A new paper by Shailendra Pratap Jain (Indiana University), Kalpesh Kaushik Desai (SUNY Binghamton), and Huifang Mao (University of Central Florida) examines how consumers in individualistic- and collectivistic-oriented societies compare products. For example, do consumers in western societies - generally thought of as more individualistic - categorize low-fat cookies or sports cars differently than consumers in eastern societies, considered more collectivistic"
In a study forthcoming in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, the authors tested categorization tendencies through a series of experiments. In the first, participants were analyzed for collectivistic or individualistic tendencies before rating similarities among products. In the second and third, participants were manipulated to tend toward collective thinking or individualistic thinking, and the fourth compared undergraduate students originally from North America and East Asia.
The researchers found that individualists are less affected than collectivists by the context within which products are placed. For example, when a low-fat cookie was grouped with cereal bars and rice cakes in the health food section, collectivists paid more attention to fat content than when the low-fat cookie was shelved taxonomically among all types of cookies. In contrast, individualists perceived the fat content uniformly across contexts.
"Collectivists consider context information in their product categorization more than individualists," the authors write. "Individualists ignore the context and focus only on product features."
The authors conclude: "Our findings fill important gaps in both self-construal and categorization research. An implication of the greater category of membership inclusiveness by individualists is that their stereotypes may be more malleable and less resistant to counter-stereotypical information."
Shailendra Pratap Jain, Kalpesh Kaushik Desai, and Huifang Mao, "The Influence of Chronic and Situational Self-Construal on Categorization." Journal of Consumer Research: June 2007.