Consumer Behavior Critical Review

Consumer Behavior Critical Review

Order Description

Introduction

• The length of an introduction is usually one paragraph for a journal article review and two or three paragraphs for a longer book review. Include a few opening sentences that announce the author(s) and the title, and briefly explain the topic of the text. Present the aim of the text and summarise the main finding or key argument. Conclude the introduction with a brief statement of your evaluation of the text. This can be a positive or negative evaluation or, as is usually the case, a mixed response.

Summary

• Present a summary of the key points along with a limited number of examples. You can also briefly explain the author’s purpose/intentions throughout the text and you may briefly describe how the text is organised. The summary should only make up about a third of the critical review.

Conclusion

• This is usually a very short paragraph. • Restate your overall opinion of the text
. • Briefly present recommendations.
• If necessary some further qualification or explanation of your judgement can be included. This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable. References
• If you have used other sources in you review you should also include a list of references at the end of the review.

Critique

The critique should be a balanced discussion and evaluation of the strengths,
weakness and notable features of the text. You can choose how to
sequence your critique. Here are some examples to get you started:
• Most important to least important conclusions you make about the text.
• If your critique is more positive than negative, then present the negative
points first and the positive last.
• If your critique is more negative than positive, then present the positive
points first and the negative last.
• You could begin by stating what is good about the idea and then concede
and explain how it is limited in some way.

Conclusion

• This is usually a very short paragraph.
• Restate your overall opinion of the text. • Briefly present recommendations.
• If necessary some further qualification or explanation of your judgement can be included. This can help your critique sound fair and reasonable.

References

• If you have used other sources in you review you should also include a list of references at the end of the review

Question

1.What is the author’s aim?
2. What relationship does it bear to other works in the field of Consumer Behaviour?
3. What approach was used for the research? (eg; quantitative or qualitative, analysis/review of theory or current practice, comparative, case study, personal reflection etc…)
4. Are the results valid and reliable?
5. What kinds of evidence does the text rely on?
6. What conclusions are drawn?
7. Are these conclusions justified?
Suggested Structure
Index page
• Summary/Abstract
• Introduction
• Analysis of the journal article– your analysis must be
supported with evidence (citations, quotations and
referencing)
• Conclusions
• Appendix – optional
• Reference List – minimum of 10 sources (books,
journals, websites etc.)

If I want you to like me, should I be like you or unlike you? The effect of prior
positive interaction with the group on conformity and distinctiveness in
consumer decision making

ABSTRACT
The extant research points to conflicting results regarding social influence in consumer decision making. On the one hand, there is empirical
evidence that suggests that people conform to other members of their groups. On the other hand, several studies demonstrated the opposite
pattern, namely, that individuals seek distinctiveness from others in the group. The goal of the present research is to reconcile these contradictory
findings. To this end, I propose that whether a person will conform to or seek distinctiveness fromothers in a particular consumption situation is
contingent on the absence or presence of one’s prior positive interaction with the group. I also suggest that this effect will occur in a public
context, that is, when an individual’s choice is visible to other group members. The results of experiment supported these propositions.
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Suppose Alice wants to start figure skating and goes to watch
a training session conducted by a local skate club before
making the final decision. She likes what she sees, and on
the next day, she goes to the sport store to buy a pair of figure
skates. In the store, Alice sees a few brands of white skates
that look pretty much the same, and she recalls that all people
she saw on the ice the day before were wearing white skates.
There is also one brand that stands apart from the others. It
seems like its skates were designed after rollerblades. They
are blue, with white and black stripes, and Alice does not
remember anyone in such skates. Which skates will Alice
choose if she, personally, likes white and striped skates
equally and neither were recommended to her by her
prospective peers?
On the basis of two different streams of research, which
investigated conformity and distinctiveness in consumer
decision making, one could predict different outcomes. On
the one hand, there is empirical evidence that suggests that
people tend to follow consumption choices of other members
in their group. For example, several researchers used survey
design with self-reported measures of conformity and found
that individuals acknowledged that sometimes they emulated
consumption decisions of other people and even more so in
the case of conspicuous products (Park and Lessig, 1977;
Bearden and Etzel, 1982; Childers and Rao, 1992). Drawing
on the classic Asch’s study (1956), Venkatesan (1966)
complemented this stream of research by using experimental
method with a behavioral measure of conformity and
showing that people not only admit influence of other people
but, in fact, act differently in the presence of others.
Specifically, he presented participants with three identical
men’s suits and asked them to choose the best suit individually
or in the presence of three confederates who
uniformly pointed to the target suit. Consistent with the
notion of conformity, participants followed the responses of
confederates and selected the target suit more often in the
group than in the individual condition.
On the other hand, there is a more recent stream of
research that demonstrated the opposite pattern, namely, that
people admitted the desire for and actually engaged in
distinctiveness seeking in the presence of other members of
their group. For example, Tepper Tian et al. (2001) found
that consumers agreed that sometimes they bought products
or brands that made them stand out of their group. In another
study, Ariely and Levav (2000) examined the sequential
choices of people in a small group setting and showed that
every next person in the group tried to select something
different from what other individuals before him or her had
chosen. Along similar lines, Simonson and Nowlis (2000)
demonstrated that individuals with a high need for uniqueness
were more likely to make unconventional decisions
when they were asked to explain them to other people. In still
another study, Ratner and Kahn (2002) found that when
individual behavior was subject to public scrutiny, people
chose more varied items because they believed that such
decisions would “express to others that they are creative and
interesting people who enjoy many different things” (p. 246).
Overall, previous research showed that people conformed
in some consumption situations and sought distinctiveness in
others. The goal of the present study is to reconcile these
contradictory results by finding a moderator that can account
for both streams of research. To this end, I start by reviewing
the theoretical approaches to conformity. Next, I introduce
optimal distinctiveness theory (ODT) (Brewer 1991) and
propose to extend it in several ways. On the basis of these
extensions, I argue that whether a person will conform to or
seek distinctiveness from others in a particular consumption
situation is contingent on the absence or presence of one’s
prior positive interaction with the group. I also suggest that
this effect will occur in a public context, that is, when an
individual’s choice is visible to other group members. In the
*Correspondence to: Veronika Papyrina, Assistant Professor of Marketing,
College of Business, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
94132, USA.
E-mail: [email protected]
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Journal of Consumer Behaviour, J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/cb.1396
next section, I elaborate on these propositions and develop the
hypotheses. Following that, I describe the design and present
the results of an experiment that tested the interaction effect of
prior positive interaction with the group and visibility of
one’s consumption decision to others on conformity and
distinctiveness. I conclude with a brief discussion of how
theoretical framework proposed in the present research may
account for some conflicting findings on conformity and
distinctiveness in consumer behavior reported in the previous
studies.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Conformity
The extant literature suggests three major motives for
conformity and three corresponding types of social influence.
These motives and processes have been thoroughly discussed
elsewhere (for a recent review, see Cialdini and Goldstein,
2004); therefore, I will only highlight major points relevant
to the present research. The first motive for conformity, which
underlies informational influence, is the desire to hold an
accurate view of reality. This type of influence occurs when
people are uncertain about the right course of action. On such
occasions, individuals turn to others because they genuinely
believe that what others are doing is correct, and hence,
judgments formed under informational influence are maintained
regardless of whether others can or cannot observe
one’s behavior (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955).
The second motive for conformity derives from the desire
to be socially accepted and forms the basis for normative
influence. The theory of normative influence argues that
individuals conform because they believe that similarity
breeds liking, and that agreeing with others will help them
fit in the group and avoid rejection. Consistent with this idea,
in a classic line-judgment task, Asch (1956) observed that a
considerable proportion of participants matched their
responses with the estimates of a group of confederates
despite the fact that opinions expressed by the latter were
blatantly incorrect. Interestingly, most of the individuals
who publically agreed with the confederates later stated that
the “group choice” did not look “correct” to them. Thus, it
appears that normative (rather than informational) pressures
were largely responsible for the social influence observed
in this study. Presumably, individuals view conformity as
the shortest way to gain social acceptance because they
believe that other people compare them to themselves when
reaching social judgments and that other people are more
likely to approve of behavior in which they engage themselves.
All other things being equal, people tend to like
similar others more than dissimilar others (Byrne, 1971;
Palmer and Kalin, 1985; Carli et al., 1991; Hogg et al.,
1993), and because they expect that others will treat them
by the same principle, they view matching their responses
with responses of others as a more efficient way of earning
social approval than emphasizing their differences from them.
Deutsch and Gerard (1955), who distinguished between
informational and normative influence, defined the latter as
“influence to conform to the positive expectations of another”
(p. 629). These expectations, or norms, are essentially the
default behavioral responses of the group. They prescribe
that, in any particular situation, a person should do what a
typical member of the group would do in a similar situation.
Those individuals who conform to the normative prescriptions
merit inclusion in the group, and those who do not follow them
merit exclusion from the group. In other words, the concept of
normative influence suggests that if an individual wants to get
along with others, she or he has to go along with them.
Interestingly, in another early study that employed the
Asch’s line judgment task (Frager, 1970), the conformity rate
among participants from an Eastern country (i.e., Japan) was
lower compared with the levels usually observed in samples
from Western societies. At the first glance, these findings
might appear at odds with a widely accepted notion that
emphasis on group harmony is stronger in collectivist rather
than in individualist cultures (Hofstede, 1980; Singelis,
1994); however, they are consistent with the observations
made by Triandis et al. (1988). In the latter work, researchers
investigated ingroup influence across the range of social
situations and concluded that the hypothesis that collectivists
always conform more should be rejected. More specifically,
they argued that the concept of collectivism needed refinement
and suggested that conformity as a tool of gaining
acceptance by others might, in fact, be more important for
individualists. In subsequent paper, Triandis (1989) elaborated
on this idea by proposing that to better understand patterns of
conformity in different societies, it is necessary to consider
not only the subordination between personal and group goals,
which lies at the core of distinction between individualism
and collectivism, but also the extent of cultural complexity.
Cultural complexity is determined by the number of social
interconnections. In Western societies, the level of complexity
is usually high in the sense that people are involved in numerous
relationships and often find themselves in situations when
they have to choose which groups to enter, leave, or even to
form. As a result, individualists are likely to develop better
skills in getting along with others, which include, among other
things, understanding the wisdom that “similarity breeds
liking” and mastering the technique of conformity as a means
of gaining social acceptance. In this respect, Triandis et al.
(1988) argued that complex cultures make people more sociable
because they have to “work hard to get into and remain in their
ingroups” (p. 333). Alternatively, in collectivist countries, there
is less pressure to learn how to cultivate new relationships
because individuals usually belong to fewer ingroups, and
membership in them is often predetermined (i.e., castes are still
an important part of Indian culture even though the constitution
has banned them). In support of these differences, Wheeler
et al. (1989) observed that compared with collectivists, individualists
were considerably more likely to interact with outgroup
members and concluded that, in general, they seemed
to be more effective in meeting strangers and communicating
with outsiders. The present research has been conducted in the
context ofWestern culture. On the basis of the aforementioned
ideas, I expect that when individuals are not confident in their
acceptance by others because the group is yet to be formed,
they will be more likely to exhibit conformity by emulating
consumption decisions of prospective group members.
468 V. Papyrina
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/cb
At the same time, however, it is important to note that
cultural complexity not only relates to the number of social
interconnections but also influences the nature of self-ingroup
relationships. More specifically, Triandis (1989) proposed
that as societies become more complex, they can also become
more individualistic because as the number of social relationships
increases, the importance of any particular ingroup and
one’s loyalty to it are likely to diminish. The rationale for this
argument is that when people are involved in the extensive
network of relationships, they rely on support from any single
group to a less extent and hence are more likely to give
priorities to their personal rather than to the group goals.
Compared with collectivist countries, Western societies allow
more freedom to act outside of the collective and if a person
comes to realize that one’s goals are incompatible with the
needs of others, the cultural norms of individualism would
support the decision to deviate from the group and “do what’s
best for the self”.
Thus, self-ingroup relationships in Western societies are not
only more voluntary but also more superficial. Individualists
make “friends” easily, but at the same time, they have a
stronger propensity to remain independent and emotionally
detached from their groups. Because individualist cultures
emphasize self-reliance and self-actualization, people expect
that autonomy will be valued by others and, therefore, tend
to act in ways that project those qualities. Notwithstanding
the argument made earlier that anticipation of the interaction
with prospective group members will serve as a motivator for
conformity, I expect that once individuals have confidence in
their group status through positive experience of communicating
with others, they will be more likely to seek distinctiveness
in their consumption decisions. This proposition will be
discussed next from the perspective of the belongingness
hypothesis (Baumeister and Leary, 1995) and the ODT
(Brewer, 1991); however, before I proceed to the next section,
a few words about the third type of conformity, namely, the
referent informational influence, are in order.
The referent informational influence is driven by the desire
to establish a common identity with the group. It was proposed
by Turner (1991) in his self-categorization theory, which
suggests that individuals categorize themselves and others into
groups using the principle of similarity. Among other
consequences, self-categorization leads to conformity because
when individuals classify themselves as members of a certain
group, they adopt attitudes of this group as their own and start
to behave as a typical group member. Turner (1991) termed
this process identification with the group and proposed that
individuals will conform to those with whom they would like
to associate. Similar to the concept of normative influence,
self-categorization theory maintains that individuals will be
more likely to conform in public because the presence of other
members will increase the salience of common identity with
the group.
These informational, normative, and referent informational
influences in social psychology are similar to the informational,
utilitarian, and value-expressive group influences
identified by Park and Lessig (1977) in the realm of consumer
behavior. Researchers in both social psychology (Cialdini and
Goldstein, 2004) and consumer behavior (Childers and Rao,
1992) seem to agree that it is often difficult to disentangle
the aforementioned three processes empirically because any
particular act of conformity may be performed in the service
of more than one motive. However, they also uphold the view
that these types of social influence are conceptually distinct. In
the present research, I attempt to hold the informational component
of social influence constant by providing participants
in all conditions with the same amount of information about
product attributes. My focus is primarily on one’s desire to
have acceptance by and to establish a common identity with
the group. On the basis of the preceding discussion, I expect
that both normative and referent informational influences will
operate in a public setting, that is, when an individual believes
that other group members are or will become aware of one’s
behavior.
The need to belong and the need to be unique
The concepts of normative (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955) and
referent informational influences (Turner, 1991) do not explicitly
explain why people want to be accepted by or to
establish a common identity with the group in the first place.
Other researchers, however, argued that these outcomes of
social interactions are valuable not so much in their own
right but rather as a means of satisfying a deeper need for
inclusion in social relationships. Baumeister and Leary
(1995), for example, proposed an integrative belongingness
hypothesis that states that a wide variety of interpersonal
behaviors, including conformity, is ultimately rooted in the
need to belong with other people. In their view, this need is
fundamental in the sense that it is characteristic of all human
beings and does not derive from any other motive.
To evaluate the belongingness hypothesis, Baumeister
and Leary (1995) reviewed ample empirical evidence that
suggests that individuals have a pervasive drive to develop
positive interpersonal relationships and that it takes them
very little time to form social bonds with other people.
Among this evidence, for example, was the study by Sherif
et al. (1988) that showed that when previously unacquainted
participants were randomly assigned to newly created
groups, identification with the group ensued rapidly. Another
example was the research based on the so-called minimal
group paradigm. The robust finding in this stream of research
is that people exhibit ingroup favoritism even when they are
categorized in groups based on some trivial criterion (Tajfel
et al., 1971) or by lottery (Locksley et al., 1980). It is striking
that these results were obtained when groups had no history
of prior interaction, no face-to-face communication during
the experiment, and no future. A more recent example from
the area of consumer behavior, which would have been
relevant to the review conducted by Baumeister and Leary
(1995), is the study by Briley and Wyer (2002). In this
research, the mere anticipation of performing an anagram
task with other participants induced in individuals a group
mindset and caused them to make consumption decisions
that minimized the risk of negative outcomes for their group.
Taken together, these findings corroborate the idea that the
need to belong is an innate human motive and that individuals
are remarkably quick in developing attachments to
their groups.
Conformity and uniqueness in consumer choices 469
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/cb
At the same time, however, the need to belong does not
operate for all people at all times. In fact, Baumeister and
Leary (1995) argued that individuals need only a certain
amount of social inclusion, and once this need is satiated,
the motivation to seek further belongingness diminishes. A
similar idea was proposed by Brewer (1991) in her ODT.
In particular, she agrees that the need to belong is a universal
human drive, but she also takes this notion a step further and
suggests that another fundamental motive, which is equally
strong, is the need to see oneself as a unique individual.
According to the ODT, these two needs do not complement
but rather compete with each other in such a way that
fulfilling the need to belong activates and redirects efforts
at satisfying the need to be unique and vice versa.
One of the main predictions of ODT is that the need for
social inclusion will prompt people to emphasize their
similarities to the group, whereas the need for uniqueness
will motivate them to focus on their differences from others.
Several researchers (Pickett and Brewer, 2001; Pickett et al.,
2002) tested this prediction and found that depending on
whether the need to belong or the need to be unique was activated,
individuals responded by more or less self-stereotyping,
that is, by rating oneself as a more or less typical group
member, respectively. Extending these ideas into the
consumer behavior domain, I suggest that the tension between
these needs can be resolved not only on the cognitive level by
shifts in self-stereotyping but also on the behavioral level
through individual consumption decisions. This proposition
draws on a notion that individuals use material possessions to
create desirable self-identities as well as make inferences about
identities of other people based on what others own and
actively use, including ordinary everyday products (Solomon,
1983; Dittmar, 1992; Kleine et al., 1993). Dittmar (1992), for
example, suggested that material possessions, as symbols of
one’s identity, may have self-expressive or categorical meaning
for an individual. The product has a self-expressive meaning
when a person uses it to convey a unique image of the self,
and the product has a categorical meaning when a person
uses it to display one’s affiliation with certain groups. This
distinction is analytical rather than absolute in the sense that
any product can have either or both meanings. As will be
discussed later, I expect that in the present research, individuals
will choose a brand that signifies conformity to others or a brand
that allows them to stand out of the group, depending on the
identity concerns that will be salient at a particular moment.
Further, Brewer (1991) conceptually defined belongingness
to the group as perceived similarity to other group
members. Taking ODT a step further, I suggest that another
way how people may acquire the sense of social inclusion
and how it can be conceptualized is through actual interaction
with the group, provided that this experience has a positive
connotation for an individual. This issue is discussed next.
Prior positive interaction with the group
As was mentioned earlier, the extant literature in social
psychology suggests that individuals are quick in forming
social bonds with other people (Baumeister and Leary,
1995). A related aspect of this phenomenon is that, all other
things being equal, individuals expect a positive rather than a
negative interaction with other people. From the conceptual
point of view, this idea dates back to the analysis of the rules
of conversation conducted by Goffman (1955) more than a
half century ago. In this analysis, he proposed that communications
are guided by an interaction ritual that prescribes an
individual to withhold any information that could imply
something negative about another person because even
minimal criticism could make everyone feel uncomfortable
and disrupt the relationships. Rather, individuals in social
interactions are expected to acknowledge each other’s
identities by engaging in “cooperative facework” or at least
to display an ambivalent reaction towards other people that
will not disconfirm their self-definitions.
From the empirical point of view, there is ample evidence
that supports this so-called positivity bias in perceived and
actual social interactions. For example, McNeel and Messick
(1970) found that participants assumed that two people were
having a positive interaction even before they were given any
information about their conversation. In a study of actual
relationships, Wilder and Thompson (1980) demonstrated
that individuals tended to form favorable attitudes toward
whomever they spent time with, even if they previously
disliked those people. Similarly, Alimaras (1967) found an
asymmetry in participants’ ratings of liked and disliked
acquaintances. Whereas ratings of liked acquaintances were
overwhelmingly positive, ratings of disliked acquaintances
included both negative and positive traits. The author
interpreted these results as evidence of a general reluctance
to ascribe negative characteristics to others in interpersonal
relationships.
Of course, in the real-life setting, the content of social
interactions varies widely, and the aforementioned findings
do not imply that the relationship of an individual with the
group will always evolve smoothly. Rather, the theoretical
point is that individuals by default anticipate a positive
interaction with other people and will approach them in the
accepting manner unless they perceive a reason to do
otherwise. In the present research, positive interaction is
conceptualized as a feeling of being accepted and regarded
positively by the group. Empirically, the valence of interaction
is measured rather than manipulated in this study, as will be
discussed further.
Overall, on the basis of the preceding arguments, I suggest
that when individuals do not have an experience of positive
interaction with the group, they will be more likely to follow
other group members in their consumption decisions. On
such occasions, the need for inclusion is not yet satisfied
and people will be motivated to gain acceptance by and to
establish a common identity with the group by emulating
consumption choices of other members. As was mentioned
earlier, both normative and referent informational influences
are more likely to operate in public, that is, when the
consumption decision of an individual can be observed by
others. Thus, I hypothesize the following:
H1: When a person does not have an experience of
positive interaction with a group, one will be more likely
to conform to other members when one’s consumption
decisions are public
470 V. Papyrina
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/cb
H2: There will be no relationship between the absence of
experience of positive interaction with a group and
conformity when one’s consumption decisions are private
Alternatively, I expect that after individuals experience
positive interaction with the group, they will be more likely
to seek distinctiveness from other members if they believe
that others are or will become aware of their behavior. The
rationale for this proposition is that uniqueness represents
an intrinsic human motivation as was proposed by Brewer
(1991) and also constitutes one of the core values in Western
societies and a desirable image to claim (Schlenker, 1980;
Kim and Markus, 1999). In this respect, Hornsey and Jetten
(2004) noticed an interesting paradox that researchers of
group processes often suggest that individuals are malleable
to conformity, whereas Western ideology and the arts are
replete with appeals to stay true to the self and endorse the
ideas of being autonomous and responsible for one’s own
fate. Indeed, American movies and literature often depict a
person who yields to social pressure as weak and subservient
and portray an individual who resists group influence as
powerful and worthy of respect. Because Western culture
encourages and rewards the expression of individuality, it
should be important for a person that one’s distinctiveness
be recognized socially.
Thus, I propose that after individuals experience positive
interaction with the group, they will be more likely to feel
included in it, and therefore, the need to be different will take
precedence over the need to belong. Accordingly, when the
behavior of an individual is visible to other members, one
will be motivated to create a distinct identity within the group
and will be more likely to make consumption choices that
will allow the self to stand out of the group. More formally,
H3: When a person has an experience of positive interaction
with a group, one will be more likely to seek distinctiveness
from other members when one’s consumption decisions are
public
H4: There will be no relationship between the experience
of positive interaction with a group and distinctiveness
seeking when one’s consumption decisions are private
EXPERIMENT
Method
Design
The goal of the experiment was to test the interaction effect
of prior positive interaction with the group and visibility of
individual consumption decisions to others on conformity
and distinctiveness hypothesized in H1 through H4. This
study employed a two (absence or presence of prior positive
interaction with the group) by two (private versus public
consumption decision) between-subjects experimental design.
Procedures and measures
To minimize possible suspicion about the goals of the
experiment, the research was presented to participants as
consisting of three ostensibly unrelated studies that, in
actuality, were three stages of the same study. At the first
stage, which was introduced as a study of personality
characteristics, participants were asked to answer questions
pertaining to individual differences in self-monitoring
(Snyder and Gangestad, 1986) and anxiousness (Leary,
1983), which were included in the analysis as potential
covariates and to provide demographic information.
At the second stage, participants first read a brief note
about a possible national system of electronic health records.
Following that, participants in the prior interaction with the
group condition discussed possible advantages and disadvantages
of this system in groups of 4–5 people. The purpose of
the discussion was to create a history of group interaction
that was not confounded with the subsequent task used to
measure the dependent variable. To minimize procedural
differences, participants in the no prior interaction with the
group condition were asked to think aloud about the same
topic individually.
To foster group identification, participants in the prior
interaction with a group condition were asked to make up a
name for their group and to pick up and wear tags of different
colors during the discussion. To prevent possible confrontation
among group members, the experimenter emphasized
that their goal was not to reach a consensual position on
the issue but rather to generate as many pros and cons of
the system as possible and encouraged participants to express
their opinions freely as they would have done in a conversation
with their friends. Participants had up to 15minutes to
perform this task. To facilitate an informal atmosphere, the
experimenter left the room during the discussion.
After the discussion, participants were seated in separate
rooms, and from this point forward, they performed all tasks
individually. In the next phase, participants completed scales
assessing the valence of their interaction with the group and
identification with the group. The valence of interaction with
the group was measured by asking participants to indicate on
two seven-point scales the extent to which they felt that they
were rejected/accepted and regarded negatively/positively by
other group members during the discussion. The measure of
group identification was adapted from Ellemers et al. (1999;
Table 1).
At the third stage, participants were told that a major
electronics manufacturer, who decided to remain anonymous
to avoid possible associations with its brand name, was
interested in how its model of MP3 video player compared
with that of its competitor. Under this guise, participants
were asked to compare two models of MP3 video players
Table 1. Identification with the group
Construct Items
Identification with
the group
1. During the discussion, I identified with
other group members
2. During the discussion, I felt the sense of
belonging with the group
3. I disliked being a member of this group
(reverse-coded)
4. In many respects, other group members
were similar to me
Conformity and uniqueness in consumer choices 471
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/cb
and choose the one that they preferred. They were told that to
prevent unnecessary paper usage and to avoid having
multiple forms, all members of their group would indicate
their choices on the same preference form. The experimenter
also said that she would randomly determine the order of
completing this form, and that those participants who would
not be the first would have to wait for a few minutes. In
actuality, every participant received a form with bogus
preferences that ostensibly were made by all other group
members that created an impression that everyone was the
last person in the group to complete the preference form.
Bogus choices were handwritten by the experimenter using
different pen colors and marks and connoted the unanimous
preference for one brand over another. That is, every participant
saw on the preference form that all members of the group
ostensibly chose the same brand over another and then indicated
one’s own preference on the next blank line of the form.
In the private consumption decision condition, participants
were assured that their choices of MP3 video player would
remain anonymous even though they would use the same
preference form with other group members. In the public
consumption decision condition, participants were led to
believe that after they indicated their preference, they would
reveal it to and discuss it with other group members. The
dependent variable of interest was whether participants would
conform to others by choosing the same model of MP3 video
player or differentiate themselves by choosing another brand.
After participants made a choice of MP3 video player, they
were asked to indicate the strength of their preference for this
model over another one on a seven-point scale ranging from
“1 = very weakly prefer” to “7 = very strongly prefer”. Participants
answered this question after the preference form was
collected by the experimenter, in a separate questionnaire,
which also contained the manipulation check of public versus
private consumption decision and the suspicion probe. On the
basis of the latter measure, one person was excluded from the
sample because he suspected that unanimous choices of one
model of MP3 video player over another were bogus, and
the data from other six individuals were eliminated from the
analysis because they guessed the hypotheses.
Pretest
The pretest was conducted to ensure that two brands of MP3
video players were equally preferable. Nineteen students from
the same population as participants in the main study rated the
importance of several attributes of MP3 video players and
indicated their preference by dividing 100 points between the
two models. Results of the pretest showed that two brands
of MP3 video players were perceived as compensatory.
Approximately half of the participants chose brand A
whereas the other half chose brand B, and there was no
difference (p>0.76) between the average number of points
allocated to brand A (M= 48.0) and brand B (M= 52.0).
The skewness and kurtosis of the distributions of
preference points for brand A (0.37 and 0.57) and brand
B (0.37 and 0.57) indicate that they tended to cluster around
their respective means, which lend further evidence that these
two models of MP3 video players were equally preferable.
Pretest ratings of attribute importance and characteristics of
MP3 video players are presented in Table 2.
Sample
Participants in this research were students from a major
North American University, who were recruited by posting
flyers on campus. Each person received two movie tickets
for participation in the study. To be included in the sample
for hypotheses tests, participants had to satisfy two criteria.
First, recall that theoretical reasoning for hypotheses H1
through H4 builds on the assumption of a positive interaction
of an individual with the group. In this study, the valence of
interaction was operationalized as an individual’s perception
of whether other members of the group rejected/accepted the
self and regarded the self negatively/positively. Accordingly, to
meet the aforementioned assumption, only those participants
who scored above the midpoint on both measures were
included in the analysis. This resulted in the elimination of
14 per cent of respondents from the original sample.
Second, a person’s perception of whether the self was
accepted by others captures only one facet of interpersonal
dynamics, namely, the perceived reaction of the group to
an individual. The converse aspect of social interactions,
Table 2. Importance of attributes and description of mp3 video players
Attribute Importance: mean (SD) Brand A Brand B
Internal memory 5.9 (1.2) 20GB 30GB
Expansion memory format 4.7 (1.7) None None
Audio quality 6.5 (0.6) Excellenta Very gooda
Video and picture quality 6.0 (1.1) Gooda Gooda
Audio playback time 5.5 (1.0) 12 hours 15 hours
Video playback time 5.3 (1.0) 5 hours 4 hours
Display dimensions (WH in cm) 4.4 (1.5) 4.33.6 7.65.8
Overall dimensions (WHD in cm) 5.2 (1.2) 10.76.11.8 12.57.42.3
Weight (in grams) 5.7 (1.2) 160 240
Built-in microphone 3.1 (1.8) Yes Yes
Quality of recording via microphone 3.1 (1.9) Very gooda Faira
Quality of recording via line input 3.7 (1.8) Excellenta Excellenta
Capability to view video or images on TV 4.9 (1.6) Yes Yes
FM radio 2.9 (2.1) No Yes
Batteries 4.2 (1.9) Non-removable, rechargeable Removable, rechargeable
aRated by experts on a five-point scale: excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor.
472 V. Papyrina
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/cb
which was termed by Turner (1991) identification with the
group, is the disposition of an individual toward the group.
Identification expresses the degree to which a person is
attracted to, or psychologically involved with, the group
and thinks of oneself as a member of the group. The attitude
of the group toward an individual and the attitude of an individual
toward the group will not necessarily be in synch. It is
possible that a person will not wish to be a member of the
group and will reject the group even when one feels that
one is being accepted by others. On such occasions, when
identification with the group is low, an individual may
engage in behavior that differentiates oneself from other
group members to distance oneself from the group. In the
context of the present study, this suggests that two different
motives may lead to the same behavior. More specifically,
there is a possibility that the choice of a brand that signifies
distinctiveness from others may be driven by the desire to
dissociate oneself from the group rather than by the desire
to create a unique identity within the group. To rule out this
alternative explanation of the distinctiveness seeking, only
those individuals who scored at or above the midpoint on
all scales that measured identification with the group were
included in the analyses. This reduced the sample by another
9 per cent. The final sample comprised 31 males and 33
females in the age range of 18 to 24 years old.
Results
Manipulation check
To assess effectiveness of the manipulation of public versus
private consumption decision, participants were asked to
indicate on a seven-point Likert scale the extent to which they
believed that other group members would become aware of
their choice of MP3 video player. The ANOVA revealed a
significant effect of visibility manipulation (F(1, 60) = 319.31,
p<0.0001). As expected, respondents in the public condition
(Mpublic = 5.73) were more likely to expect that others would
know what brand of MP3 video player they preferred than
respondents in the private condition (Mpublic=1.35). No other
effects on this measure were observed.
Covariates
Gender (p>0.50), importance of the group opinion for an
individual (p>0.65), and anxiousness (p>0.65) did not
covary significantly with the dependent variable. Individual
differences in self-monitoring (Wald = 3.34, p<0.07) was a
marginally significant covariate with the choice of MP3
video player, indicating that higher self-monitors were
slightly more likely to seek distinctiveness from than to
conform to their groups.
Hypotheses tests
The log-linear test revealed a significant interaction effect of
prior interaction with the group and visibility of individual
consumption decisions on the choice of MP3 video player
(w2 = 3.94, p<0.05). As predicted, the test of proportions
was significant in the public condition (w2 = 5.11, p<0.05).
In line with H1, when participants did not have a history of
prior interaction with the group but expected to meet the
group and thought that other members would know about
their choices of MP3 video player, 69 per cent of respondents
chose the brand that was ostensibly preferred by everyone
else in the group, and only 31 per cent of respondents chose
a different brand. The pattern of results was reversed in the
subcondition of prior interaction with the group, which was
consistent with H3. After individuals had a positive experience
of interaction with the group and believed that other members
would subsequently observe their consumption decisions,
only 29 per cent of participants conformed to the preferences
of other group members, whereas 71 per cent of participants
made a choice in favor of the brand that allowed them to
differentiate the self from others.
As expected, the test of proportions showed no difference
in preferences between the two models in the private
condition (p>0.85). When participants believed that others
would not become aware of their consumption decisions, the
pattern of results was similar to that obtained in the pretest.
Regardless of whether individuals did or did not interact
with their groups before making a choice of MP3 video
player, preferences between the two models split up
approximately in halves. In the subcondition of no prior
interaction with the group, 44 per cent of respondents chose
the brand that was supposedly preferred by all other group
members, and 56 per cent of participants chose another
brand, which was consistent with H2. Similarly, in the
subcondition of prior interaction with the group, the
proportions were 47 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively,
which was in line with H4. The results are depicted in
Figure 1.
Finally, as was mentioned in the description of study
procedures, after participants chose a model of MP3 video
player, they were asked how strongly they preferred it over
another one. It is noteworthy that there were no differences
(p>0.39) in the strength of preference for the brand that
signified conformity (M= 4.37, SD = 1.67) and the brand
that expressed distinctiveness (M= 4.70, SD = 1.47). Both
means were close to the midpoint of the scale pointing to
the relatively moderate degrees of preference for both
brands.
100 %
0 %
Public Private
Conformity Distinctiveness
Prior
Interaction
Prior
Interaction
No
Interaction
No
Interaction
Figure 1. Experiment 1: Effect of prior positive interaction with the
group.
Conformity and uniqueness in consumer choices 473
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/cb
CONCLUSION
To reiterate, the goal of the present research was to reconcile
contradictory findings that were reported in previous studies
that people conformed in some consumption situations (e.g.,
Venkatesan, 1966) and sought distinctiveness in others (e.g.,
Ariely and Levav, 2000; Ratner and Kahn, 2002). To this
end, I proposed that whether an individual would conform
to or differentiate oneself from others in a particular
consumption situation depends on the presence or absence
of one’s prior positive interaction with the group. I also
suggested that this effect would occur in a public context,
that is, when a person would believe that other group
members would observe one’s choice.
Theoretical arguments for the aforementioned relationships
built on the idea that people are driven by two fundamental
motives—the desire to belong with others and the desire to
be unique. The main proposition, which was based on the
ODT (Brewer, 1991), was that these two motives compete
with each other in such a way that satisfaction of the former
activates the latter and vice versa. Extending this theory in
several ways, I suggested that when individuals did not have
a history of prior positive relationships with the group, they
would be more likely to conform. The reasoning behind this
proposition was that in these cases, the need to belong was
not yet satisfied, and individuals would be motivated to create
the sense of common identity with the group and to gain its
approval by choosing the same brands or products as other
group members. And alternatively, I expected that after
experiencing a positive interaction with the group, individuals
would be more likely to seek distinctiveness from others in the
group because in this situation, the need to be unique would
take precedence over the need to belong.
As predicted, the results of experiment yielded support for
the interaction effect of prior positive interaction with the
group and visibility of one’s consumption decision to others
on conformity and distinctiveness. Specifically, I found that
when individuals believed that their consumption choices
would be visible to others, yet they did not have a history
of positive relationships with the group, they were more
likely to match their choices with the preferences of other
group members. Presumably, in this situation, individuals
were motivated to get approval, or at least to avoid rejection,
by the group they were about to meet and reasoned that the
best way to get along with others was to go along with them.
Consistent with expectations, the pattern of results was
reversed after participants experienced a positive interaction
with the group. In this case, individuals were more likely to
make a choice that allowed them to stand out in the group.
The rationale for this behavior offered in the present study
was that even a brief interaction with previously unacquainted
people was sufficient to make individuals feel
accepted and appreciated and evoked in them the desire to
present oneself in a unique way.
It is also interesting to note that during the discussion, the
majority of individuals not only felt that others reacted
positively to them but also identified with their groups to a
relatively high degree. Partially, this might be because of
the fact that all participants came from the same student
population and might have had a lot in common. At the same
time, these observations are consistent with the idea
suggested in social psychological research that, all other
things being equal, individuals anticipate pleasant rather than
unpleasant interactions with other people and are quick in
forming attachments to their groups (for a review, see
Baumeister and Leary, 1995; for empirical evidence for the
positive bias in social interactions, see Rosenbaum, 1986).
It appears that in the present study, most individuals indeed
approached and were approached by others in the accepting
manner and that this positive experience encouraged them
to create a distinct image of the self within the group.
In the private context, no support was found for the
relationship between prior positive interaction with the group
and either conformity or distinctiveness. These findings were
consistent with expectations and with previous research that
showed that individuals tended to conform to (e.g., Venkatesan,
1966) and seek distinctiveness from others (e.g., Ratner and
Kahn, 2002) only when they believed that others were aware
of their behavior.
To summarize, theoretical framework proposed in the
present research accounts for some conflicting results on
conformity and distinctiveness in consumer decision making
reported in previous studies. Specifically, careful examination
of the experimental designs used in prior research reveals that
in those experiments that found empirical evidence for
conformity (e.g., Venkatesan, 1966), authors employed
confederates who were unknown to study participants. It
is possible that the situation in which participants had no
history of prior positive interaction with the group aroused
the need for inclusion and, accordingly, motivated participants
to conform to the responses of confederates. And conversely,
in those studies that demonstrated that people sought
distinctiveness from others, experimental groups often
included either students who had probably interacted on a
somewhat regular basis before the experiment (Ariely and
Levav, 2000, Study 3; Ratner and Kahn, 2002) or other
individuals who apparently had known each other relatively
well (Ariely and Levav, 2000, Studies 1 and 2). In these
cases, it seems plausible to suggest that the need to belong
had already been fulfilled before the experiment, which
might have brought into play the need to be unique and
motivated participants to differentiate the self from other
group members.
In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge several
limitations of the present research that merit further
investigation. As discussed earlier, the hypotheses developed
in this study build on the assumption of a positive interaction
with the group and, accordingly, the sample comprised only
those individuals who reported above average level of
identification with and perceived acceptance by other
members. An alternative to screening out participants would
be to include the valence of group interaction in the test and
examine its moderation effect. In this research, the number of
students who had relatively unfavorable experience with
their groups was insufficient for such analysis; however,
instead of measuring the valence of group interaction, future
studies may manipulate it, for example, by using confederates
or providing participants with bogus feedback as to whether
474 V. Papyrina
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Consumer Behav. 11: 467–476 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/cb
they were regarded positively or negatively by others. Another
venue for future research might be to investigate whether
conformity and distinctiveness are contingent on individual
differences such as self-monitoring, anxiousness, gender, and
age. In addition, it would be interesting to consider the role
of context-specific factors such as group composition and
nature of the relationships. Clearly, in this study, groups
formed in the laboratory were temporary and superficial, and
it is unlikely that their impact would continue beyond the
experimental task. Thus, it is unclear whether the same pattern
of outcomes would be observed in more stable groups that
have more power to reward and punish their members over
long periods of time, and hence might be considerably more
significant for the individuals. In sum, the present research
represents the first attempt, and more efforts are needed to
examine the interplay between conformity and distinctiveness.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The author would like to thank June Cotte, Robert Fisher,
and Kyle B.Murray for their helpful comments and suggestions
on the earlier versions of this manuscript.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES
Veronika Papyrina is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the
College of Business at San Francisco State University. She got her
PhD at the Ivey Business School at the University of Western
Ontario. Her research interests include social influence in consumer
behavior, cognitive responses to advertising, and persuasion.
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