Barbara J. Deering and Jacob Jacoby (1971) ,"", in SV - Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, eds. David M. Gardner, College Park, MD : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 135-142.

Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 1971     Pages 135-142


Barbara J. Deering, Purdue University

Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University

Results of survey research indicate that different family members play different roles in purchasing decisions and that this varies considerably across products (Komarovsky, 1961; Sharp & Mott, 1956; Wolgast, 1958). Yet, beyond simple descriptive statements (e.g., "husbands have a greater tendency to be involved in purchasing if the product is high priced and complex," [Engel, Kollat, & Blackwell, 1968, p. 4723), little is known regarding the dynamics underlying such decisions.

Some theorists tend to attribute an individual's influence in certain family decisions to his participation in activities outside the home. For example, Blood (1963) considers social status, educational level, organizational membership, occupational level, and income as "resources" which a person contributes to the family. The more a family member contributes, the greater is his relative influence in family economic decisions.

Others emphasize the availability of interpersonal relationships outside the existent family group as the major determinant of intra-family influence. According to Heer (1963), the person with the most attractive alternatives to the family relationship possesses the greatest influence in decisions. This formulation is similar to Waller and Hill's principle of least interest (1951) and Thibaut and Kelley's comparison level for alternatives (1959). According to these viewpoints, an individual in an interpersonal relationship tends to become independent and exploitive as the attractiveness of the best available alternative increases.

Studies relevant to these two theories (Blood & Wolfe, 1960; Wolfe, 1958) have utilized questionnaire measures of relative influence in household decisions. These studies are inconclusive in several ways. First, alternative relationships are never measured, either in terms of the individual's perception of alternatives or in terms of more objective criteria. If the possibility of terminating a family relationship becomes more feasible with increased relative resources, then the results are capable of supporting either theoretical viewpoint. Second, it is possible that the two factors interact and, when combined, facilitate greater influence than either factor alone. An experimental paradigm in which resources and relationships are effectively manipulated is needed to compare the relative efficacy of the factors.

Most research on family economic decisions has also been limited by focusing exclusively on husband-wife interaction (e.g., Golt & Slater, 1958; Heer, 1963; Wolgast, 1958). Even when children estimate parental power in family decisions (Hoffman, 1960; Straus, 1962), the child's role is usually omitted from presentation of data ant discussion or excluded entirely from measurement.

However, studies of purchase behavior suggest that youngsters who are dependent on parental income still influence parental buying decisions. Wells and LoSciuto (1966) observed parents with youngsters in supermarkets. Approximately 602 of the children attempted to persuade their parents to buy a particular brand of cereal, candy, or detergent, and 30% succeeded. Housewives in a Chicago survey reported usually keeping their children's choices in mind as they shopped (Coulson, 1966). More than half of the children between seven and nine years of age interviewed by McNeal (1969) said that their parents asked them about purchases beforehand.

If economic decisions between an adult and child are incorporated in an experimental format, the limitations noted in previous research can be surmounted. Accordingly, 24 mother-child pairs participated in an experiment to test the following hypotheses: (1) when consumer problems are considered by an adult and child, the child plays a substantial role in determining the outcomes; (2) an individual's influence on economic decisions increases with the resources which he can contribute from outside the interpersonal relationship of the decision-makers; (3) an individual 1 6 influence on economic decisions is greater when an alternative decision-making relationship is available to him; (4) an individual's relative contribution of resources and the availability of an alternative relationship will interact to determine his relative influence in economic decisions.



Twenty-four children in the fourth grade of schools in West Lafayette, Indiana, participated, each with his own mother. The mothers received a letter asking for their cooperation in a study of buying decisions. Each subject was offered $1.50 for participating, and each mother-child pair was offered the chance to receive some small consumer good as a prize.

The sample constituted the respondents to an initial mailing of 80 letters. Generalization of results to other mothers and their fourth-grade children must be limited by both the voluntary participation and small number of subjects.


Each mother and child responded independently to a 15-item questionnaire about buying decisions. Each item required the subject to provide three (brand, style, or type) preferences, e.g., "If you had the money, what kind of breakfast cereal would you most like to buy? What is your second choice? Third choice?" The mother read and responded to her own questionnaire while a female interviewer read the questionnaire to the child, recording his answers. The pair was then randomly assigned to one of eight cells (four levels of relative resources X two levels of alternative relationships, as described below), after which each pair was asked to provide joint answers to the same questions.

First, incentive was established by informing each subject that one of the 15 product sets was to be selected by chance, and one of the three responses on the Joint list would actually be given to the pair. The highest ranked of the three responses had the greatest probability of being selected as the gift, while the third-ranked response had the lowest likelihood of being given away. This served to generate intradyad discussion ant negotiations for ranking the three responses to each of the 15 items on the joint list task. Mother and child were each given "chips" in varying amounts (see below), and the member of the pair forfeiting the greater number of non-refundable "chips' for a product set determined the final joint decision rankings.

The experimenter gave the mother an instruction sheet regarding the remainder of the experiment and returned to the child, where she verbally instructed the child. The printed instructions for the mother were as follows:

(In chip conditions): "During the joint decision, you and your child will have some colored poker chips. You will have more, fewer, or the same number of chips as your child. This will be determined by chance selection. With the chips, you can buy a space on an answer list, if you want to. You simply say that you want to place your choice in an answer space. Then tell how many chips you are willing to give to the interviewer to get that space. The interviewer has no chips. The person--you or your child--who puts out the most chips gets to put his choice in an answer place. Once you have put out some chips, you lose these chips. This is true whether you succeed in buying a space or not. No chips are replaced once they are lost. You do not have to use the chips at all."

(In stooge conditions): "You or your child will have the opportunity to make some joint decisions with another interviewer later. The person who is selected will be able to go through again, with the other interviewer, any joint decisions that he chooses. Any decision reached with the other interviewer will become the decision that is used in awarding the prizes. The other interviewer cannot keep any prizes, however."

When the child hat indicated that he understood the experimental condition, the mother and child were brought together for their joint decision-making task. The interviewer recorded the responses of each pair of subjects; her comments were restricted to answering questions about procedures.

At the completion of the questionnaire, children were asked if they wanted to re-answer some questions with the other interviewer (l.e., the stooge). The interviewer then stated that the experiment was completed and, when necessary, that no activity with another interviewer would occur. Subjects were asked for their interpretations of the experiment. The necessity of the deception was pointed out within the theoretical context of the experiment. A number was drawn to determine the prize for the pair, and both subjects were paid.


Four levels of relative resources were represented by the relative number of chips which the child possessed. The child possessed 20 chips to the mother's 10 (20:10) in the High condition, 10:20 in the Low condition, 10:10 in the Equal condition, and none (0:0) in the No ChiD or Control condition

There were two levels of alternative relationships. Another interviewer was described as being available to the child for joint decisions (Stooge condition) or went unmentioned (No Stooge condition).


Influence scores were based on a comparison of joint responses to responses made by each subject separately on each of the individual questionnaires. The item given as a joint answer was matched, if possible, to the item on each of the individual questionnaires. The pair member who ranked that item highest on his individual questionnaire received the influence score, i.e., credit for having been the influencing agent. The difference between the two individual rankings of the item was determined to be one, two, or three (when one person did not rank that item at all). This number was multiplied by a weight of one, two, or three to determine the influence score for the answer. Each question had three answer spaces for first, second, and third-ranked choices. Any joint answer in the first space received a weight of three, in the second place a weight of two, and in the third space a weight of one. The highest attainable score on any one answer was nine, representing both a match between the joint answer and that subject's individual answer and a large difference between the subject's and the other pair member's ranking of that answer on their individual questionnaires.

Two zero scores were also used. If the joint response occurred on neither individual questionnaire, both persons received a score of ON (no score-neither). If the joint answer occurred on both individual questionnaires in the same ranked position, both individuals received a score of OB (no score-both).

The sum of the person's scores across all 15 product sets was his absolute influence score. Several ratios of absolute scores were used to analyze the results.


Manipulation Checks

Following the completion of the joint questionnaire, six of the 13 children in the Stooge condition indicated that they would like to make at least one decision with the other interviewer. The seven negative responses were preceded, in four reported instances, by the mother's comments about the necessity for leaving. The pretext for leaving was highly plausible. Consequently, the manipulation check may inaccurately reflect the effect of the Stooge manipulation during the joint task.

Each interviewer took the time necessary to assure that the child could bargain with the chips. No interviewer encountered a child who did not understand how to use the chips following instructions. Although instructions emphasized that chips did not have to be used, four subject pairs did, in fact, use their chips. None used all the chips.

Child's Relative Influence

For the entire sample, the mean relative influence score of the children, CT/JT, was .4596 (s.d. s .1219). Children contributed almost half of the joint total for the absolute influence scores. For one-third of the children, the ratio of the child's and mother's absolute scores exceeded one; these children influenced joint responses more than did their mothers. In other words, children contributed substantially to the decision outcomes.

Several distinctive demographic characteristics of the sample prevent generalizing to other pairs of mothers and children. With one exception, all mothers contributed nothing to the family income. All were parents of at least two children; the mean number of children was four. Most of the mothers had attended college and most were members of organizations outside the home. Less influence would be expected for a group which was less well educated and less involved in organizations than the experimental sample.

Experimental Effects on Relative Influence

Influence scores were submitted to an analysis of variance for unequal cell sizes (Scheffe, 1949). Table 1 summarizes the results obtained with CT/JT as the dependent variable.



The stooge manipulations had no significant effects The effects of the chip manipulation and the interaction effects were significant (p < 10) The influence ratio was lowest for the Low-chip condition, increased in the Equal condition, and increased again in the High condition

A separate analysis using the Joint total influence scores as the dependent variable indicated that the child's influence increased absolutely as well as relatively The manipulations did not significantly affect the joint total

Table 2 indicates that the mother's total absolute influence score was affected (p < 10) by the chip factor ant marginally affected by interaction between the chips and the Stooge condition The mother's total is lowest in the High and Control conditions, intermediate in the Equal condition, and highest in the Low condition Part of the effect of the chip conditions on the child's relative influence is attributable to variation in the mother's influence



Although the child's relative influence did not vary with the stooge manipulations, both the child's and mother's absolute influence for the second group of questions was marginally increased (p < 25) by the availability of the "other interviewer " Because similar change occurred for both individuals, the CT/JT ratio remained unaffected

Presence of the stooge also markedly decreased the number of OB compromises In an OB compromise, the joint decision represents two identically ranked initial choices. In Table 3, the dependent variable is the number of OB compromises in the second group of questions. The stooge significantly lowered mean OB (p < .025), from 5.5 per mother-child pair to 3.6 per pair when the stooge was available.



Prerequisite for an OB compromise was common use of a brand name by the mother and child on their initial questionnaires. Fewer OB decisions occurred in the Stooge condition even though initial brand agreement was greater for pairs in the No Stooge condition. Mean agreement per pair in the No Stooge condition was 9.1 compared to 7.3 for the Stooge manipulation.

The number of compromises which included no initial choices by participants (ON) did not vary with experimental conditions. Consequently, the noted reduction of OB decisions was accounted for entirely by increased absolute influence for both mother and child.

In summary, results for the entire sample indicated that the children contributed almost as much to the decision as did the mother. In one-third of the cases, they influenced the joint rankings more than their mothers did. Available alternatives marginally affected the child's influence on certain questions and significantly (p < .025) lowered the number of compromises in which both participants agreed. Both the effect of relative resources and the interaction effects were significant (p < .10) in the expected direction.


Experimental results were in the predicted direction--with the exception of the Control condition discussed below. Chip manipulations seemed to be the stronger factor, perhaps because of the visibility of chips during joint decisions. Stooge manipulations were relatively ineffective. Despite the attempt to make her appear compliant, the absentee "other interviewer" probably remained an unappealing entity to the children.

An unexpected finding was that effects of the Stooge condition were confined to the second group of joint decisions. This group of questions apparently encouraged the child to consider using the stooge, who represented a stronger denial of the mother's influence than did the use of the chips. Many product choices for the later questions (Questions 8-22) were designated with precise brand names on the individual questionnaires. With the shift from the first to this second group of questions, the mean use of brand names on first-ranked choices increased from .91 to 6.14 for the children and from .46 to 9.40 for mothers. The child was arguing, then, for specific products about which he often possessed at least the information of a brand name. In addition, products in the second group were more likely to be won (only two of the first seven questions were part of the drawing for prizes, compared to 12 of the final 15 questions), and this fact was known to the subjects. Thus, greater enthusiasm and desire would be expected for the children for these final questions. They would also be expected to more willingly risk displeasing their mothers by selecting the stooge as a partner. On such a basis, the greater effectiveness of the stooge in the second group of questions is understandable.

Another unexpected finding was that the child's relative influence was greater in the Control condition than in any other chip manipulation. Possibly chips increased the complexity of the experimental task, confusing the child and lowering his effectiveness. (However, the interviewers reported complete understanding of chip usage by children.) Conversely, the mother's effectiveness may have increased when chips were present. In fact, chip conditions significantly affected the mother's total absolute influence.

If lower CT/JT within Control conditions depends largely on changes in the mother's absolute influence, one must speculate about the generality of the phenomenon. A mother may readily understand experimental procedures. But her greater contribution in determining the child's relative influence may also replicate her role in unobserved family situations. Developmental changes in relative influence may depend more on the mother's, rather than the child's, tendencies to relinquish, acquire, and retain influence.

As explanation for relative influence among family members, the concepts of relative resources and alternative relationships are flawed. If placed on the same objective scale of resources and relationships as their parents, children would justify little relative influence. There would also be no way to account for the difference in relative influence between two children who share the same displacement from their parents on such a scale. A theory of intrafamilial influence must emphasize resources and relationships as perceived by family members. A single decisive relationship, as in the experiment, may not exist for a child. But other relationships may, to the family, appear to offer differing degrees of emotional support and potential material support for the child.

Reviews of the literature--a cursory one by the present authors as well as a more comprehensive one by Sheth (1970)--reveal not a single experimental study devoted to examining the factors involved in family decision making related to consumer behavior. Perhaps, then, the most noteworthy aspect of the current investigation is not the marginally significant results obtained, but that it provides the first example of how experimentation can be utilized to investigate these factors.


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Barbara J. Deering, Purdue University
Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University


SV - Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research | 1971

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