The Emerging Behavioral Process Technology in Consumer Decision-Making Research

ABSTRACT - A research program which studies consumer decision-making using newly developed methods, measures, and analyses is briefly described. Salient characteristics are that it: (1) is based upon actual overt behavior rather than verbal reports; (2) captures and preserves the dynamic nature of decision-making as an ongoing process; and (3) permits subjects rather Chad investigators co control the depth, content, and sequence of information acquisition. Ways this approach can be applied to studying family decision-making are then described.


Jacob Jacoby (1977) ,"The Emerging Behavioral Process Technology in Consumer Decision-Making Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 263-265.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 263-265


Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University


A research program which studies consumer decision-making using newly developed methods, measures, and analyses is briefly described. Salient characteristics are that it: (1) is based upon actual overt behavior rather than verbal reports; (2) captures and preserves the dynamic nature of decision-making as an ongoing process; and (3) permits subjects rather Chad investigators co control the depth, content, and sequence of information acquisition. Ways this approach can be applied to studying family decision-making are then described.


Virtually all contemporary theories and models of consumer behavior argue that such behavior is the result of a dynamic and often complex decision-making process (cf. Chestnut and Jacoby, in press; Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell, 1973; Hansen, 1972; Howard and Sheth, 1969; Markin, 1974; Nicosia, 1966). Empirical approaches, however, have lagged behind these theoretical developments. Thus, while consumer behavior is now routinely conceptualized and discussed in terms of a decision process, research methodologies appropriate for investigating dynamic processes are not generally utilized. Instead, theoretically dynamic issues are investigated via static, cross-sectional methods. Nearly 90% of the time, this involves collecting verbal reports via interview or self-administered questionnaire (cf. Jacoby, 1976). Using such an approach, the decision process is obscured and the investigator can only draw inadequate inferences regarding what actually happened during the temporal sequence leading to the purchase decision.

It is against this dominant empirical model (i.e., static assessment via verbal reports) that we wish to position our (3acoby and Chestnut, in preparation) approach for studying consumer decision-making. We call this approach, which is basically a form of simulation, "behavioral process technology." The significance of each of these terms merits brief description.

First, the word behavioral is meant to indicate that we eschew verbal reports regarding information acquisition behavior -- regardless of whether these reports are collected by trained interviewers or self-administered questionnaires and regardless of whether said reports are collected prior Co, subsequent co, or concurrent with decision-making. In this regard, our approach diametrically contrasts with the verbal protocol process approach popularized by some contemporary consumer researchers (cf. Bettman, 1970, 1971, 1974; Wright, 1973, 1974). The reasons for eschewing verbal reports are manifold. Some relate to the numerous assumptions being made (many of which are invalid Co begin with) which underlie the utilization and acceptance of verbal report data. A subset of these assumptions were described in an address to last year's ACR conference (cf. Jacoby, 1976, p. 4), More are discussed in considerable detail in the volume now nearing completion (3acoby and Chestnut, in preparation). Given the questionable validity of much verbal report data, it is nothing short of amazing that consumer researchers persist in maintaining slavish reliance upon verbal reports as the mainstay of their empirical efforts.

Second, our approach is one which captures and preserves the dynamic process that is characteristic of decision-making. Underlying this approach is the assumption that decision-making is based upon the acquisition, evaluation, and integration of information. Said information can be either objective or subjective (i.e., symbolic). At the outset, it can reside in memory, be entirely external co the individual, or be in some combination of internal and external memory. Thus far, our research has focused primarily upon objective, external information. The essential operation is to force the individual co acquire the information he feels he needs for a decision and to monitor this acquisition process from start-co-finish (i.e., from problem onset to problem resolution, i.e., decision). The phrase "he feels he needs" is critical, since some subjects feel they need no information other than brand name while other subjects go into varying degrees of information acquisition. The key point with our approach is Chat the acquisition is under the control of the subject, not the investigator.

Third, the word technology is meant to encompass three primary facets of empirical research as described by Jacoby (1976). These are: methods, measures, and analyses. That is, our approach consists of more than a family of different process methods for capturing the dynamic nature of information acquisition during decision-making. It also includes process indices (i.e., reduced form descriptors necessary for summarizing the mass of complex data obtained when employing process methods while, at the same time, preserving the sequential nature of the data) and process analyses (a sec of statistical tools for analyzing process data which continues to accommodate and preserve the dynamic character of the data).

A brief account of the direct historical antecedents and early developments underlying this approach may be found in Jacoby (1975a). A considerably more thorough account is provided in the working paper version of this manuscript (Jacoby, 1975b). The first two empirical investigations utilizing behavioral process methods were conducted during the 1972-73 academic year and provide worthwhile perspective (Berning and Jacoby, 1974; Jacoby, Szybillo, and Busato-Schach, in press). What started out as a cross-cultural replication of one of these studies has extended knowledge and methodology even further (Jacoby, Hefner, Sch÷ler, Grabicke, and Raffle, 1976).

A major statement regarding newer developments -- particularly regarding process methods and the types of data which result from application of these methods, specifically, depth (how much?), content (just which?), and sequence (in what order?) -- was provided at last year's ACR conference (3acoby, Chestnut, Weigl, and Fisher, 1976). Companion pieces based upon the same pool of data (Bettman and Jacoby, 1976; Chestnut and Jacoby, 1976a; Jacoby, Chestnut, and Fisher, 1976) amplify upon the approach and its utility.

With specific regard co information content, one recent paper described how the technology has been used to study price information acquisition (Jacoby and Olson, 1976), another has focused on the acquisition and comprehension of nutrition information (Jacoby, Chestnut, Silberman, LaChance, and Willoughby, 1976), and a third has explored an impact of energy efficiency information labeling (Chestnut, 1976). Yet other studies have examined a variety of issues, including the impact of perceived risk on information acquisition (Weigl and Jacoby, in preparation), the nature of optimizer and satisficer orientations and information acquisition (Silva-McSorley, 1976), the relationship between the amount of information available and the amount of information acquired (Jacoby, Sheluga, and Chestnut, in preparation), and the impact of multiple decision-making and other time costs on information acquisition (Chestnut and Jacoby, 1976b). A study which examined the pattern of information acquisition across a variety of qualitatively different decision contexts (Jacoby, Chestnut, Hoyer, and Donahue, in preparation) is now being cross-culturally replicated by our German colleagues at the University of Mannheim.

A theoretical substrate for guiding application of the technology and basic research has also been articulated (Chestnut and Jacoby, in press). Finally, a volume describing the findings of a thirty-month project in which the technology has been applied to a socio-demographically heterogeneous sample of nearly 800 adult consumers making nondurable purchase decisions will be available by early 1977 (Jacoby and Chestnut, 1977).


The studies described thus far, though employing a variety of process methods and focusing on different issues, have all had the following situation in common: a single decision-maker was required to acquire information from the environment in the process of arriving at one or more purchase decisions. The application to family (or group) decision-making is necessarily different, in that it involves an interaction between two (or more) individuals and the information available in the environment. This complicates the situation. Consider a husband (H) and wife (W) making a decision to purchase a new dishwasher. Either H, W, or both can search for and acquire the relevant available information. If both do, then the overlap in information acquired can range from 0% (a situation in which each looks at a completely different subset of the information available) to 100% (a situation in which they each look at the same information). Either H, W, or both can share information with the other spouse after having acquired it. The degree of information sharing can range anywhere from something just above 0% all the way to 100% of the information originally acquired; that is, information can be and often is "filtered" prior to transmission. Temporally, such sharing can occur somewhere during the middle of the acquisition process (i.e., one or both parties will subsequently engage in additional information acquisition) or after information acquisition has been completed. In the former case, such feedback has an opportunity to influence the nature of subsequent information acquisition. Thus, the purchase decision may consist of many intermediate (or mini) decisions made along the way, and feedback from one spouse to another may influence these intermediate decisions as well as influence the final decision itself. On a grander scale, such as when spouses make purchase decisions across a series of different products, the opportunity for and impact of feedback can be substantial.

Although not analyzed using the more recently (1975-76) developed techniques, Hart (1974) did employ 89 married couples and a variant of the process methodology to study the impact of feedback from one spouse to another over a series of purchase decisions regarding anniversary gifts. A primary objective of Hart's study was to examine changes in decision-making as a function of who bore the consequences of the decision, oneself or one's spouse. Among his findings were: (1) married individuals make more conservative purchase decisions when deciding on products for their spouses than when deciding for themselves (p < .0001); (2) married individuals seem to become more conservative when the decision-maker receives feedback from his/her spouse after each purchase decision than when no feedback is present (p = .082); (3) given feedback, there tends to be a convergence over time (more specifically, over a series of 18 different purchase decisions) in the degree of risk-taking manifested by husbands and wives (p < .004).

Hart was simultaneously exploring many issues; accordingly, his methodology was quite complex. Time and space limitations do not permit describing these in detail. Serious students of family decision-making are urged to read and examine this investigation in considerable detail, given the wealth of methodological advancements it contains.

The study of family decision-making can also be approached employing one or another of the more commonly used behavioral process methods. As one concrete and highly simple example, consider the rudimentary process methods employed by Jacoby, Szybillo, and Busato-Schach (in press). Individuals were confronted with either 4, 8, or 12 brands of toothpaste and could acquire information for 18 dimensions relevant to these purchase alternatives. These subjects were free to acquire as much or as little of the available information as they wished prior to making their purchase decision. The resultant data can be examined from a variety of perspectives. Of interest in this investigation was how much and just which information was acquired.

Numerous approaches for studying family decision-making can be integrated with this basic methodology. In an example suggested by Hart's research, husband and wife could be asked to arrive at a series of purchase decisions independently. The content (as well as amount and sequence) of each spouse's information acquisition behavior could be divulged to the mates, either after each individual item of information had been acquired or at the end of each complete decision. The impact that this feedback had on subsequent information acquisition and decision-making could thus be explored. The data could also be used in an educational-counseling sense, as a basis for exploring the information needs and acquisition behavior of each spouse relative to the other. Numerous options for experimentally manipulating the available information, other aspects of the environment, and the nature of the feedback provided also generate opportunities for other interesting and meaningful research.

As another example, both spouses could be set to work on the same information display board end asked to jointly acquire information as they deemed necessary for arriving at a joint purchase decision. One could thereby empirically examine the process by which they arrive at decisions regarding: (1) whether to acquire information at all and, if so, (2) just which information this should be.

These examples are meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive. Interested readers are urged to give their research needs and creative faculties free reign in devising other approaches for utilizing behavioral processing technology to study family decision-making. While we do not argue that behavioral process technology is in all ways superior to (and therefore should supplant) currently available empirical approaches, we do believe it has many distinct and relatively unique advantages for studying aspects of information processing in family decision-making. Thus, we strongly urge researchers in the field to become familiar with this evolving technology and give it the place it deserves in their tool bag of empirical approaches.


Carol A. K. Berning and Jacob Jacoby, "Patterns of Information Acquisition in New Product Purchases," Journal of Consumer Research, 1(September, 1974), 18-22. --

James R. Bettman, "Information Processing Models of Consumer Behavior," Journal of Marketing Research, 7 (August, 1970), 370-376.

James R. Bettman, "The Structure of Consumer Choice Processes," Journal of Marketing Research, 8(November, 1971), 465-471.

James R. Bettman, "Decision Net Models of Buyer Information Processing and Choice: Findings, Problems, and Prospects," in G. D. Hughes and M. L. Ray, eds., Buyer/ Consumer Information Processing (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1974, 59-74).

James R. Bettman and Jacob Jacoby, "Patterns of Processing in Consumer Information Acquisition," in B. B. Anderson, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 3 (1976), 315-320.

Robert W. Chestnut, "The Impact of Energy-Efficiency Ratings: Selective vs. Elaborative Encoding," Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, No. 160 (1976). --

Robert W. Chestnut and Jacob Jacoby, "Analytical Techniques for Examining Process Data," Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, No. 154 (1976a).

Robert W. Chestnut and Jacob Jacoby, "Time 'Costs' and Information-Seeking Behavior," Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, No. 155 (1976b).

Robert W. Chestnut and Jacob Jacoby, "Consumer Information Processing: Emerging Theory and Findings," in A. G. Woodside, P. D. Bennett, and J. N. Sheth, eds., Foundations of Consumer and Industrial Buying Behavior (New York: American Elsevier, in press).

James F. Engel, David T. Kollat, and Roger D. Blackwell, Consumer Behavior, 2nd ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973).

Flemming Hansen, Consumer Choice Behavior: A Cognitive Theory (New York: Free Press, 1972).

Edward W. Hart, Jr., "Consumer Risk-Taking for Self and for Spouse," unpublished Ph.D. dissertation (Purdue University, 1974).

John A. Howard and Jagdish N. Sheth, The Theory of Buyer Behavior (New York: Wiley, 1969).

Jacob Jacoby, "Perspectives on a Consumer Information Processing Research Program," Communication Research, 2(July, 1975a) 203-215.

Jacob Jacoby, "How I Spent My Summer and Winter Vacations: Perspectives on a Consumer Information Processing Research Program," Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, No. 147 (1975b).

Jacob Jacoby, "Consumer Research: Telling It Like It Is," in B. B. Anderson, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 3 (1976), 1-11.

Jacob Jacoby and Robert W. Chestnut, "Amount, Type, and Order of Package Information Acquisition in Purchasing Decisions," final report to the National Science Foundation (GI-43687), 1977.

Jacob Jacoby and Robert W. Chestnut, A Behavioral Process Technology for Social Science Research: Assessing. Judgments and Decisions, in preparation.

Jacob Jacoby, Robert W. Chestnut, and William Fisher, "Simulating Nondurable Purchase: Individual Differences and Information Acquisition Behavior," Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, No. 153 (1976).

Jacob Jacoby, Robert W. Chestnut, Wayne Hoyer, and Michael Donahue, "Consistency in Information Acquisition Strategies across Different Decision Contexts," in preparation.

Jacob Jacoby, David A. Sheluga, and Robert W. Chestnut, "Extent of Information Acquisition as a Function of Amount of Information Available," in preparation.

Jacob Jacoby, Robert W. Chestnut, William Silberman, Charles LaChance, and Robb Willoughby, "Consumer Use and Comprehension of Nutrition Information," Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, No. 163 (1976).

Jacob Jacoby, Robert, W. Chestnut, Karl C. Weigl, and William Fisher, "Pre-Purchase Information Acquisition: Description of a Process Methodology, Research Paradigm, and Pilot Investigation," in B. B. Anderson, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 3 (1976), 306-314.

Jacob Jacoby, Margarete Hefner, Manfred Sch÷ler, Klaus Grabicke, Hans Raffle, "Information Acquisition Behavior in Brand Choice Situations: A Cross-Cultural Extension," Purdue Papers in Consumer Psychology, No. 162 (1976).

Jacob Jacoby and Jerry C. Olson, "Consumer Reaction to Price: An Attitudinal, Information-Processing Perspective,'' in Y. Wind and M. Greenberg, eds., Moving Ahead with Attitude Research (Chicago: American Marketing Association, 1976, in press).

Jacob Jacoby, George Szybillo, and Jacqueline Busato-Schach, "Information Acquisition Behavior in Brand Choice Situations," Journal of Consumer Research, in press.

Rom J. Markin, Consumer Behavior: A Cognitive Orientation (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974).

Francesco Nicosia, Consumer Decision Processes (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966).

Rosario F. Silva-McSorley, "Satisficing vs. Optimizing Strategies in Purchase Choice Situations," unpublished M.S. thesis (Purdue University, 1976).

Karl C. Weigl, and Jacob Jacoby, "Information Acquisition in the Service of Risk Reduction," in preparation.

Peter L. Wright, "Research Orientations for Analyzing Consumer Judgment Processes," in S. Ward and P. L. Wright, eds., Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 1, (1973), 268-279.

Peter L. Wright, "The Harassed Decision Maker: Time Pressures, Distractions, and the Use of Evidence," Journal of Applied Psychology, 59(October, 1974), 555-561.



Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04 | 1977

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