Unraveling Cross-Cultural Differences: Effects of Observability, Self Monitoring and Desire For Unique Consumer Products on Tendency to Seek Variety

ABSTRACT - Using North American and Asian subjects, Study 1 found that western subjects had higher Variety Seeking (VS) disposition than their eastern counterparts. Effects of situational context and observability conditions (public versus private) were present for western subjects, but only context influenced eastern subjects. Study 2 suggested that self-monitoring tendencies offer insight to VS tendencies in an eastern culture. High Self Monitors (SM) sought more variety in public than private but had less variety than low SM across observability conditions. In addition, an individual trait, Desire for Unique Consumer Products did not seem to underpin impression management in the East.


Nur Halimah Chew Abdullah and Bharadhwaj Sivakumaran (2005) ,"Unraveling Cross-Cultural Differences: Effects of Observability, Self Monitoring and Desire For Unique Consumer Products on Tendency to Seek Variety", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 127-135.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 127-135


Nur Halimah Chew Abdullah, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Bharadhwaj Sivakumaran, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Using North American and Asian subjects, Study 1 found that western subjects had higher Variety Seeking (VS) disposition than their eastern counterparts. Effects of situational context and observability conditions (public versus private) were present for western subjects, but only context influenced eastern subjects. Study 2 suggested that self-monitoring tendencies offer insight to VS tendencies in an eastern culture. High Self Monitors (SM) sought more variety in public than private but had less variety than low SM across observability conditions. In addition, an individual trait, Desire for Unique Consumer Products did not seem to underpin impression management in the East.


While there is a plethora of research on Variety Seeking (VS) behavior over the past 30 years, most of it is still traditionally conducted in the West (e.g. Ratner & Kahn 2002). In a review (Sojka & Tansuhaj 1995), single culture studies are still set mainly in North America followed by France, England, and Japan. Although few studies have examined VS in domains such as the East, efforts to evaluate the universality of the theoretical assumptions are forthcoming (e.g., Faison 1980; Kim & Drolet 2003). These are timely because even as the consumption preferences of urbanized consumers appear to be converging in this globalized world (i.e. "Westernized"), underlying beliefs and inference from norms can contribute to a deeper understanding of consumer behaviors in cross-cultural settings.

Studies have suggested links between VS and individual differences in optimal stimulation levels (e.g., Murray & Manrai 1993; Steenkamp & Baumgartner 1992) and also culture-bound values such desire for uniqueness (Ariely & Levav 2000; Kim & Drolet 2003). The argument for cultural heterogeneity is underlined by the premise that VS motivations emanate from peculiar socialization processes. Individuals are imbued from young cultural values that shape their cognitive, affective and behavioral systems. In fact, studies have demonstrated discrepancy due to variant cultural orientations (Faison 1980; Kim & Drolet 2003; Murray & Manrai 1993). While empirical efforts are being made, there still remains a continuous strive to interpret observed differences or similarities using established cultural constructs. Hence, this signals research opportunities in terms of identifying and uncovering other relevant cultural influences on VS. This paper hopes to contribute to this stream of research with the study of culture-bound values and contexts. With this, the conceptual framework will be presented next, followed by an elaboration of the two studies and the respective findings. In the experiments, the observability conditions and situational contexts for consumption choices are manipulated. In addition, the associative relationships of personality traits such as Self Monitoring (SM) and Desire for Unique Consumer Products (DUCP) with variant cultural orientations are also uncovered. The effects of SM and DUCP on VS in the East are explored in post-hoc analyses. Finally, a brief discussion on the key limitations and future research directions will conclude this paper.


Variety Seeking (VS) is defined as a switch or alternation between two or more brands/ flavors, either within a single purchase episode or across successive purchase occasions (Kahn 1995). Generally, it is classified as either intrinsically or extrinsically motivated (McAlister & Pessemier 1982). Intrinsically motivated VS stem from intra or interpersonal antecedents. At an intrapersonal level, VS is associated positively with a desire for change or novelty (Raju 1980), anticipated or experienced satiation (McAlister & Pessemier 1982), and optimal stimulation levels (OSL) (Steenkamp & Baumgartner 1992). Interpersonally, the need for group affiliation or social distinction also encourages VS (McAlister & Pessemier 1982). Accordingly, aligning oneself with a group involves keeping up with changing trends or peers, while a desire to affirm self identity leads to a tendency to differentiate, both of which can increase VS tendency. Extrinsically motivated VS, on the other hand is concerned with circumstantial antecedents such as multiple needs, users or situations (McAlister & Pessemier 1982).

Individualistic and Collectivistic Orientations on VS

Traditionally, cultural difference between the East and the West are attributed to individualistic and collectivistic (I/C) orientations of the people (e.g., Hofstede 2001). At a cultural level, it is acknowledged that children in the West are socialized from young to assert independence and self-identity. This is clearly different from the East where harmony and adherence to group behavior are accentuated (Hofstede 2001). Self-concept theory proposes that I/C tendencies are manifested through the saliency of independent and interdependent self-construal when members of a culture are considered as a whole (Markus & Kitayama 1991). Specifically, consumers with dominant independent self-concepts have a psychological tendency to realize their internal attributes. As the normative imperative in the West is to become independent from others, and to discover and express one’s unique attributes (Markus & Kitayama 1991), their internal value systems often gear individuals towards social differentiation. Thus, from a cross-cultural perspective, VS in the West may be explicated by the need to be socially distinctive from others.

Conversely, such an intrinsic motivation may not have a similar value or may even be interpreted as going against group norms for highly collectivistic cultures (Kim & Drolet 2003). However, to date, the purposeful meaning underlying VS in choices for more collectivistic consumers have not really been examined. Therefore, it is theoretically possible that their behavior may be underscored by other reasons such as a need to affiliate with a group. One might say that choices by such consumers may be influenced more heavily by interpersonal factors (Kim & Drolet 2003). For example, to maintain congruence with normatively held social values, collectivistic consumers may adjust their VS behavior according to situations. Hence, it is plausible to speculate that such consumers seek variety depending on the norm and other circumstantial influences. Markus & Kitayama (1991) also discussed the implications of a dominant interdependent self-construal of such individuals. The normative imperative for them is not so much of distinguishing separate entities but rather maintaining connections/interdependence among individuals.

To surmise, the first hypothesis is based on the premise that the tendency to seek variety is influenced by the salient I/C orientations. While a VS tendency can be attributed to a stronger internal disposition within individualistic consumers, it is not as clear-cut for collectivistic consumers. If VS is largely motivated by social distinctiveness, the VS behavior for a relatively more collectivistic individual may appear to be less pronounced as compared to an individualistic consumer.

H1: Individualistic consumers have generally higher VS tendencies than collectivistic consumers.

VS in Public versus Private

Switching behavior is also triggered by external circumstances (McAlister & Pessemier 1982). Here, Ratner and Kahn (2002) found that their subjects included more variety in public consumption decisions to elicit favorable impressions. Apparently, someone who chooses variety is perceived as exciting, fun, open-minded, and flexible than someone who does not. Hence, impression management goals can underlie VS. However, they also questioned the generalizability of their assumptions to other cultural samples.

Conceptually, if individualistic consumers strive for social distinctiveness, the act of making a varied choice offers a point of differentiation, especially when it is clearly visible to others. Although this suggests that individualistic consumers are somewhat extrinsically motivated, it is argued that the act is triggered by their internal attributes. Specifically, social comparison theory in a cross-cultural context speculates that a contrast effect is more prevalent for consumers with salient individual ("I") self-concepts (Sul, Martin & Wheeler 2002). Thus, a disposition to be different from others should motivate the inclusion of more variety in public than private. The need to be unique or distinctBclearly individualistic values may well explain some aspect of VS in public. Contrarily, collectivistic consumers appear to be heavily influenced by social/group norms (e.g., Hofstede 2001). Hence, they pay more attention to social contexts and appropriate interactions (Markus & Kitayama 1991; Miller 1984). At a cultural level, while the West values social distinctiveness, consumers in the East are likely to be geared towards affiliation, which generally leads to imitation tendencies. This emphasis of one’s connection with other people ("we") promotes assimilationBthe tendency to be similar with others (Sul, Martin & Wheeler 2002). Therefore, the observability of a situation also moderates the extent of VS in the East but may not necessarily be driven by similar motivations as in the West.

Ratner and Kahn (2002) also demonstrated that the VS tendency attenuated in private conditions. As such situations exclude the presence of others (which are probable sources of reflected appraisal) (Markus & Kitayama 1991), individualistic consumers have lesser need to assert their uniqueness. For collectivistic consumers, the extent of VS is intuitively, dependent on the appropriateness of the situation. For instance, if variety is sought to reflect a group’s taste, imitation tendency prevails when the consumption decision is more observable. On the other hand, if loyalty to a prominent brand or flavor is preferred by the majority, this could inhibit VS tendencies of collectivistic consumers in relatively more observable situations.

H2a: Individualistic consumers seek more variety in public than private

H2b: Collectivistic consumers have variety seeking tendencies that differ significantly in public and private

Self-Monitoring (Ability to Modify Self-presentation) and Need for Uniqueness

When VS is used as a mean for managing impressions, related personality attributes such as self-monitoring (SM) and need for uniqueness (NFU) can be utilized as indicators of impression management tendencies. SM theory postulates that there are differences in the extent to which people value, create, cultivate, and project social images and public appearances (Gangestad & Synder 2000). High Self Monitors (SM) are sensitive to social environments and thus, behave appropriately so as to impress. Meanwhile, low SM are true to their attitude and values across situations. Hence, high SM is conceptualized as a situational disposition and low SM, a consistent individual trait (Gangestad & Synder 2000). As high SM are more cautious of how they come across to others, they are probably affected by the social norms to greater extent than low SM. This proposition appears to coincide with cultural theories that highlight the tendency of collectivistic consumers to define themselves as parts or aspects of a group. Priority is usually accorded to group objectives over personal aims during conflicts of interest and thus, social behavior is better predicted from norms, perceived obligations and duties (Miller 1984). Theoretically, SM tendency should be associated more strongly with collectivistic than individualistic orientations. Consequently, how high or low SM behave in an eastern context may allow some inference on the general direction of VS behavior in a more collectivistic culture. This will be explored in the post-hoc analyses.

H3a: Self monitoring tendency is more strongly associated with collectivistic than individualistic orientations

In some single culture studies, uniqueness is cited as what underpins self-presentations for people who vary their choice decisions (e.g., Ariely & Levav 2000; Kim & Drolet 2003, and Simonson & Nowlis 2000). Ariely & Levav (2000) confirms that whenever unique choices are used as positive self-presentation cues, VS at a group level ensues. And whenever consumers are given opportunities to express reasons for their choices, the effect of appearing unique in choices emerges (Simonson & Nowlis 2000). This is reinforced by Kim & Drolet’s (2003) findings that uniquenessBa positive assumption in US, motivates only native but not Korean-born subjects, to vary their use of choice rules. As these observations were made in a predominantly western culture, it is difficult to conclude whether uniqueness has a similar effect on VS in the East. However, as social distinctiveness is inherently related to being unique, it is clear that it has a positive linkage with VS in the West. This thus leads to the conjecture that uniqueness, being an individualistic value is likely to be associated more strongly with individualistic than collectivistic orientations. As with H3a, the possible effect of uniqueness on VS in the East will be explored in the post-hoc analyses.

H3b: Uniqueness is more strongly correlated with individualistic than collectivistic orientations


The main objectives are to establish VS tendencies and compare VS for some common consumer products/services between two cultures. Secondly, VS differences in two consumption decision situations are explored. A 2 level between-subject (Observability: Public vs. Private) quasi-experimental design was adopted with a within-subject manipulation (Contexts: Hotel Reception and Grocery Shopping). Data was from one Singapore and US University with a total of 156 Asians (AS) and 107 North Americans (NA). All subjects were Business school undergraduates who participated for extra credit. For the Asian subjects, English is the medium of instruction and their official working language.

Students were randomly assigned to the conditions into sessions of 10-15. They had 30 minutes to complete the questionnaires. A booklet was prepared with a cover page to instruct the completion of all items and maintenance of confidentiality. The manipulated questionnaire consisted of the following: Triandis & Gelfand’s (1998) 16-item I/C scale, 3-item VS scale [The 3-items are "Compared to other product categories, I would switch between brands or flavors of ..."; "Compared to other product categories, I would be very cautious in switching between brands or flavors of ..."; "Compared to other product categories, I would enjoy taking chances in buying unfamiliar brands or flavors of ... just to get some variety in purchases" (reverse coded). The raw scores were combined to form a mean VS score for each product/service.] (adapted from Baumgartner & Steenkamp 1996) each for five products categories (soft drinks, ice-cream, restaurant, shampoo, and deodorant), a hotel vignette [Subjects were asked to either imagine responding to an interviewer (pubic) or coming up individually (private) with a list of dessert choices (chocolates or ice-cream) for an upcoming hotel reception. (Adapted from Ratner & Kahn=s (2002) Study 3 experimental design).], distraction tasks, a grocery shopping vignette [Subjects imagined either to be grocery shopping with a group of friends (pubic) or alone (private) for some snacks (ice-cream or chocolate).], a 7-item SM subscale (adapted from Lennox & Wolfe 1984), and 7-item Change Seeking Index (CSI) (Steenkamp and Baumgartner 1995). Each vignette was followed by a choice list of either five typical ice-cream (Vanilla, Rum Raisin, Mint, Strawberry, and Chocolate Chip) or chocolate flavors (Mint, Almond, White chocolate, Raisin, and Caramel). The order of the vignettes and products were counterbalanced to minimize response set bias. All IVs were measured on 5-point Likert scales.


Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) using Principal Component Analysis (PCA) with Varimax Rotation under SPSS 11.5 established the psychometric properties of the scales for both countries. Please see Table 1B3.

The overall alpha levels for I/C scales ranged from .66 - .73 for the NA group and .65 -.72 for the AS group in Study 1. The CSI (OSL) scale had alpha of .85 (NA) and .84 (AS) while the SM scale exhibited internal reliabilities of .83 and .86 for the NA and AS samples respectively.

I/C Orientations and VS Tendencies

Results indicate that the North Americans were significantly more individualistic than the Asians (NA: 3.73 vs. AS: 3.58, F=5.734, p<.05). Generally, North Americans have marginally higher overall VS tendencies than Asian subjects (NA: 3.44 vs. AS: 3.34, F=2.954, p<.09). At a categorical level, North Americans tend to seek more variety in restaurants (NA: 4.07 vs. AS: 3.79, F=9.814, p<.01) and shampoos (NA: 3.35 vs. AS: 2.80, F=21.920, p<.000). However, Asian subjects showed higher VS tendencies for ice cream (NA: 3.62 vs. AS: 3.85, F=3.957, p<.05). Here, there is partial support for H1.

Effects of Observability on VS Behavior

The main dependent measure used is based on the number of times a particular choice was different from any previous selection. Termed as Switch Scores (SW Scores), it reflected "choice patterning" in VS (Menon & Kahn 1995) where differences in the preceding choices were scored as 1 or more and accumulated. No VS (e.g. AAAAA) was scored as 0 while highest VS was seen in ABCDE, computed as 10 [i.e. 2nd choice is different from 1st=1; 3rd choice is different from 1st and 2nd choice=1+1; 4th choice is different from 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice=1+1+1 and 5th choice is different from all previous choices=1+1+1+1.]. A manipulation check determined if the observability (Public/ Private) and situational contexts (Hotel/Grocery Shopping) were effective. In the NA sample, both the situational context (F=12.321, p=.001) and observability conditions (F=10.637, p=.001) were influential but only context was significant for the AS sample (F=14.107, p=.000).

For H2a and H2b, a MANOVA test found interaction effects (OBS*CTY) in both vignettes. In the grocery shopping context, the NA sample had more variety in public than private (F=4.327, p<.05). Similarly, Asians sought more variety in the public conditions (F=3.386, p<.07). In the hotel vignette, North Americans continued to choose more variety in public than private (F=4.327, p<.05). However, Asian subjects had greater patterning tendencies in their choices in private than public conditions (F=4.327, p<.05).

Self-Monitoring (Ability to Modify Self-Presentation)

At a cultural level, NA subjects have significantly higher SM tendencies than AS subjects (NA: 3.43 vs. AS: 2.97, F=26.33, p=.000). From the correlation analysis, SM is correlated with both individualistic (r IND=.324, p=.001) and collectivistic(r COL=.231, p<.05) values for the NA sample. However, for the AS sample, it was not significant for either orientation (p=.444 & .118). H3a is not supported in either case.


Although it is arguable that the absolute difference for VS in products is not entirely meaningful, the findings offer some evidence of cultural dissimilarity. A relatively higher OSL disposition in part is related to greater VS for the western subjects. This provides some indirect support for H1. On hindsight, in the West, restaurant dining is perhaps a more widespread phenomena and less casual than in the East. Consumers are more likely to switch given the wider number of choices available. As personal care products are more utilitarian in nature, Asian subjects may be more resistant to switch and prefer to stick to tried and tested items. For ice-cream, the greater VS tendency by Asians could be attributed to the inherent environmental conditions. In tropical climates where ice-cream is frequently consumed to quell the heat, the tendency to seek variety is intuitively higher than in a temperate environment. The findings also indicated that individualistic North Americans exhibit more invariability in VS than Asians, even in different contexts. They consistently sought more variety in public than private. Hence, VS tendency appears to be more robust in the West (support for H2a) but is less predictable in the East. As hypothesized, the appropriateness of contexts used may have affected the Asian subjects. Specifically, the slightly lower means from Asian respondents in the public version of the hotel vignette may have some impression management undertones. The presence of an interviewer could have led subjects to list their choices to come across as perhaps more rational and consistent. On the other hand, it is also conceivable that the use of this context had confounded results. For instance, the private condition may not have been as "private" as previously thought. The subjects could have imagined that the social event was also going to be attended by others. Thus, the lack of consistency from both vignettes highlight possible manipulation weaknesses. Nevertheless, there is still partial support for H2b as VS tendencies were significantly different in private and public in both vignettes. The correlation results also showed that SM is positively related to I/C orientations. However, the relationship was stronger for individualistic than collectivistic orientations in the NA sample thus refuting H3a. In the second study, the limitations in Study 1 were addressed with more carefully worded vignettes. Additionally, uniqueness in a product context is also used to understand its associative relationship with I/C orientations.










The objectives are to replicate the earlier manipulations and to explore the effects of uniqueness in a product context (i.e. Desire for Unique Consumer Product). Impressions of a variety seeker were also probed. A 2 level between-subject (Observability: Public vs. Private) quasi-experimental design with a within-subject manipulation (Contexts: Vending Machine/ Grocery Shopping) was used again. 170 second-year Asian undergraduates (AS) from a Singapore university participated for credits. Another 127 North American (NA) undergraduates from two US universities were also recruited. They were either paid or granted credits for their efforts.

Students were randomly assigned to either condition conducted in the same venue. Those in the public condition participated in sessions of 20-30 where they sat next to one another. They were instructed to double-check their neighbor’s scripts upon completion on the pretext of minimizing missing data. The experimenter walked around subjects to create the feeling of being observed. Subjects in the private condition participated in smaller sessions of 10 -15. They sat apart, isolated from one another, remained silent and were only allowed to query the experimenter. They also checked their scripts on their own. The experimenter remained as unobtrusive as possible. All subjects completed a booklet comprising two vignettes. The vending machine vignette [Subjects were asked to imagine that they were attending a seminar and wanted to grab a quick snack from a nearby chocolate vending machine. A pack of five miniature chocolates of their choice cost $1. The vignettes were similarly worded except in private condition, the seminar was exclusive, subject was alone and one of the first to arrive. In the other condition, the seminar was public; subject was with friends and arrived just in time with rest of attendees.] had five typical chocolate flavors (caramel, mint, toffee, dairy milk and almond) and the grocery shopping vignette [Subjects were asked to imagine browsing in a supermarket. A one time promotional offer of five ice-creams for $3 was on and they were told that they considered having an ice-cream daily for the next 5 days. In the private condition, subjects were shopping alone on a quiet weekday afternoon and walking down a clear aisle. In the public condition, they were shopping with friends on a busy weekend afternoon and walking down a congested aisle.] had five typical ice-cream flavors (Banana, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and coffee). Subjects then rated their perception of the situations (Manipulation Check: Quiet/Busy; Public/ Private; Uncrowded/Crowded) on 7-point scales. They also indicated if they had consumed the products before and if any of the flavors were their favorites. This was followed by a rating of their impression of someone who is a high variety seeker on eight evaluative scales [The eight adjectives: favorable/unfavorable; bad/good; not interesting/interesting; rational/irrational; innovative/not innovative; not creative/creative; risk seeking/not risk seeking and not sensible/sensible were rated on 7-point scales.] (adapted from Ratner & Kahn 2002). The order of the vignettes was counterbalanced to minimize response set bias. Finally, they completed randomized items: I/C scale (Triandis & Gelfand 1998) and 8-item Desire for Unique Consumer Product (DUCP) scale (Lynn & Harris 1997). Other IVs such as SM and CSI were collected earlier during a mass registration exercise for Singapore. In US, subjects completed a randomized version of all items.


Tables 1-3 show the EFA results for Study 2. The internal reliability for I/C scale ranged from .65-.72 for AS and .57-.67 for NA. As for the CSI scale, alpha was .41 (NA) and .86 (AS). For the SM subscale, the internal reliabilities were .77 (NA) and .81 (AS). Finally, for DUCP, two latent factors were found for the AS sample (a=.50). In the NA sample, a three factor structure was detected (a=.74).

I/C Orientations and VS Tendency

Generally, the results did not find AS subjects to be significantly less individualistic or more collectivistic than their NA counterpart. However, AS subjects were found to be higher in the vertical components of I/C (p<.05B.06), while NA were significantly higher in the horizontal dimensions (p<.00B.05). Using OSL as a proxy for VS tendency, NA subjects have higher VS tendencies than AS subjects (NA: 3.63 vs. AS: 3.13, F=31.66, p=.000).



Effect of Observability on VS Behavior

Manipulation checks for both samples showed that subjects in the public conditions perceived both vignettes to be busier than those in the private conditions [Manipulation check results available upon request.] with the exception of perceived crowdedness (Vending Machine) for the NA sample. In testing H2a & H2b [The MANOVA test was ran with demographic variables and liking/favorite ratings of products as covariates.], the main effect (CTY, p<.05) and interaction effect (OBS*CTY, p=.05) were significant only for the grocery shopping vignette. NA subjects had higher VS behavior in private than public conditions. However, these findings refute H2a, which was hypothesized in a different direction. In the AS sample, there was support for H2b as the subjects sought significantly more variety in public than private. In the case of the vending machine vignette, only a main CTY effect was detected (p<.05).

SM (Ability to Modify Self-Presentation) and DUCP

SM was found to be positively related to collectivistic (r =.231, p<.001), but not individualistic (p=.156) orientations for AS= subjects. This renders partial support to H3a. For NA subjects, SM is more strongly correlated with individualistic (r=.273, p<.01) than collectivistic (r=.203, p<.05) values. Results also revealed that DUCP is associated only with individualistic (r=.397, p=.000 and r=.248, p=.001) but not collectivistic (p=.770 and p=.121) orientations for both samples. Hence, H3b is accepted.

Post-hoc Findings (Effects of SM and DUCP on VS)

Previous studies (e.g., Ratner & Kahn 2002; Simonson & Nowlis 2000) showed that western subjects managed self-presentations in order to distinguish themselves from others. One motivation to do so was to showcase one’s uniqueness. Is this assumption applicable in the East? Secondly, if a high SM has a greater tendency to manage impressions, is it similarly underpinned by the need to come across as unique (as proxy by DUCP)? Using OBS, SM & DUCP as IVs and SW scores as the DV, a main effect of SM (F=7.976, p<.01), and interaction effects between OBS*SM (F=3.098, p<.09), OBS*DUCP (F=3.648, p<.06) and SM*DUCP (F=5.754, p<.05) were found.

Hence, further tests were run with the AS dataset to determine if uniqueness (proxy by DUCP) had any influence on the VS behaviors of high and low SM. The AS sample was split into high and low DUCP groups [High DUCP Group (High SM: 3.88 vs. Low SM: 3.10, F=104.604, p=.000; Low DUCP Group (High SM: 3.82 vs. Low SM: 3.00, F=192.682, p=.000)]. Each group was then tested for any main and interactive effects of OBS and SM. Results show that within the low DUCP group, the main SM and interactive effects were present. Low SM had sought more variety than high SM across observability conditions (Hi SM: 7.46 vs. Lo SM: 8.93, F=9.109, p<.01). Furthermore, both high and low SM subjects had higher means in public than private conditions (Pub/Hi SM: 8.53 vs. Pte/Hi SM: 6.55; Pub/Lo SM: 9.05; vs. Pte/Lo SM: 8.86, F=4.633, p<. 05), suggesting impression management tendencies. The same test was repeated in the high DUCP group but neither the main (p=.556- .766) nor interaction terms (p=.782) were significant. Logically, if self-monitoring tendencies in the East are also underpinned by a need for uniqueness, there should be a systematic finding in both groups. Thus, these post-hoc findings results provide some insight that impression management in the East may not be similarly motivated by the desire to appear unique or to be socially distinct.


When OSL is used as a proxy for VS tendency, NA subjects had higher scores than their AS counterparts. This finding provides some indirect support for H1. Results also revealed that AS subjects incorporated more variety when they do grocery shopping in public conditions. However, it was the opposite for NA subjects. When the NA data was examined closely, private condition subjects’ VS means were significantly related to favorable, good and sensible. However, only rational and creative were related to VS for those in public conditions. For the Asians, only favorable and sensible were significant. On hindsight, as the grocery shopping vignette had a promotional element, choosing more flavors appears to be more sensible than choosing only one’s favorite. Secondly, VS in public may have also been influenced by subjects’ thoughts on how much variety their friends might have chosen. Ratner & Kahn (2002) found that their subjects had thought that a typical person would choose greater number of different appetizers. If a similar effect is in place in the East, VS may be driven by this expectation of others seeking variety. Thus, a desire to keep up with the group implies imitation tendencies. The findings also indicated that self-monitoring is significantly related to only collectivistic orientation (H3a) for the AS sample. This reinforces Miller’s discussion (1984) that collectivistics tend to be more attentive to situation than individualistics in judgment of others and are more aware of appropriate behavior in different situations. The results also support H3b that DUCP is associated with only individualistic orientations. At the same time, post-hoc analyses yielded preliminary evidence that SM may be moderating VS differently in the East (i.e. Negative effect of SM on VS). A review of cultural literature (Hofstede 2001) suggests the possible influence of Confucian dynamism on Eastern societies dominated by Chinese populations. These societies tend to differ in their approaches in life from western societies. The virtue of thrift, hard work and moderation are more prevalent and such values are also broadly held. Hence, high SM may be unconsciously "tweaking" their choices in more observable situations to reflect "moderation". Another interesting post-hoc finding is that this self-monitoring tendency is significant only in subjects with low DUCP. Therefore, while both high/low SM sought more variety in public than private situations, and appear to be driven by impression management intents, the desire to come across as unique may not be underpinning self-presentation goals in an Asian culture.


When OSL is used a proxy for VS tendency, NA subjects had consistently higher VS dispositions than AS subjects. While the Study 1 showed that western subjects were more consistent in their VS tendencies, eastern subjects were less lucid. For example, the manipulation checks indicated that the AS subjects did not seem to differentiate between observability conditions and context unlike NA subjects. This observation may be explained by the tendency of eastern subjects to adopt holistic perspectives of situations. The assumption is in line with the notion that eastern consumers tend to learn from young that circumstances have a bearing upon what is appropriate or not (Wen 2003. Despite criticisms that the vignettes were rather contrived scenarios, significant differences were still found among subjects. Methodologically, vignettes provide an enriching alternative to measure VS compared to previous studies (e.g. Kim & Drolet 2003; Ratner & Kahn 2002). Hence, when taken altogether, these undertakings shed further insight on VS in an eastern context. Study 2 also buttressed the notion that self-monitoring tendency in the East is more positively correlated with collectivistic than individualistic tendencies. Plausibly, adherence to social norm and preferences of majority has far more reaching influences for collectivistic individuals. Meanwhile, this trait was consistently correlated more positively with individualistic than collectivistic orientations for both NA samples. So although H3a may not be fully supported, the findings appear to be nomologically valid. Theoretically, the self-monitoring tendency in the West should be related to a greater extent, to a dominant independent self-concept. In another Singapore-based study (Chew, Poh & Zhuo 2004), which used the mall-intercept survey technique, the researchers found that high SM had lower VS tendencies than low SM. They propounded that such consumers may have different self-presentation intentions such appearing more sophisticated or savvy, unlike previous US-based studies. This appear to coincide with Study 2’s finding that impression management also seemed to guide the VS behavior of eastern subjects, but may be a consequence of other underlying motives apart from the need to assert uniqueness.


In retrospect, several limitations are acknowledged in this paper. Firstly, as with most cross-cultural studies, there are concerns with measurement and scalar equivalences especially when the analyses were conducted at an inter-country level. Although factor structures were assessed using EFA, the use of confirmatory factor analysis will further strengthen the inferences made. Hence, the inter-country comparisons drawn are somewhat limited. Another constraint is that some of the inferences made were correlation instead of causal. Thirdly, the unexpected finding in the NA sample (Study 2) also limited the extent of inference with regard to the influence of I/C and obervability conditions on VS cross-culturally. It also highlights difficulty in replicating previous findings in such cross-border efforts. Future research endeavors should replicate the key findings in different product categories (e.g., services, non-food products) using more realistic consumption decisions experiments. Additional data from more homogenous eastern cultures such as Japan, South Korea or Thailand where cultural differences may be starker, will help to enhance the generalizability of inferences made. Finally, it could be potentially fruitful to collect data using qualitative techniques such as focus groups, projective tools, and content analyses to unearth pertinent underlying VS motives in different cultures.


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Nur Halimah Chew Abdullah, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Bharadhwaj Sivakumaran, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2005

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