The Impact of Age of Children on Satisfaction and Satisfaction Relationships: the Case of Video Games

ABSTRACT - An investigation of satisfaction and satisfaction determinants concerning video games was conducted in two arcades with children aged seven to twelve. The focus of the analyses reported here concern (1) relationships of age with satisfaction indicators and predictors, and (2) the moderating influence of age on satisfaction indicator/predictor relationships to assess if developmental deficiencies are operative among younger children. Bivariate relationships with age corresponded closely to previous research findings on other topics. There was little evidence of age having a moderating influence on satisfaction relationships. Implications are given.


James H. Leigh and Kathi A. Jordan (1984) ,"The Impact of Age of Children on Satisfaction and Satisfaction Relationships: the Case of Video Games", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 324-328.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 324-328


James H. Leigh, Texas A&M University

Kathi A. Jordan, Texas A&M University


An investigation of satisfaction and satisfaction determinants concerning video games was conducted in two arcades with children aged seven to twelve. The focus of the analyses reported here concern (1) relationships of age with satisfaction indicators and predictors, and (2) the moderating influence of age on satisfaction indicator/predictor relationships to assess if developmental deficiencies are operative among younger children. Bivariate relationships with age corresponded closely to previous research findings on other topics. There was little evidence of age having a moderating influence on satisfaction relationships. Implications are given.


The study of consumer behavior of children and adolescents is made difficult due to mediating influences of developmental factors on the processes under scrutiny. Roedder (1981) reviewed research evidence of age differences of children on learning and other information-processing activities. She noted that older children, i.e., 10+ years of age, tend to have reasonably well-developed cognitive skills that allow for ease in storage and retrieval of information, whereas intermediate-aged children (i.e., 6-9 years old) are generally capable of utilizing storage and retrieval strategies only when prompted. Young children below the age of six tend to exhibit deficiencies in processing; therefore, they may not be able to comprehend fully the nature and applicability of product information or to use it on their own

Age differences have also been noted with respect to market-related attitudinal and behavioral responses of children (Ward, Wackman and Wartella 1977). McNeal (1964) found a negative relationship between age and affect toward advertising, which was further substantiated by the Lindquist (1979) extension to several media.

Focusing on adolescents, several studies have also detected a negative relationship between age and affect toward advertising (Moore and Moschis 1980; Moschis and Churchill 1978, 1979) as well as toward prices (Moschis and Churchill 1978). These same studies reported positive correlations between age and consumer knowledge dimensions, and Moschis and Moore (1979) identified age differences in the nature (Peers: positive r; Family: negative r) and extent of prepurchase information-seeking and in the degree of independence in purchasing, but not in product evaluation. Churchill and Moschis (1979) provided sane evidence that age, as a proxy for cognitive development, may serve to affect socialization processes and thus have indirect effects on relationships among other factors.

While it is tempting to extrapolate these findings on adolescents to children, differences in cognitive development between child age categories likely serve to alter the pattern of relationships. The positive correlations of age with knowledge, extent of information-seeking, and independence in purchasing likely hold for the child consumer market, based an the observations of McNeal (1982). On the other hand, the lack of significant age based differences in product evaluation found among adolescents would not be expected to be characteristic among children of differing age. Wartella, Wackman, and Ward (1978) mention that children younger than middle childhood (e.g., pre-school) have difficulty making comparative judgments about objects, and Ward, Wackman and Wartella (1977) identified a gradual development between kindergarten and the sixth grade in the use of multiple attributes for comparing brands. This development of evaluation skills tends to coincide with differences in other information-processing activities forwarded by Roedder (1981).

Only one study was located which examined the domain of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction of children. Bjorklund and Bjorklund (1979) focused on groups of toddlers, viz., 12, 16, and 23 months old, and examined their satisfaction with toys under various arrangements in the number and types of toys available. Behavioral measures, such as the amount of time spent per toy, were operationalized to be indicative of satisfaction/dissatisfaction because of the cognitive limitations of the study population. While the results were mixed in terms of age differences, there was a limited indication that age of a toddler, in conjunction with the number of toys available and the type, may serve to impact the degree of satisfaction. The lack of clearcut effects of age may be due in part to the use of a behavioral proxy for an attitudinal construct and in part to the small age gradations used. On the other hand, studies of adult consumer satisfaction have not yielded consistent fir lings of the age-satisfaction relationship, with sane studies identifying positive relationships (Hughes 1976, Pickle and Bruce 1972, Westbrook 1977), sane studies shaving a negative relationship (Ash 1978; Ash, Gardiner and Quelch 1980), and other studies finding nonsignificant relationships (Pfaff 1972, Westbrook and Newman 1978).

The lack of definitive studies concerning differences in consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction of children makes clear the need for additional research, and particularly research which focuses on other age groups be sides toddlers. Moreover, Feldman and Wolf (1974) suggested that children may be particularly susceptible to disappointment due to their inexperience in caparison with adolescent and adult consumers. Irrespective of the correctness of their assertion, there is a need for programmatic research to develop measures for assessing consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction of children, to identify its nature and incidence surrounding product related activities, and to isolate the determinants and mechanisms underlying such outcomes.

An investigation was undertaken to examine the nature and influences on satisfaction of intermediate-aged and older children with video games. The purpose of the analyses reported herein was to investigate several questions related to this research program The specific hypotheses and justifications are addressed in the following section alongside a discussion of the study operationalization.


Study Design

The population defined for study was limited to children between the ages of seven and twelve. Children below the age of seven were excluded fran consideration on account of their likely information-processing deficiencies noted by Roedder (1981); the desire was to avoid strict use of behavioral measures as proxies for direct verbal indicators of satisfaction. By excluding young children, the contaminating influences due to language and ability differences to deal with abstract concepts, such as satisfaction, which were noted by Chestnut (1979), should not be operative.

Video games were selected as the product/service for study on account of: (1) their widespread popularity across different age groups, but especially among children; (2) the fact that they provide immediate gratification to the participant [which is felt by sane to represent a primary purchase motive of children (Hawkins et al. 1980, McNeal 1982)]; and (3) their representing a product/service category for which children are likely to make purchase choices on their own. Based on conversations with arcade owners and on sales results over the six month period prior to administration of the study, three highly popular (viz., "Donkey Kong," "PacMan" and "Defender") and three unpopular (viz., "Space Fury," "Space Invaders" and "Vanguard") video games were selected as the focal brands for study, with the assumption being that the popular games would be satisfying and the unpopular ones dissatisfying to the children.

The original plan was to sample from within groups of children who ha just finished playing a respective popular and unpopular game; however, it was determined during pretest of the questionnaire instrument at a local arcade that only two of the twenty children interviewed had previously played the three unpopular games. For this reason, the decision was made to instead interview only those children who had just completed playing one of the three popular video games.

After receiving a child's consent to be asked several questions about tb game they just played and confirming they were between ages seven an twelve, six game-specific questions were asked which concerned their satisfaction, prior and present expectations, and experience. They were then shown pictures of the six video games and were asked to choose the one which they think is the most fun. The one chosen was removed and the process was repeated until only one was left. The children were then asked the same game-specific questions about the least fun game which remained. Eight general questions pertaining to video games were then asked and were followed by demographic questions.

The study was conducted at two arcades in Bryan/College Station, Texas one is located in a strip shopping center and the other in an enclose mall. The interview schedule was divided equally between the two arcade and was constructed to correspond to days and times when children were likely to be present, including "double-token day" at one arcade and family night at the theater in the enclosed mall which draws children to tb arcade. A total of 205 children were approached, and 193 children were interviewed over a four-week period.

Operationalization of Measures Used and Hypotheses Tested

The measures used in the study and for the analyses reported here span seven dimensions, viz., a satisfaction-related construct for the popular video game the children had just finished playing, and one for the game ranked the least fun (of the six options), two constructs composed of respective game-specific predictors, and three general constructs - general experience with video games, financial constraints/facilitators on vide game purchases and parental constraints/facilitators. The respective in dictators of each construct will be explained and justified and specific hypotheses for the subsequent analyses formulated.

Game-Specific Satisfaction. Three measures were used to measure satisfaction with the game played, and were also used for the game ranked as the least fun. Two of the three measures assess the extent to which prior expectations were confirmed or disconfirmed, which is one dimension of the dichotomy of approaches to measuring satisfaction offered by Hunt (1977) One measure of expectation (dis)confirmation is an adaptation of Westbrook's (1980) D-T scale, in which only the seven point continuum from delighted to terrible was used; the "neutral" and "lack of consideration scale options were not used in order to force the child to take a stand and to minimize confusion. The verbal descriptions of the scale points were written on an oversized sheet and the options were read aloud to the child, who was then asked to choose the one which best described how they felt about the game. While there was sane question about young children's ability to understand and choose from amongst the verbal options, children in both the pretest and main study had no problems making choices. The second expectations (dis)confirmation measure addressed whether the child had more fun than expected (+1), less fun than expected (-1), or about the same (0), based on the work of Swan and Combs (1976). The remaining satisfaction indicator corresponds to the utility a approach described by Hunt (1977); children were asked their likelihood of playing the respective game in the future, using a four-point, forced-choice scale which range fran "very likely" (+2) to "very unlikely" (-2). Based on the consistent finding, of a negative relationship between age and attitudes mentioned early in the paper, the first hypothesis is:

H1: The older the child, the less satisfied he or she is with both the game played and the game ranked least fun.

Game-Specific Predictors of Satisfaction. Three measures were developed for assessing how the child learned about the respective game played an the game ranked least fun. Direct prior experience referred to the approximate number of times the particular game has been played, which wa coded for analysis either 0, 1 or 2 (if more than 1 previous play). The influence of direct experience of peers was assessed by asking if their friends had ever played the particular game ("Yes"=1, "No" and "Don't know"=0). Reported evaluations of their friends' direct experience wa coded +1 if their friends thought the game was fun to play, -1 if they reported it was not fun, and O for "don't know" and "not applicable" responses.

H2: The older the child is, (a) the greater the amount of direct prior experience with the respective game, (b) the greater the likelihood of the child reporting their friends have played the game, and (c) the greater the likelihood the reports by peers were positive for the game played and were negative for the game ranked as least fun.

The first part of this hypothesis is based on the idea that, even though video games are a recent phenomenon and within the purview of the age groups studied, older children will likely have had a greater number of opportunities to play tin due to their greater mobility and freedom (McNeal 1982). The second part of this hypothesis is based on the results of the study by Moschis and Moore (1979) of a positive correlation between age and information-seeking among peers. The third part of this hypothesis specifies a positive relationship between age and peer evaluations for the game played and a negative ate for the game ranked the least fun on the premise that older children are more likely to communicate both positive and negative aspects about products.

General Factors. The measures which were not game-specific fall into three categories. The general locations for playing video games construct comprises two dichotomous yes/no measures regarding their play of electronic games at home and at another store near their house. Even though older children have greater freedom and therefore more opportunities for playing video games away from home, McNeal (1982) reports that by age six a child has made an unassisted purchase excursion. Since these measures were dichotomies and did not assess the amount of interaction with video games, no age differences are expected.

The second category of general factors concerns the child's financial constraints and allocation. Respondents were asked to report the approximate weekly amount of spending money they get. They were then asked how much of that spending money was usually spent on electronic games. The interviewer then marked the appropriate category for the amount of spending, money received [(1) Less then $1, (2) $1 to $2.99, (3) $3 to $4.99, (4) $5 to $9.99, and (5) $10 or more]. Responses to the question on the amount spent on video games were converted into percentages of total spending money for analysis purposes. Based on previous research findings (McNeal 1964; Ward, Wackman and Wartella 1977), age is expected to be positively related to the amount of spending money. While it would appear intuitively that older children would allocate to playing video games a smaller percentage of their available weekly spending money than younger children, McNeal (1964) reported that a number of older children indicate spending the bulk of their allowances on pinball. For this reason, no relationship between age and the percentage of their spending money allocated to video games is predicted.

The third category of general factors involves the influence of parents. The normative beliefs of parents as perceived by the child constitutes one of the measures. Children were asked if their parents like (+1), dislike but allow (-1), or don't mind (0) if the child plays video games. The second measure addresses the influences of parental role models by asking if their parents ever play video games. Responses were coded 0 if neither parent plays, 1 if only one does, and 2 if both play. The consistent findings of a negative relationship between the child's age and their perception of parental influences that were noted in the introductory section lead to similar hypotheses here.

By way of summary, the third substantive hypothesis is as follows:

H3: The age of the child: (a) is unrelated to whether he or she plays video games at home and to their play at a store near home, (b) is positively related to the amount of his or her weekly spending money, but is unrelated to the proportion allocated to play of video games, and (c) is negatively related to his or her perceptions of parental normative beliefs regarding play of video games and to parental participation.

Age as a Mediating Factor. In addition to the bivariate hypotheses specified between age and measures of game-specific satisfaction and determinants, another age-related issue worthy of consideration is its role as a possible mediating influence on relationships between satisfaction indicators and predictors. Churchill and Moschis (1979) found the age of the adolescent to be an antecedent factor influencing directly the extent to which particular socialization agents will be relied upon and influencing indirectly the impact of those agents on social values held. In this role of age as a proxy for cognitive development ant/or socialization, findings of mediating influences of age may be indicative of different processes being operative across age groups as, for example, where younger children rely on their parents more fully than older children when making judgements.

Equally conceivable when self-reported responses are gathered directly from children is the possibility of developmental deficiencies within the younger portion of the study population contributing to increased measurement error in the responses of one or more of the measures being examined. Correction for developmental deficiencies through partialling the effects of age should tend to result in as strong, if not stronger, "true" relationships and should serve to reduce spurious relationships to nonsignificance. Robertson, Rossiter and Gleason (1978) examined correlates of medicine advertising exposure of children both before and after partialling for grate level, sex, social class, the child's illness level, and parental supervision of medicine use. Advertising/beliefs and advertising/medicine-usage relationships dropped from significance after partialling, however advertising/intentions and advertising/requests for medicine did not. Since they ally compared zero- and fifth-order correlations, the separate effects of particular controlling factors, such as grade level, could not be evaluated

While it appeared that all participants in the present study were able to understand the questions and respond accordingly and that they took the task seriously, it is conceivable that younger children were caught off-guard by the questions pertaining to the game ranked the least fun since the focal stimulus was more abstract and removed fran immediate behavior. There is no research evidence on children' s satisfaction/dissatisfaction to support or refute this possibility. For this reason, the fourth hypothesis does not predict a distinction between the recently-played and least fun games:

H4: There will be no significant changes in the relationships of game-specific satisfaction measures with their respective game-specific predictors, as well as with general factors, after the effects of age differences have been removed.


In terms of the distribution of the sample x the basis of age, there were 33 seven and eight year-olds, and 26, 34, 57, and 43 nine, ten, eleven, and twelve year-olds, respectively. Thus, the sample was skewed in favor of older-aged children.

Results of bivariate hypothesis testing with age will first be considered and followed by a discussion of results concerning the effect of age on correlates of satisfaction with video games. Descriptive statistics for the satisfaction indicators and predictors may be found in Tables 2 and 3.

Bivariate Correlates with Age of the Child

Table 1 shows the zero-order correlations of age with game-specific measures of satisfaction and predictors. Hypothesis 1 specified a negative relationship between age and satisfaction measures. For the game which the child had just played (which was presumably one of their most preferred video games), none of the measures were significantly related to age and, in fact, the likelihood of future play was in the opposite direction of that predicted. The basis for the hypothesis was the consistent finding of increasingly negative attitudes toward advertising as a child grows older. Given that the focal stimulus was likely a preferred and desired object since it was chosen independently by the child, the lack of support for the hypothesis is not surprising. Moreover, the findings provide a measure of credence to the assessment of satisfaction among middle-aged and older children. In the case of the game ranked as the least fun, the correlations were negative and strongly significant as predicted. Perhaps older children are better able to make fine distinctions among similar objects and to know what they dislike as well as like; if this is in fact the case, age differences should also tend to mediate influences on satisfaction predictor/indicator relationships.



Results corresponding to the second hypothesis are given in the bottom half of Table 1. The positive correlation predicted between age and the extent of game-specific direct prior experience was supported for the least fun game but not for the game played. One possible explanation is that older children have tried a broader range of games, both good and bad, and may play one which is not highly regarded just for the sake of novelty and change, whereas younger children are likely more prone to stick with the familiar, satisfying games. The predictions associated with the second and third parts of this hypothesis were fully supported, which provides partial substantiation for the stronger role of peers among older children for communicating product-related information and preferences.

Hypothesis three concerned the relationships between age and general factors. It was expected that age would not be related to whether or not the child plays video games at home or at a nearby store; however, age was positively related to home (Point biserial r=.13, p<.05) although not to play at a store (Point biserial r=.03). Perhaps older children tend to be more successful in coaxing their parents to purchase a home computer or electronic game setup for their television. At any rate, the relationship was not strong. The second part of the third hypothesis concerned the association between age and financial constraints and allocation to video games. Results were as expected; age and weekly spending money were strongly related (Pearson r-.36, p<.001), however the percentage allocated to playing video games was not (Pearson r .04, n.s.). Results for the general factors pertaining to parental influences were also according to prediction. Child-reported parental normative beliefs regarding the child's play of video games and parent involvement in playing were both moderately and negatively related to the child's age (Pearson rC.15, -.12, respectively; both p<.05). At the very least the younger child appears to be more likely to claim more positive normative beliefs and parent involvement than the older ones.

Except for age not being related to satisfaction and direct experience with the game played, the results were generally supportive of age-related differences identified in studies which focused on other areas of the consumer behavior of children. A finding of no relationship between age and satisfaction for the game ranked least fun would have provided additional supportive evidence of an apparent capability of younger and older children alike to assess and express their satisfaction/dissatisfaction with both satisfying and dissatisfying products. The results for the game played are, however, promising for future research if the lack of age differences indicates a relative absence of systematic error due to develop mental deficiencies.

Results on the Mediating Influence of Age

Tables 2 and 3 each show zero-order and first-order (after partialling age) correlation coefficients between game-specific satisfaction measures and relevant predictors for the game played and the least fun game, respectively. Examination of Table 2 reveals that removal of age effects from the measures served to have little impact on the correlations, which is what would be expected in the light of the bivariate relationships. In terms of substantive relationships, none of the predictors were consistently and strongly related to satisfaction measures. Of mention are the nonsignificant relationships between game-specific factors and satisfaction; examination of the descriptive statistics for the three predictors reveals that the means are highly skewed, indicating a sample which consisted largely of video game enthusiasts.



The results presented in Table 3 which concern similar analyses for the game ranked as least fun appear to be ma:h different fran those for the game played. In six instances, the effect of partialling age was a decrease in the level of attained significance; in two additional cases, the partial correlations dropped to a nonsignificant level; and in several instances, the direction of the correlation changed. In two instances, however, partialling served to increase the magnitude of the relationship enough for the correlation to become significant at the .10 level. Moreover, the impact of partialling, age did not generally serve to alter the conclusion which would be made about a particular relationship. While the age effects are more pronounced for the focus on the abstract, least fun game, they do not appear to be sufficiently large to be indicative of deficiencies among younger children.

The pattern of relationships across the satisfaction measures in Table 3 seems to indicate that experience and involvement differences between children may be the primary reasons for different levels of reported satisfaction; more experienced and involved children tended to be more negative in their evaluations in comparison with children with little experience who had to implicitly or explicitly rely on the picture of the game for determining their likely satisfaction. These findings tend to imply that children are capable of learning and reporting what is dissatisfying as well as satisfying.




The results of the analyses reported in this paper have important implications for the study of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction of children. The bivariate relationships between age of the child and indicators and predictors of satisfaction were similar to chose found in other studies involving children where age was a factor investigated. Differences were noted in experience, financial constraints, product/brand evaluations, and in peer and parental involvement across the age categories of children. Relationships between predictors and indicators of satisfaction, however, tended to be largely unaffected by a&e differences for the popular video game which was played; for the game presumed to be dissatisfying since it was ranked least fun, there was limited evidence of weakened relationships due to the introduction of age as a controlling factor. While the results were not entirely clearcut, it does appear that children above the age of six are able to respond effectively to simple verbal-response types of questions for the assessment of satisfaction with products and services.

The study conclusions were limited in their generalizability due to several factors. First, since the study was conducted in an arcade the children who participated are not representative of the total population of children between the ages of seven and twelve in terms of their level of satisfaction, knowledge and experience with video games. The study participants probably entered the arcade with a well-developed preference structure and, as a consequence, the relative absence of finding's indicative of developmental deficiencies might not replicate on the broader child population of children. Second, the cooperative assessment of satisfaction for both a satisfying and a supposed dissatisfying game was weakened by the inherent differences in the approaches that were necessary; in the former case, the children had just completed play of the game, and, in the latter, the stimulus cue was a photograph of the game. Moreover, there were invariably individual differences concerning the recency in which their least fun game had been played, a factor which was not assessed, and in tenus of their desire to continue playing video games. Third, although the interviewer is in her early twenties and is likely perceived as "one of us," some children may have been inhibited to respond or otherwise stressed by interaction with an unfamiliar, bat personable adult.

The final limitation is that the analyses reported here and the main study proper were not meant to provide for a strict test of developmental deficiencies. As Chestnut (1979) noted, three elements of performance should be considered: (1) understanding of the task, (2) application of the cognitive ability, and (3) response in the manner defined by the investigator. In this study, the first two elements were assumed to not differ across ages, and the third was tested on y to the extent that the impact of age on satisfaction relationships was considered. There is a definite need for replication in a different location using a broader range of ages and which examines more explicitly the area outlined by Chestnut (1979). Furthermore, additional research in the area of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction of children is needed to determine the apparent degree to which results from this study are characteristic of the true phenomena operative across contexts. In particular, it would be instructive to know if children's satisfaction levels and capabilities for indicating preferences differ significantly across products, brands, and purchases, as well as over time. Only in this way can a full determination be made regarding the viability of assessment of satisfaction among children.


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James H. Leigh, Texas A&amp;M University
Kathi A. Jordan, Texas A&amp;M University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11 | 1984

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