Assessing Consumer Behavior Differences in a Cross-Cultural Context: a Historical Perspective

ABSTRACT - Four cross-cultural consumer behavior constructs, namely individual modernity, innovativeness, novelty seeking and variety seeking are examined in terms of their meaning and measurement. The relationship among these constructs are explored and several conceptual issues for future research are cited.


Abdolreza Eshghi (1985) ,"Assessing Consumer Behavior Differences in a Cross-Cultural Context: a Historical Perspective", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 117-124.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 117-124


Abdolreza Eshghi, Illinois State University


Four cross-cultural consumer behavior constructs, namely individual modernity, innovativeness, novelty seeking and variety seeking are examined in terms of their meaning and measurement. The relationship among these constructs are explored and several conceptual issues for future research are cited.


Interest in cross-cultural consumer research is growing rapidly. In a relatively short period of time an increasing number of studies have been conducted focusing on differences/similarities of consumers across cultural boundaries. The depth as well as the breadth of research in this area is very encouraging. Given the importance of investigating consumer behavior in a cross-cultural context, it is surprising that there is no systematic assessment of the constructs and methodologies used to study consumer behavior differences cross-culturally.

The purpose of this paper is to (1) provide a brief historical background concerning the evolution of cross-cultural consumer behavior research, (2) identify constructs from the behavioral science discipline most relevant for the study of consumers across cultures, and (3) offer suggestions for future research.


The first marketing author to recognize cultural differences was George Mateyo (1942). in an article focusing on market research problems and availability of market data in Latin American countries, Mateyo noted (p.12):

"Many observers hint that the Latin American temperament precludes the use of personal interview technique either when applied on-the-street or in-the-home."

Nevertheless, the level of interest in foreign marketing, in general, and cross-cultural studies, in particular, remained very low during the 1940s. Other published studies during this period primarily dealt with the institutional aspect of marketing in other countries and made very little reference, if any, to consumers (for example see Beattie 1945, Schneider 1948, and Waterhouse 1948).

The interest in foreign markets began to grow in the 1950s as evidenced by two events. The 1957 Boston Conference on distribution placed heavy emphasis on papers dealing with foreign marketing and the June, 1958 conference of the American Marketing Association had a strong international flavor (Buell 1958). Nevertheless, studies of the 1950s continued to focus on the institutional characteristics of foreign market rather than on consumer behavior differences.

The nature of published articles in the 1960s did not change to any great extent from the reported studies of .the 1950s. Titles such as "Marketing in and "The Marketing Structure in it were considerably more frequent (see for example, Westfall & Boyd 1960; Stewart 1961; Goldman 1960; Robinson 1961). Toward the end of the 1960s, articles dealing with cultural differences began to appear in marketing journals. Notable among these are Thorelli (1968); Bartels (1960); Furuhashi & Evart (1967) and Fatt (1967). In general, the studies of the 1960s can be characterized as descriptive and non-empirical.

During the 1970s, the number of cross-cultural analytical studies increased dramatically. Consumer differences were studied from a variety of perspectives using numerous concepts and theories. Some examples include perception of foreign products and perceived risk (Baumgartner & Jolibert 1978), life style (Vickers & Benson 1972; Linton & Broadbent 1975; Urban 1976; Douglas 1976, information search (Swagler 1977, Engledow, Thorelli & Becker 1975), perceived image of consumers of a specific product (Green, Cunningham and Cunningham 1973), time spent on shopping and other activities (Haws, Gronmo and Arndt 1978), husband and wife role (Hempel 1972), search behavior and the size of evoked set (Maddox, Gronhaug, Homans and May 1978), personal values (Munson & McIntyre 1978), and cultural determinants of consumption (Henry 1976).

Cross-cultural studies of the 1980s have included: choice of preventive health care (Alexander & McCullough 1980), the methodology of-crossnational research, (Wallendorf & Reilly 1983; Douglas 1980; Davis, Douglas & Silk 1981; Andreason and Manning 1980), effects of prior product/ brand experience on the information seeking behavior, (Arndt, Gronhaug, Homans, Maddox, and May 1981; Kiel & Layton 1981), variety seeking behavior (Faison 1980), cognitive structure (Hirschman 1983), gift-giving practices (Jolibert and Fernandez 1983), consumption patterns (Reilly and Wallendorf 1984), fashion involvement (Tigert, King & Ring 1980), brand and store loyalty (Keng & Ehrenberg 1984), effects of culture on consumption patterns (Schaninger, Bourgeois & Buss 1985), consumer acquisition patterns .(Clarke & Soutar 1982), family purchasing behavior (Green, et al. 1983), consumer stereotypes (Douglas 1976), and cultural assimilations and consumption patterns (Wallendorf & Reilly 1983).

Despite the incompleteness of the list of studies reported here, the variety of topics examined to assess cross-cultural differences is impressive. Also note the emphasis on methodological concerns of cross-cultural research.

While reviewing these cross-cultural studies in detail is beyond the scope of this paper, a selected number of constructs that seem to be most relevant to the study of cons-umer behavior in cross-cultural context is examined in greater detail. These include: innovativeness, individual modernity, novelty seeking, and variety seeking.


There is little doubt that both the theory of the diffusion of innovations and the construct of innovativeness are well established in the literature of marketing and consumer behavior. In 1981, marketing ranked fourth among all disciplines in its contribution to diffusion research (Rogers 1983). For the purpose of this paper, a brief overview of innovativeness is given.

Rogers and Shoemaker (1971) define innovativeness as "the degree to which an individual is relatively earlier in adopting an innovation than other members of his system." They further note that "by relatively earlier is meant earlier in terms of actual time of adoption, rather than whether the individual perceives he adopted the innovation relatively earlier than others in his system." It is fairly obvious that Rogers and Shoemaker's definition implies a temporal dimension which leads to "relative time of adoption" as the operational definition of innovativeness.

From a methodological standpoint, the use of temporal dimension to measure innovativeness has been criticized because it is rather difficult to determine precisely when an innovation was introduced into the social system (Hirschman 1980). Nevertheless, a conceptual strength of the definition is its "dependence on the notion that an innovation is an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by the individual" (Hirschman 1980).

Recently, Midgley and Dowling (1978), offered another conceptualization of the concept that suggests innovativeness is "the degree to which an individual is receptive to new ideas and makes innovation decisions independently of the communicated experience of others." Furthermore, Midgley and Dowling view innovativeness as a personality trait possessed to a greater or lesser extent by all individual members of a society.

Like many other social science constructs, innovativeness is conceptualized and measured as a single construct, but it is, in reality, a multidimensional phenomena. Many studies within the marketing tradition have identified several other constructs that are positively related to innovativeness (Robertson 1971). These include receptiveness to new products and ideas, risk taking, cosmopoliteness, opinion leadership, social mobility, social participation, other-directedness, receptiveness to change, personal efficacy, and self confidence (Robertson 1971; Rogers 1983).

A review of the literature by Rogers (1976) reveals that innovativeness as a construct is particularly relevant for cross-cultural investigations. This is because innovativeness is thought to be the individual-level equivalent of the multifaceted phenomena of societal modernization (Rogers 1969).

Measurement of Innovativeness

There are essentially four measures of innovativeness which have been developed to identify innovators: rating by judges or sociometric method, self designated measures, longitudinal measures, and cross-sectional measures (Robertson 1971). But, in a comprehensive review of the literature, Midgley and Dowling (1978) found that, by and large, consumer researchers have relied on two main approaches to measure innovativeness, namely, the longitudinal and cross-sectional. The longitudinal approach is based on a variant of the "relative time of adoption." For example, those individuals who constitute the first X percent of a given market will be classified as innovators. In a cross-sectional method "ownership of new products" is used as the basis to identify innovators. This technique focuses on determining how many items are purchased within a consumption category rather than time of adoption (Robertson 1971).


A survey of the literature indicates that concepts of "modernization" and "modernity" have been used interchange-ably. Therefore, it is important, at the outset, to make a distinction between the two terms.

"Modernization," as defined by Gough (1977) is a term used to summarize the changes that take place in technology, modes of communication, normative sanctions, economic processes, and world view as a society moves from a less to more industrialized status, and from a lower higher level of material well-being. Viewed this way, modernization refers to a process, whereas "modernity" is the mentality, the state of mind individual members of the society acquire as the process of modernization gets underway.

Smith and Inkeles (1966, p. 353) proposed a definition of modernity, which provides a more detailed view of the concept:

... modern means a national state characterized by a complex of traits including urbanization, high level of education, industrialization, extensive mechanization, high rates of social mobility and the like. When applied to individuals, it refers to a set of attitudes and ways of feeling and acting, presumably of the sort either generated by or required for effective participation in a modern society.

Major attributes of individual modernity include readiness for new experiences and openness to innovation, future orientation, democratic orientation, belief in human and personal efficacy, aspiration, empathy, fatalism, social participation, faith in science and technology, open mindedness, belief in social mobility, emphasis on nuclear family, and value for urban life (Inkeles & Smith 1974; Lerner 1958; Triandis 1973; Schnaiberg 1970; Doob 1976; Dawson, 1967).

Measurement of Modernity

Since its conception in the early 1960s, numerous authors have proposed and constructed a variety of scales to measure the individual modernity syndrome. The existing scales are quite varied in their basic orientation and approach toward the concept. The intention here is not to detail these measures, but a brief overview of the measurement approaches that have been utilized provides the necessary background.

Generally speaking, two aspects of the measurement approach stand out distinguishing various scales of individual modernity. The first aspect is the notion of dimensionality. Some well-known measures of modernity (Inkeles and Smith 1974, Kahl 1968) have been constructed using a unidimensional approach. In this perspective, it is assumed that psychological change takes place in an integrated fashion across all behavioral and attitudinal spheres (Schnaiberg 1970). From an operational point of view, this means that the items in the scale of measurement are assumed to be intercorrelated and, hence, they form a general value syndrome of modernism.

In contrast, some authors have adopted a multidimensional view (Dawson 1967; Portes 1973; Schnaiberg 1970). These authors believe that individuals who are affected by the process of modernization are more likely to change some patterns and commitments, but not others.

While the question of unidimensionality/ multidimensionality must be resolved through empirical work, there are convincing arguments in the literature which propose a middle ground position and call for a combination of both approaches simultaneously.

The second aspect relates to the cultural orientation that has guided the process of scale construction. Some authors have adopted a culture-specific perspective in the construction of their scales, meaning that various items in the scale are developed from "local material" which are salient to the population under study. The set of culture-specific scales are commonly constructed after extensive field research and with the aid of local "experts" who serve as judges in the process of item selection. Furthermore, the direction of modernity is also determined by what local people consider modern.

In contrast, some authors have opted for a "portable" measure; i.e., a culture-general scale that would be applicable to any cultural setting. In this approach, items are selected from the existing literature and the direction of modernity is determined by what modernity theory considers modern. (For details of the existing scales, see Eshghi 1983.)

Novelty Seeking and Variety Seeking

Variety seeking and novelty seeking, termed exploratory behavior, has been primarily studied in psychology (Raju & Venkatesan 1980).

Hirschman (1980) defines novelty seeking as an internal drive that motivates the individual to seek out novel information. She distinguishes two aspects of novelty seeking. The first relates to seeking new and potentially discrepant information while the second is the extent to which individuals vary their choices among known stimuli. The latter aspect may be better described as variety seeking or stimulus variation. It is obvious from this definition that novelty seeking is internally determined and it represents an innate search for information. The rationale for novelty seeking stems from a desire for self-preservation in an unknown world (Hirschman 1980).

The extensive literature in psychology leaves no doubt that individuals are different in terms of novelty seeking behavior due to certain psychological traits possessed to a greater or lesser extent by the individual members of the society. From the few studies of novelty seeking behavior in the area of consumer research it can be concluded that novelty seeking behavior is positively related to receptiveness to new ideas and innovations and risk taking (Raju & Venkatesan 1980). Furthermore the literature in psychology reveals that novelty seeking is related to dogmatism (close windedness), democratic orientation (liberalism) and ability to deal with complex situation (Hoyer and Ridgway 1984).

Application of novelty seeking/variety seeking to assess cross-cultural differences has been very limited. One reason may be that, relatively speaking, novelty seeking has received greater attention by the psychologists than consumer researchers and, hence, a unified framework to organize and integrate previous work does not exist (Hoyer & Ridgway 1984). The only cross-cultural study that utilized the notion of variety seeking to assess cross-cultural differences is the study conducted by Faison (1980). He found that both Japanese and Americans had a desire for variety regarding dinner entrees and musical selection but opted for consistency regarding the toothpaste brand used. This research has been criticized on methodological grounds (Hansen 1980).

Measurement of Novelty Seeking/Variety Seeking.

Novelty seeking/variety seeking can be measured by scales constructed of items asking individuals how willing they are to seek information that is new-and different (Hirschman 1980). In most consumer behavior studies, however, novelty seeking has been operationalized by asking concrete questions concerning various domains of consumption. For example, a typical scale may include questions such as "How willing are you to try new foods?"

It is apparent from the above discussion that variety seeking and novelty seeking have been treated as interchangeable constructs; i.e., they are conceptually indistinguishable. In reality, however, there may be a slight difference between the two. Variety seeking seems to be most closely related to a specific behavior and it has been operationalized accordingly. For example, brand switching behavior is thought to be a function of variety seeking, whereas novelty seeking is a-more generalized construct and thus, represent a higher level of abstraction. For the purpose of this paper, we treat novelty seeking and variety seeking as two separate but interrelated constructs.


Examination of the selected cross-cultural consumer behavior constructs as presented above reveals that there is a considerable degree of overlap and commonality among these constructs.

More specifically, individual modernity and innovativeness are highly related and represent almost identical sets of personality traits. On the other hand, novelty seeking and variety seeking, while highly similar to each other, appear to have less in common with individual modernity and innovativeness. This may be due to the fact that both novelty seeking and variety seeking have been the subject of conceptual and empirical studies only in recent years and that a unified and integrative framework to organize these constructs does not exist (Hoyer and Ridgway 1984).

Given the considerable amount of overlap among the four constructs, it is highly desirable to examine the interrelationship among the same as a first step in developing a theoretical framework. The interrelationship among innovativeness, novelty seeking and variety seeking have already been conceptualized, and a series of propositions presented (Hirschman 1980). However, to date empirical support for the proposed theoretical arguments is lacking.

The interrelationship-among individual modernity, innovativeness, novelty seeking, variety seeking have not been postulated. Of particular interest to the researcher would be the extent of possible interrelationship and interaction between individual modernity and innovativeness. To illustrate, we assume that modernity and innovativeness are possessed to a greater or lesser extent by all members of society. Classifying individuals based on their modernity and innovativeness score (say using median as the cutoff point) results in a 2 X 2 classification scheme shown in Figure 1.



Behavior patterns exhibited in quadrant one and four, labeled modernism and traditionalism, are consistent with what is expected. From the literature, we would expect those individuals with high modernity scores to be highly innovative and vice versa. The patterns shown in quadrant two and three, however, are inconsistent with the theoretical assumption, but can be explained. Intuitively, we may argue that certain other variables confound the relationship between modernity and innovativeness. For example, high socio-economic status combined with abundance of new products may induce a modernized behavior pattern in the sphere of consumption only, and hence the label "economic modernism." Conversely, a disadvantaged position along the socio-economic scale may preclude acquisition of new products despite high receptiveness to new product and innovations due to individual modernity and hence the label "intellectual modernism." In sum, much needs to be done conceptually and empirically to fill in these gaps in the literature.

Another way of comparing the four constructs is to consider the manner of conceptualization and the measurement approach inherent in the preceding discussion. Both individual modernity and innovativeness are thought to be determined and influenced by sociological factors such as educational attainment, urbanization, occupational status and so on (Rogers and Shoemaker 1971, Inkeles and Smith 1974). On the other hand, novelty seeking and variety seeking are conceptualized to be the result of some internal drive or motivating force, and hence the underlying process is psychological.

0n the measurement aspect, the literature review revealed that both innovativeness and variety seeking have been directly linked to observable data; i.e., actual acquisition of innovations and brand switching, respectively. These constructs tend to be less abstract, whereas, individual modernity and novelty seeking are farther removed from observable data and, thus, represent a higher level of abstraction.

Combining the two aspects, namely, the underlying process and level of abstraction, provides us with a classification scheme as illustrated in Figure 2.

What are the implications of this classification scheme for research? It would seem plausible to argue that since both individual modernity and innovativeness are sociologically determined, they are best suited for macro-level investigations such as the study of consumption phenomena at group or societal levels. Whereas, novelty seeking and variety seeking are most relevant for micro studies of consumer behavior due to their psychological origin.

Focusing on the level of abstraction, it seems reasonable to suggest that constructs at a lower level of abstraction, namely innovativeness and variety seeking, are more appropriate for applied type of research. On the other hand, if the researcher is primarily interested in basic research, more generalized constructs of individual modernity and novelty seeking would more relevant. The above discussion is summarized in Figure 3.




This paper demonstrated that interest in cross-cultural consumer behavior has increased considerably in recent years. The depth as well as the breadth of research is encouraging. But, unfortunately no unified framework exists to organize and integrate previous work in this area. As a first step in this direction, four behavioral science constructs that seem to be relevant for cross-cultural research were examined in this paper in terms of their meaning, measurement and application to cross-cultural settings. A comparison of innovativeness, individual modernity, novelty seeking and variety seeking in terms of personality correlates revealed that there is considerable amount of overlap and commonality among these constructs. Therefore, one may wonder whether these hypothetical constructs refer to the same unobservable property of objective reality or each represent a different domain. The literature review indicated that the relationship among these constructs have not been adequately researched. A number of classification schemes were presented in the paper which may help the researcher to explore the usefulness of these constructs for cross-cultural research as well as the relationship among them.




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(Additional references available upon request)



Abdolreza Eshghi, Illinois State University


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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