The Congruence of Alternative Osl Measures With Consumer Exploratory Behavior Tendencies

ABSTRACT - The present study examines the measurement congruence among several alternative operationalizations of the optimal stimulation level construct against a common set of exploratory tendency items. The results suggest that the alternative OSL scales examined in the study represent different dimensions of the OSL construct. The findings indicate that Arousal Seeking Tendency is the best measure of OSL in relation to exploration through shopping, risk taking, and innovativeness. Additionally, Raju's measure of exploratory behavior proneness appears to represent a useful, preliminary benchmark for identifying appropriate measures of OSL in a marketing context.


Russell G. Wahlers, Mark G. Dunn, and Michael J. Etzel (1986) ,"The Congruence of Alternative Osl Measures With Consumer Exploratory Behavior Tendencies", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 398-402.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 398-402


Russell G. Wahlers, University of Notre Dame

Mark G. Dunn, University of Notre Dame

Michael J. Etzel, University of Notre Dame


The present study examines the measurement congruence among several alternative operationalizations of the optimal stimulation level construct against a common set of exploratory tendency items. The results suggest that the alternative OSL scales examined in the study represent different dimensions of the OSL construct. The findings indicate that Arousal Seeking Tendency is the best measure of OSL in relation to exploration through shopping, risk taking, and innovativeness. Additionally, Raju's measure of exploratory behavior proneness appears to represent a useful, preliminary benchmark for identifying appropriate measures of OSL in a marketing context.


As subsets of the general ares of exploratory behavior, the concepts of variety seeking and novelty seeking offer significant implications for marketing managers concerned with promotion and product strategy development. While a copious volume of research has examined the consumer decision-making process and the concepts of brand and store loyalty, a great deal remains unknown about the processes and dynamics relating to variety seeking as a form of exploratory behavior in the consumer context.

In the traditional behavioral sciences, the arousal construct and the individual's quest for new experiences have interested psychologists since Freud and have been major themes in a number of behavioral theories (Hebb 1949; Duffy 1957; Malmo 1959; Berlyne 1960) involving the relationship between the state of an individual and his/her response to stimuli. However, Raju and Venkatesan (1980) have noted that in the consumer behavior literature the number of empirical findings that relate to variety or novelty seeking explanations are few, and no consumer studies have attempted to directly validate any particular framework. They assert that exploratory behavior processes have been neglected in consumer decision-making research tue to the lack of a coherent theoretical framework appropriately modified for examining consumer behavior.

In identifying four alternative theoretical frameworks for the study of exploratory behavior in psychology, Raju and Venkatesan (1980) have critically compared and contrasted Berlyne's (1960, 1963) novelty seeking approach, Fiske and Maddi's (1961) activation theory, Hunt's (1963) concept of environmental incongruity, and the general incongruity adaptation level (GIAL) hypothesis espoused by Driver and Streufert (1965). A number of concepts are provided by these frameworks ... many of which are not in agreement with each other. However, all four frameworks are similar to the extent that they are based on the optimal stimulation level (OSL) construct and the notion that OSL varies from individual to individual.

In discussing some of the major conceptual and operational issues that need to be resolved in order to advance the discipline's understanding of the exploratory behavior process, Raju and Venkatesan (1980) note that while suggestions for operationalizing environmental stimulation have been implied by the various theoretical frameworks developed in psychology, actual OSL measures applicable to the study of exploratory behavior in the consumer context are unavailable. Thus, the measurement of OSL represents a fundamental issue to be resolved by consumer researchers interested in studying the exploratory behavior process of consumers. The present study is an attempt to identify the most appropriate OSL measure for consumer research applications.

The Concept of Optimal Stimulation Level

Berlyne (1960, 1963) asserts that all stimulus situations have four attributes (novelty, uncertainty, conflict, and complexity) in varying degrees. These attributes, or "collative variables" join with affective characteristics (reward or punishment associated with the stimulus) and external physical features (such as size, brightness, color, or pitch) to create "arousal potential." When the environment's arousal potential is low, the individual is bored, and the desire for increased stimulation rises. Conversely, stimulus conditions exhibiting very high arousal potential will cause the individual to seek more moderate situations. In Berlyne's theory, exploratory behavior is manifested under both of these conditions. Between seeking and avoiding arousing stimuli is the individual's desired "arousal tonus" or the average, comfortable level of arousal required of an organism in a particular circumstance. The relationship between arousal potential and an individual's level of arousal has been described as an inverted-U in which low levels of arousal potential in the environment stimulate greater arousal in the individual (i.e., diversive exploration) up to some optimal level. Beyond that level, increases in arousal are dysfunctional such that further increases in arousal potential produce lower levels of arousal as the individual seeks ways to return to a more familiar situation (i.e., specific exploration).

Whether the arousal potential of one's environment is perceived as too high or too low depends on the individual's optimal level of stimulation or ideal arousal. This optimal level, according to Berlyne (1960, p. 211) is determined by "personality factors, cultural factors, learning and psychological states."

In contrast to Berlyne's theory which holds that the minimization of arousal serves as the underlying motivational mechanism, Driver and Streufert (1965) suggest that over time individuals via past experiences develop expectations concerning the degree of environmental incongruity which characterizes certain situations. This level of expected incongruity is analogous to OSL and is termed the individual's general incongruity adaptation level (GIAL). According to Driver and Streufert's hypothesis, environmental deviations from one's GIAL causes cognitive action aimed at reestablishing a homeostatic GIAL. This cognitive action may take the fora of exploratory behavior (if the associated incongruity is not too severe) and is specifically related to information search behavior (Streufert and Driver 1971).

Citing the refinement of a suitable framework for studying exploratory behavior as a critical problem facing consumer researcher, Raju (1979) has proposed a hybrid framework which combines Berlyne's ideas relating to the arousal potential of stimuli to Streufert and Driver's notion of environmental incongruity as the motivational mechanism underlying exploratory behavior. This approach likewise incorporates the optimal stimulation level notion as an integral component.

OSL and Consumer Research

Optimal stimulation has been the subject of a limited amount of empirical research in marketing but seems to offer significant potential for application. The need for high levels of stimulation has been found to be positively related to the acceptance of new retail facilities (Grossbart, Mittelstaedt, and Devere 1976); new product trial (Mittelstaedt, et al. 1976); preferences for novel vacation experiences (Etzel and Wahlers 1984); exploratory tendencies relating to risk taking, variety seeking, and curiosity (Raju 1980); and selected personality traits and demographics (Raju 1980; Joachimsthaler and Lastovicka 1984) In general, the marketing literature supports the notion that OSL appears to be positively related to the degree of exploratory behavior manifested.

A fundamental issue in studies involving optimal stimulation level is the measurement of the OSL construct. Of the available scaling approaches found in the psychology literature, studies published in the consumer behavior literature have principally made use of either Mehrabian and Russell's (1974) Arousal Seeking Tendency Scale (Goodwin 1980; Raju 1980; Etzel and Wahlers 1984; Joachimsthaler and Lastovicka 1984) or the Zuckerman et al. (1964) Sensation Seeking Scale (Grossbart, Mittelstaedt, and Devere 1976; Mittelstaedt, et al. 1976). However, despite the variety of scales purporting to operationalize the OSL construct, to date little research has focused on the construct and content validity of OSL measurement in marketing context studies.

Research Objectives

Recognizing the paucity of marketing research addressing the OSL measurement issue, the present study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of five alternative OSL-related scales found in the psychology literature in explaining exploratory tendencies in a consumer contest.

More specifically, the research was conducted to:

(1) Examine the measurement congruence among five alternative OSL-related scales.

(2) Determine the appropriateness of the five alternative OSL-related scales as indicators of consumer exploratory behavior proneness.


Operationalization of Optimal Stimulation

A questionnaire was developed to measure both the subjects' exploratory behavior proneness and optimal stimulation levels. With respect to this latter issue, several alternative scales pertinent to OSL were included in the instrument to enable a comparison of measurement approaches.

In the psychology literature, OSL has been measured via a number of verbal instruments including the Sensation Seeking Scale (Zuckerman, Kolin, Price, and Zoob 1964), the Change Seeker Index (Garlington and Shimota 1964), the Stimulus Variation Seeking Scale (Penney and Reinehr 1966), the Similes Preference Inventory (Pearson and Matti 1966), the Desire for Novelty Scale (Pearson 1970), and the Arousal Seeking Tendency Scale (Mehrabian and Russell 1974). Of these measurement approaches, previous studies in consumer behavior have made use primarily of the Sensation Seeking and Arousal Seeking Tendency instruments.

After a review of the available scales, five alternative measurement methods were selected for operationalizing OSL in the present study. Of these five measures, the Arousal Seeking Tendency and Sensation Seeking scales were included based on their popular use in the marketing studies dealing with OSL. Additionally, a more contemporary, abbreviated version of Arousal Seeking Tendency (Mehrabian 1978) was included. (Hereafter, Arousal Seeking Tendency I and Arousal Seeking Tendency II refer respectively to the 1974 and 1978 versions.) According to Mehrabian and Russell (1974, pp. 318-319), arousal seeking tendency reflects an individual's preference for arousal levels. Similarly, Zuckerman (1979, p. 10) describes sensation seeking as a "trait defined by the need for varied, novel, and complex sensations and experiences..." Fourth, Pearson's (1970) Desire for Novelty instrument was selected because of its relative briefness and general applicability. Pearson (1970, p. 199) defines one's desire for novelty as a "tendency to approach versus a tendency to avoid novel experiences." Finally, Mehrabian's (1976) Stimulus Screening scale was included. The scale, according to Mehrabian (1976, p. 1), is an inverse measure of individual arousability.

Both Arousal Seeking Tendency I and Stimulus Screening instruments consist of 40 items scored on 9-point Likert scales ranging from "very strong disagreement" (-4) to "very strong agreement" (+4). Arousal Seeking Tendency II is similarly constructed but consists of 32 items. The Sensation Seeking Scale and the Desire for Novelty measure, consisting of 40 sat 10 items respectively, require the subject to make a forced choice between two competing statements which comprise each item. For Arousal Seeking Tendency I and II, Sensation Seeking, and desire for Novelty -- the total score of the items after appropriate scale reversals indicates the respondent's OSL. In the case of Stimulus Screening, each respondent's total score reflects an inverse measure of OSL.

Exploratory Behavior and OSL

To measure general exploratory tendencies, Raju's (1980, pp. 277-79) 39-item lifestyle-type instrument was included in the questionnaire. Each item was scored on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from "strongly disagree" (-3) to "strongly agree" (+3). When the items are grouped according to Baju's directions and su ed after the necessary scale reversals, the 39-item battery is purported to identify seven categories of exploratory behavior proneness. The seven categories include:

(a) Repetitive behavior proneness: the tendency to stick with the same response over time.

(b) Innovativeness: eagerness to buy or know about new products/services.

(c) Risk taking: a preference for taking risks or being adventurous.

(d) Exploration through shopping: a preference for shopping and investigating brands.

(e) interpersonal communication: communicating with friends about purchases.

(f) Brand switching: switching brands primarily for change or novelty.

(g) Information seeking: interest in knowing about various products and brands mainly out of curiosity.

The 39 items which represent these seven response categories were developed such that they offer a general representation of exploratory tendencies, have demonstrated a lack of social desirability response bias, capture the essence of exploratory behavior as indicated by high item-total correlations, and are generalizable to a variety of populations of interest to marketers (Raju 1980, p. 277).

Data Collection

The questionnaire was administered to a sample of undergraduate business students at a major Midwestern university. A convenience sample of students was used to enable a comparison of results with those reported by Raju (1980) and Joachimsthaler and Lastovicka (1984) based on student data and was justified by the theoretical interest of the research (Calder, Phillips, sat Tybout 1981). Subjects were given approximately thirty minutes to complete the instrument. Data reported in the study are based on 69 respondents.


Each subject's responses to the five alternative OSL-related measures were scored in accordance with the procedures described in the literature. A reliability coefficient was calculated for each of the five scales. The results of this procedure are contained in Table 1.

All five scales were found to exhibit RR-20 coefficients greater than 0.7 thus demonstrating sufficient levels of internal reliability.

With respect to the question of the general degree of measurement congruence among the various OSL-related scales, correlations were calculated to assess the overall strength of association among the five instruments. The results of this analysis are included in Table 1. Both measures of Arousal Seeking Tendency exhibited a high intercorrelation as expected since the two instruments share many of the same items. The correlations between Sensation Seeking and both Arousal Seeking Tendency I and II were statistically significant but disappointing given the apparent presumption in prior consumer behavior research that the instruments are virtually interchangeable. However, given the reliability coefficients associated with Arousal Seeking Tendency I and II and Sensation Seeking, the between-scale correlations of .601 and .585 were considered too high to conclude that the scales are entirely different. Desire for Novelty was significantly related to only the Sensation Seeking measure explaining only 5.9 percent of the variance between scales. As an inverse measure of OSL, Stimulus Screening correlated negatively with both measures of Arousal Seeking Tendency but was not significantly linked to either the Sensation Seeking or Desire for Novelty scales

The directions and significance levels of the correlation coefficients in Table 1 thus suggest that the first four scales individually appear to reflect some co on dimensions of OSL while the Stimulus Screening instrument represents a related inverse measure. However, four out of ten between-scale correlations were not statistically significant; and the levels of shared variance explained by those correlations, significant st p<.05, were at best marginal. The analysis, therefore, provides preliminary evidence that despite similarities among the five measurement scales in question, they may be tapping somewhat distinct and different aspects of OSL.



An approach to investigate the similarity of two measures is to compare them to a co on third measure. Raju's (1980) exploratory tendencies instrument served as such a common benchmark in this study. The 39 exploratory tendency items were scored and summed to yield measures of seven types of exploratory interest. The mean item-total correlation and internal reliability associated with each of the seven exploratory tendency categories were computed (Table 2) and were found to be in reasonable agreement with the figures reported by Raju (1980. p. 279).

Subsequently, the five OSL scores for each respondent were correlated with the scores associated with these seven exploratory tendency dimensions.



The results of this procedure are shown in Table 3. The correlations between Arousal Seeking Tendency I and II and the exploratory categories were statistically significant with the exception of "interpersonal communication." Further, the respective degrees of association were found to be in reasonable accord with similar figures reported by Raju (1980, p. 279) in his study using Arousal Seeking Tendency I as an operationatization of OSL. However, the association between the exploratory tendency dimensions and the remaining OSL-related measures included in Table 3 was less than satisfactory.

Two general findings emerged from this correlation analysis. First, the level of variance associated with the exploratory tendency dimensions explained by either of the Arousal Seeking Tendency measures was substantially different (greater) than that explained by any of the remaining OSL-related instruments under study. Second, of the seven exploratory response dimensions, "repetitive behavior proneness" appears to be statistically related to the largest number of the various OSL measures. Thus, the analysis offers evidence that with respect to Raju's set of exploratory tendency categories the five alternative OSL scales appear to capture a common element of OSL related to repetitive behavior. However, despite this common thread, the remaining exploratory tendencies are not uniformly represented across alternative OSL measurement instruments.

To further refine the scale comparison, Raju's 39 items were subjected to principal component factor analysis using an oblique rotation. The results, shown in Table 4, produced seven factor with eigenvalues greater than 1.0, explaining 67.2 percent of the total variance. Thirteen items failed to load on any factor and are, therefore, excluded from further analysis.

Four of the factors are virtually identical to the categories of exploratory tendencies defined by Raju as: exploration via shopping (factor 1), risk taking (factor 2), innovativeness (factor 3), and information seeking (factor 7). Additional factors identified but not consistent with Raju's categorization are Cermet brand sensitivity (factor 4), new product interest (factor 5), sat diversive exploration (factor 6).

The OSL scores for each respondent were correlated with the factor scores associated with these seven redefined exploratory tendency dimensions. The results are shown in Table 5. Statistically significant correlations were produced between Arousal Seeking Tendency I and II and exploration via shopping, risk taking, and innovativeness. Sensation seeking was significantly correlated with risk taking. Finally, Stimulus Screening was associated with exploration via shopping and brand sensitivity. The results, though less impressive than those found with Raju's categorization, support the Arousal Seeking Tendency scales as the most representative of consumer exploratory behavior.








Based upon the results of this study it would appear that OSL as measured by the Arousal Seeking Tendency scales (I and II) can be related to the consumer activities of exploration via shopping, risk caking, and innovativeness. That is, individuals with high Arousal Seeking Tendency scores are likely, as consumers, to engage in considerable shopping, assume greater risk levels, and behave as innovators. The relationships with other forms of consumer behavior would be best be speculative at this time.

Raju's scale to measure consumer exploratory tendencies proved to be useful as a benchmark for identifying the most appropriate measure of OSL. However, Raju's contention that the scale reflects seven dimensions or types of exploration appears open to question. To improve the description of the consumer behavior of arousal seekers, the scale should be refined. The objective would be a sec of attributes in addition to the three substantiated in this study that would describe the consumer exploratory responses of arousal seekers and avoiders.

To the extent that the results reported here are generalizable given the nature of the sample, future buyer behavior studies that attempt to operationalize OSL should use one of the Mehrabian and Russell Arousal Seeking Tendency scales since they most clearly correlate with consumer behaviors associated with exploration. Since .he more recent scale (Mehrabian 1978) incorporates more contemporary language and is briefer than the original version of the instrument (Mehrabian and Russell 1974), the newer version should be preferred.

Finally, based on the explained variance between the five scales tested, it would appear chat despite some overlap -- each is measuring some unique dimension(s) of OSL. Future research addressing the construct should attempt to determine what these dimensions are and how they relate to consumer behavior.


Berlyne, David E. (1963). "Motivational Problems Raised by Exploratory and Epistemic Behavior," in Psychology: A Study of Science, ed. S. Koch, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Berlyne, David E. (1960). Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity, new York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Calder, Bobby J.; Lynn W. Phillips; and Alice M. Tybout (1981). "Designing Research for Application," Journal of Consumer Research, 8, 197-207.

Driver, M. J. and S. Streufert (1965). "The 'General Incongruity Adaptation Level' (GTAT) Hypothesis: An Analysis and Integration of Cognitive Approaches to Motivation," Paper No. 114, Institute for Research in the Behavioral, Economic, and Management Sciences, Krannert Graduate School of Industrial Administration, West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University.

Duffy, Elizabeth (1957). "The Psychological Significance of the Concept of 'Arousal' or 'Activation"', The Psychological Review, 64, 265-275.

Etzel, Michael J. and Russell G. Wahlers (1984). "Optimal Stimulation and Consumer Travel Preferences," in 1984 AMA Educators' Proceedings, 50, et. Russell W. Belk, et al., Chicago IL: American Marketing Association, 92-95

Fiske, D. W. and Salvatore R. Maddi, eds. (1961). Functions of Varied Experience, Homewood, IL: The Dorsey Press.

Garlington, Warren R. and Helen E. Shimota (1964). 'She Change Seekers Index: A Measure of the Need for Variable Stimulus Input," Psychological Reports, 14, 919-24.

Goodwin, Stephen A. (1980). "Impact of Stimulus Variables on Exploratory Behavior," in Advances in Consumer Research, 3, ed. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research.

Grossbart, Sanford L.; Robert A. Mittelstaedt; and Stephen P. Devere (1976). "Consumers Stimulation Needs and Innovative Shopping Behavior: The Case of Recycled Urban Places, in Advances in Consumer Research, 3, ed. Beverlee B. Anderson, Chicago, IL: Association for Consumer Research, 30-5.

Hebb, D. O. (1949). The Organization of Behavior, New York: Wiley.

Hunt, J. McV. (1963). "Motivation Inherent in Information Processing and Action," in Motivation and Social Interaction: Cognitive Determinants, O. J. Harvey, ed., new York: The Ronald Press, 35-94.

Joachimsthaler, Erich A. and John L. Lastovicka (1984). "Optimal Stimulation Level - Exploratory Behavior Models," Journal of Consumer Research, 11, 830-35.

Malmo, Robert B. (1959). "Activation: A Neurophysical Dimension," The Psychological Review, 66, 367-86.

Mehrabian, Albert (1978). "Characteristic Individual Reactions to Preferred and Unpreferred Environments," Journal of Personality, 46, 717-731.

Mehrabian, Albert (1976). Manual for the Questionnaire Measure of Stimulus Screening and Arousability, Los Angeles, GA: University of California.

Mehrabian, Albert and James A. Phillips (1974). An Approach to Environmental Psychology, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press .

Mittelstaedt, Robert A.; Sanford L. Grossbart; William W. Curtis; and Stephen P. Devere (1976). "Optimal Stimulation Level and the Adoption Decision Process," Journal of Consumer Research, 3, 84-94.

Pearson, Pamela H. and Salvatore R. Maddi (1966). "The Similes Preference Inventory: Development of a Structural Measure of the Tendency Toward Variety," Journal of Consulting Psychology, 30, 301-308.

Penney, Ronald K. and Robert C. Reinhr (1966). "Development of a Stimulus-Variation Seeking & ale for Adults," Psychological Reports, 18, 631-38.

Raju, P. S. (1980). "Optimum Stimulation Level: Its Relationship to Personality, Demographics and Exploratory Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, 7, 272-82.

Raju, P. S. (1979). "Theories of Exploratory Behavior: Review and Consumer Research implications," in Research in Marketing, Jagdish Sheth, ed., Greenwich, CT: Jai Press

Raju, P. S. and M. Venkatesan (1980). "Exploratory Behavior in the Consumer Contest: A State of the Art Review," in Advances in Consumer Research, 7, ed. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research, 258-63.

Streufert, S. and M. J. Driver (1971). "The General Incongruity Adaptation Level (GIAL)," Technical Report No. 32, Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.

Zuckerman, Marvin (1979). Sensation Seeking: Beyond the Optimal Level of Arousal, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Zuckerman, Marvin; Elizabeth A. Kolin; Leah Price; and Ina Zoob (1964). "Development of a Sensation Seeking Scale," Journal of Consulting Psychology, 28, 477-82.



Russell G. Wahlers, University of Notre Dame
Mark G. Dunn, University of Notre Dame
Michael J. Etzel, University of Notre Dame


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13 | 1986

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


R5. Autonomy or Enjoyment? The Contingent Nature of Brand Ritual

Yaxuan Ran, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law
Echo Wen Wan, University of Hong Kong

Read More


Gossip: How The Relationship With the Source Shapes the Retransmission of Personal Content

Gaia Giambastiani, Bocconi University, Italy
Andrea Ordanini, Bocconi University, Italy
Joseph Nunes, University of Southern California, USA

Read More


Institutional Influence on Indebted Consumers’ Understanding of Wants and Needs

Mary Celsi, California State University Long Beach, USA
Stephanie Dellande, Menlo College
Mary Gilly, University of California Irvine, USA
Russ Nelson, Northwestern University, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.