AN APPLICATION OF A MODIFIED THEORY OF REASONED ACTION ON CONSUMER PURCHASE OF ORGANIC FOOD PRODUCTS

John Thogersen, Aarhus School of Business, Denmark

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

This paper studies consumer decision-making in situations where the person knows that both his or her own interests and the interests of others will be significantly influenced by the behavioural choice. A random sample of individuals responsible for a household’s shopping in Aarhus County, Denmark, (N=144) are interviewed twice about their purchase of organic food products and various mental antecedents. Hypotheses based on a popular model in consumer research are tested by means of structural equation modelling and some improvements are suggested.

The study demonstrates that the theory of reasoned action is a useful starting point for analysing decision-making in mixed-motives cases, but that a deeper understanding of this important type of decision-making can be obtained by adding a few simple modifications to the model. The analysed behaviourBthe buying of organic food productsBis defined in a way that makes it reasonable to assume that it is volitional, and consistent with this assumption, and with the theory of reasoned action, behavioural intention is found to be a good predictor of behaviour. The behavioural intention is also predicted well by the proximal determinants suggested by the theory of reasoned action, even though only the attitude towards the act (buying organic products) reach significance. Finally, as suggested by the theory of reasoned action, the attitude towards buying organic products is rooted in the consumer’s reasoning about the issue, i.e., in the individual’s balancing of perceived positive and negative consequences of buying organic products. At variance with the theory of reasoned action, the analysis identifies a significant non-reasoned element in attitude formation, represented y a path from experience to attitude, and a contribution to attitude formation by social norms, represented by a path from subjective social norm to perceived benefits. These proposed modifications of the model receive theoretical support from the works of other distinguished scholars, like Kelman (1958) and Triandis (1977, 1980).

The study demonstrates a simple way of operationalising the frequently acknowledged feedback effects from behaviour to its antecedents. As suggested by the feedback hypothesis, significant paths from experience to beliefs are found, but alternative explanations for these paths cannot be ruled out. However, no obvious alternative to the feedback-explanation exists for the significant path from experience to attitude. Hence, at least some of the reciprocal effects from behaviour to its antecedents are captured by the chosen operationalisation. Further studies are needed in order to test the degree to which this operationalisation captures feedback and other effects as well as its usefulness across situations.

The confirmatory factor analysis finds a close correlation between perceived personal and perceived environmental benefits of buying organic food products, making it impossible to quantify the contribution of moral reasons to the attitude towards buying organic products. Nevertheless, the study sheds considerable light on the influence of morality on decision making in mixed-motives cases like this.

The study indicates that the person’s morality influences decision making through both reasoned and non-reasoned processes. The influence of reasoned processes are represented in this study by the path from subjective social norms to perceived benefits. This path (and the lack of a significant path from subjective social norms to intentions) indicates that social norms, in cases like this, produces internalisation rather than compliance (Kelman, 1958), meaning that they induce the individual to reconsider his or her behavioural beliefs and eventually make the social norms his or her own. As a consequence, the moral consequences gain a heavier weight in the person’s balancing of costs and benefits of behaving morally. The non-reasoned processes are represented by the path from experience to attitude. If the "warm glow" of behaving morally reinforces a positive attitude, as indicated by this path, a person’s morality functions as an amplifier for favourable attitudes towards moral acts. Hence, even though the exact contribution of morality cannot be quantified, the analysis clearly demonstrates that morality plays a substantial role in decisions to buy organic food products.

The findings with regard to perceived control indicates that the buying of organic products as a whole is not restricted by supply constraints. According to one authoritative source (The Council for Organic Agriculture, 1995), this finding contradicts leading retailers’ assessment of the market situation in Denmark at the time of the investigation. Still, their assessment need not be wrong. Because of the theoretical advantages of such an approach, this study refers to a fairly aggregate level of behaviour where supply (and other situational) constraints influencing individual product markets are less likely to be detected. In addition, the study is limited to a geographical area with a better-than-average supply of organic products. For these reasons, it is not advisable to draw practical conclusions about the importance of supply constraints for organic products at the Danish market from this study.

The perceived expensiveness of organic products is found to have a small, but significant influence on the attitude towards buying these products. The small influence of this variable is partly a consequence of most people agreeing that organic products are expensive. "Expensive" is a subjective and highly variable interpretation of an actual price. Hence, the size of this parameter should not be confused with the price-sensitivity of the demand for organic products. The correlation with experience indicates that some of the variation in the perceived monetary costs of buying organic ma be due to prejudice and that inexperienced consumers tend to exaggerate the price difference between organic and conventional products. Hence, better information about the price of organic products may increase the demand for organic products (see also Hansen & S°rensen, 1993).

The largest contributor to variations in the attitude is variations in beliefs about personal and environmental benefits from buying organic products, however. The relative size of the parameters shows that influencing beliefs about these benefits is a more powerful road to attitude change than influencing beliefs about costs (through information or marginal costs reductions). However, it may also be a more difficult road. Both the health- and the environmental consequences of buying organic products are difficult to comprehend for most consumers, because they are long-term, because many other factors influence the final outcome, and because few, if any, tangible cues differentiate organic from conventional products. Hence, in order to change consumer beliefs with regard to the benefits of buying organic products, proper education programmes and a willingness of the individual to actively educate him- or herself are needed. The relationship between social norms and perceived benefits shows that both the communicator and the way the information is presented are important. The importance of using trustworthy communicators presenting arguments that are based on their well-known and respected expertise cannot be over-emphasised. When they do that, mass-media campaigns may be able to induce people to actively search for more information about the issue and to re-evaluate their beliefs.

All these conclusions should, of course, be judged in the light of the limitations of the present study. More studies of mixed motives cases are needed in order to be able to judge the generality of the conclusions with regard to this type of behaviour. And although the results of the specific case study are consistent with most of what we already know about the buying of organic products, more studies are needed in order to get a deeper understanding of the generality of the specific findings over time and geographical space.

REFERENCES

Hansen, J. K. & S°rensen, H. C. (1993). The importance of price for the sale of ecological products. MAPP Working Paper (13). Aarhus School of Business, the MAPP programme.

Kelman, H. C. (1958). Compliance, identification, and internalization: Three processes of attitude change. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2, 51-60.

The Council for Organic Agriculture (1995). Aktionsplan for fremme af den °kologiske f°devareproduktion i Danmark. (Plan of action for the advancement of organic food production in Denmark). Copenhagen: The Ministry for Agriculture and Fishery, the Structure Directorate.

Triandis, H. C. (1977). Interpersonal behavior. Monterey: Books/Cole.

Triandis, H. C. (1980). Values, attitudes, and interpersonal behavior. In: Page, M. M. (Ed.). Nebraska symposium on motivation, 1979, pp. 195-259. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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Authors

John Thogersen, Aarhus School of Business, Denmark



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998



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