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A systematic self-observation study of consumers’ conceptions of practical wisdom ineveryday purchase eventsDavid Glen Mick a,⁎, Stephen A. Spiller b, Anthony J. Baglioni aa McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia, United Statesb Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, United Statesa r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c tArticle history:Received 1 June 2010Received in revised form 1 September 2010Accepted 1 February 2011Available online 5 March 2011Keywords:IntrospectionConsumer choiceSystematic self-observationPractical wisdomThis project introduces the method of Systematic Self-Observation (SSO) to business researchers, compares itto other modes of introspection, and illustrates its application in a study of consumers’ conceptions of theirpractical wisdom (or lack thereof) during ongoing purchase events. Qualitative data analysis is combined withhierarchical linear modeling analyses. Results are discussed in terms of how this application extends the SSOmethod as well as consumer behavior and wisdom theories. Discussion also addresses opportunities for futureuse of SSO.Published by Elsevier Inc.1. IntroductionIntrospection is the process of looking inward – as an act of selfexamination – to attend consciously to one’s current mental state.Despite evidence of its value in the humanities and social sciences(e.g., Boring, 1953; Hixon and Swann, 1993; Macdonald, 1996),introspection has been used sparingly in marketing and consumerresearch on a formal basis (on an informal basis, many researchersdraw from their own lives and self-insights to formulate hypothesesand explanations). The development of introspection for the benefit ofextending knowledge will depend in part on learning about andappreciating the application of various introspection approaches. Oneof those not seen before in marketing research, and which offerscertain advantages, is Systematic Self-Observation (SSO). In this paperwe describe SSO and compare it to other modes of introspection. Wethen illustrate its application in a study that explores how consumersconceive of what it means to be wise or unwise in their ongoingpurchases. We discuss the results in terms of advancing applicationsof the SSO method (e.g., via hierarchical linear analyses) anddiscovering new insights on consumer choice and wisdom. Discussionfocuses also on opportunities for future use of SSO.2. The nature, design, and conduct of systematic self-observationSystematic Self-Observation developed from a mission to discover,describe, and comprehend the patterns and experiences of ordinarylife (Rodriguez and Ryave, 2002). It is founded upon major theorists insociology and psychology, such as Goffman (1967), Garfinkel (1967),and Jung (1961), who come from the paradigms of symbolicinteractionism, semiotics, conversation analysis, and analytic psychology, among others. SSO involves multiple informants who aretrained by the investigators to notice and record selected aspects oftheir daily experiences. Informants complete a timely field report oftheir observations, including details of actions, communications, andsituational settings. Typically, each informant provides severalwritten narratives on the topic for a given study.Since everyday life is complex, contextualized, and dynamic, thechoice of SSO topic is important so that the best theoretical andsubstantive insights can be realized. SSO is especially appropriate forconcealed or subtle topics such as motives/goals, feelings, andcognitive processes that accompany human activities. Examples inthe past have included telling secrets, withholding compliments, andengaging in social comparisons that generate envy. Rodriguez andRyave (2002) outline six criteria for choosing an apt SSO topic. Itshould be (1) natural to the culture under investigation; (2) singularand specific (rather than a vague topic, such as “moments of socialintimacy,” it should be more focused, such as “admitting to someoneyou are afraid”); (3) noticeable (with training) by informants;(4) intermittent (occurring neither extremely often nor rarely);(5) bounded (has a distinct beginning and end); and (6) of shortJournal of Business Research 65 (2012) 1051–1059⁎ Corresponding author at: University of Virginia, McIntire School of Commerce,Rouss & Robertson Halls, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, United States.Tel.: +1 434 924 3442.E-mail address: [email protected] (D.G. Mick).0148-2963/$ – see front matter. Published by Elsevier Inc.doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2011.02.033Contents lists available at ScienceDirectJournal of Business Researchduration (not instantaneous and not lengthy so that the full course ofthe event and experience can be observed and reported).SSO research usually involves a sizeable and varied sample of informants, leading to tens, if not hundreds of reports. Past SSO researchin sociology has regularly relied on college students as informants.Rodriguez and Ryave (2002) endorse that practice by noting that thesestudents are adept at SSO because they are literate, cooperative, andkeen observers. In the pre-study training sessions, informants areguided on how to be mindful to noticing the research topic as it occursin their lives, and they are usually shown instances of prior reports toencourage honesty, accuracy, and detail in generating their ownreports. If feasible, informants are expected to carry a pencil and paperwith them (or a tape recorder or portable computer) to record theirentries immediately, or as soon as possible after the selected phenomenon has occurred.3. Comparison of SSO to other introspection approachesTo highlight the distinctiveness of SSO and how we extend itsusefulness, we compare it first to two other types of introspectiontechniques that could potentially deal with the same issues that weare addressing. First, there is the traditional type of introspectionknown as Self Introspection in which a lone individual intensivelyfocuses on his or her personal psychological processes or content. SelfIntrospection has produced a limited but insightful set of applicationsin marketing research (Gould, 1991; Hirschman, 1992; Holbrook,1995; Levy, 1996; Mick, 1997), drawing attention to consumptionbehaviors that have remained unexplored or insufficiently elaborated,such as hygiene rituals and dependencies on products. Secondly, thereis Interactive Introspection. As the name suggests, this form isdesigned so that the investigator and one or more informants eachengage in private introspections about a selected topic, and then sharetheir insights in subsequent meetings. Ellis (1991) details her findingsfrom applying Interactive Introspection to the lived experience ofemotion complexities, strategies, and control. An important commonality across SSO, Self Introspection, and Interactive Introspectionis that each is invoked by the individual to gain insights about aspecific phenomenon as that phenomenon arises in daily life.Table 1 juxtaposes these three forms of introspection along sixdimensions. As indicated, the disciplinary bases are shared but variedacross the three forms, with SSO combining sociological and psychological foundations. The objective of the three different types ofintrospection is approximately the same, that is, the description ofemerging experiences in day-to-day life. The sample sizes ofresearchers/informants and their respective narrative records increase, respectively, from one person in Self Introspection, who is bothresearcher and informant (producing one or a few narratives), to amodest amount in Interactive Introspection (1–5 pairs of researchersand informants, producing 2–50 joint narratives) and to a largedegree in SSO (10–200+ informants, producing 50–500+ narratives).The form of data that is shared across the techniques is narrativestories, and all can include field notes as well, though it is perhapsmost prominent in SSO. Interactive Introspection also uniquelyinvolves face-to-face interviews between the researcher(s) andinformant(s) after personal introspections, to take preliminaryinsights to new depths via mutual curiosity and empathy. Due to itsmultiple narratives, SSO can more readily involve standard contentanalyses of the introspection records, using categories from priorliterature or generated from an initial reading of a sample of thenarratives. This content analysis can open up opportunities to explorethe extent of, and inter-relationships among, component aspects ofthe narratives.As for data analysis, all three are based on an interpretive/hermeneutic approach that proceeds through repeated readings of thenarratives, with each successive reading refining prior impressions andeach reading relating parts of narratives to wholes, while also drawingcomparisons and contrasts across narratives. Of the three forms, SSOoccasionally uses its larger samples to employ quantitative analysesthrough its content analysis – mostly univariate statistics in the past –pertaining to percentages of thoughts, feelings, interpersonal interactions, social and psychological strategies, and other occurrences. Due tothe nature of the data and analyses in each form, triangulation of insightsincreases from Self Introspection to Interactive Introspection to SSO. Inour study we augment the use of SSO by including a series of openended prompts and structured scales on the data collection instrumentso that informants can provide a wider variety of insights about theirexperiences; in the past, SSO has involved few prompts for recordingexperiences and no numerical scales. We also extend the typicalanalyses of SSO data by triangulating and synthesizing the interpretive–hermeneutic analyses with bi-variate and multivariate analyses throughhierarchical linear modeling. Together these efforts lead to someprovisional theoretical advances on practical wisdom in consumerchoice.In general, the data obtained from SSO allows the researcher to movebeyond singular or small-number introspections that may be quiteintriguing, but potentially non-representative or non-transferable, orthat may be qualified by other factors or conditions that can be codedin the records. An advantage of SSO is the opportunity to developstatistical summaries across multiple relevant introspections andto pursue more sophisticated statistical analyses that build or testtheories for conceptual generalization about the phenomenon underinvestigation.We should also note that there are other valuable forms of introspection besides the three mentioned above, though some are lessamenable to the research we sought to conduct. One, for example, isDescriptive Experience Sampling (Hurlburt and Akhter, 2006) inwhich the informant wears a beeper that is randomly activated by theresearchers. As the beeper is sounded, the informant immediatelywrites down his or her inner experiences, which can include anythoughts, feelings, sensations, tastes, and so on. The randomness ofthis approach has benefits for collecting immediate and less-editedintrospections, but it prevents a focus on a pre-determined topic thatemerges irregularly in daily life, such as making compliments or aproduct choice.Table 1Self Introspection Interactive Introspection Systematic Self-ObservationDisciplinary Origins Philosophy, Theology, Psychology Sociology Sociology, PsychologyObjective Describe emergent experience Describe emergent experience Describe emergent experienceData Personal Narratives Personal narratives, interviews/conversations, joint narrativesPersonal narratives, fieldnotes, contentanalysis categoriesCommon Sample Sizes 1 researcher–informant, 1–5 narratives 1 researcher, 1–10 informants,2–50 joint narratives10–200+informants, 50–500+ narrativesData Analysis Interpretive/hermeneutic Interpretive/hermeneutic Interpretive/hermeneutic, univariate statistics,bivariate and multivariate statisticsaTriangulation Minimal, across narratives only Moderate, across narratives andacross researcher and informantsConsiderable, across narratives and informants,and across qualitative and quantitative dataa The use of bivariate and multivariate statistics for SSO is introduced in the present article, in the form of hierarchical linear modeling (HLM).1052 D.G. Mick et al. / Journal of Business Research 65 (2012) 1051–10594. Applying SSO to understanding consumers’ perspectives onpractical wisdom4.1. Conceptual overview and project purposeAs Wilson and Schooler (1991) noted several years ago, therecontinues today to be little scholarship on the nature and role ofconscientious forethought in decision making. Accordingly, throughour study using SSO we sought to gather descriptions and understandings of how consumers conceive of, strive for, and occasionallyexperience practical wisdom in their purchase decisions.Wisdom is an ancient and diverse topic (Assmann, 1994). Animportant distinction is drawn between speculative versus practicalwisdom in everyday life. According to Aristotle, practical wisdommeans doing what is right, at the right time, in the right manner, andfor the right purposes (Mick and Schwartz, forthcoming). From anAristotelian base, Fowers (2003, p. 415) defines practical wisdom as“the capacity to recognize the essentials of what we encounter and torespond well and fittingly to those circumstances.” He delineatesseveral key dimensions of practical wisdom. Among them is its strongintentional quality. Fowers (2003, p. 418) writes that “Our reading of acircumstance is largely constituted by our intentions….Against thebackdrop of our ends, we see the details of our situation with greaterclarity and insight, being able to recognize better the salience of bothparticular features as well as the overall import of the present state ofaffairs.”Also, since the most fitting response is not always obvious, practical wisdom often involves deliberation and self-reflection. A significant important goal of deliberation, Fowers explains, is to assessalternatives and our preferred courses of action according to ouroverall aims, while striving to harmonize our varied ends. And it isthrough earnest self-reflection that we evaluate the extent to whichwe are acting for the best reasons. Practical wisdom is akin to Brown’s(2005) notion of “common behavioral” wisdom, which he describes asincluding the management of one’s financial resources. This wouldinclude saving and spending, the use of credit and debt, the role ofprice and quality in purchase decisions, and so forth.The two most notable streams of wisdom research in the socialsciences have been led by Robert Sternberg and the late Paul Baltes.Both have associated wisdom with certain types of knowledge andthe application of knowledge for well-being or the commongood. Baltes and his colleagues have mainly studied wisdom as anexistential expertise that is distinguished from other humanstrengths because it coordinates intellectual, affective, and motivational aspects of human functioning; thus, wisdom is an orchestration of mind and character (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). ForSternberg, wisdom is a process of balancing the needs and interestsof one’s self, of others’, and of one’s surroundings, spanning bothshort- and long-term horizons (Sternberg, 2003). Hence, thebreadth of factors considered and the time spans contemplated areamong the significant issues in Sternberg’s paradigm of wisdom.Sternberg and others (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 1995) have also arguedthat what is considered wise or not is often relative to a givendomain of life. For the purposes of our project, this includes whenand how practical wisdom might be manifested in consumerpurchase events.Up to the present there have been no pointed studies on practicalwisdom in consumer behavior. The beginning stages for fruitfulwisdom research in a given life domain should involve what Sternberg(2003) and Baltes and Smith (2008) call an implicit–theoreticalapproach. It collects and analyzes people’s folk conceptions of wisdomto build insights from the ground up, and to assess the overlap amongthose conceptions and with prior discourses on the subject. Thisapproach dovetails synergistically with Systematic Self-Observation.Thereby, we wedded the implicit–theoretical approach and SSO toprobe consumer practical wisdom.4.2. Method4.2.1. ParticipantsForty-eight undergraduate students at a public university madeSSO records on self-selected consumer behaviors over the course of asemester in partial fulfillment of requirements in their marketingresearch course. These young adults, aged 18 to 24, are a reasonablesample for this study insofar as they fit the sample profile of manypast SSO studies (as noted earlier) and they are capable of actingwisely (i.e., as Sternberg, 2003, argues, wisdom is not restricted to latelife-stages). In terms of the relevance of purchase wisdom in theirlives, these students have consumer needs, wish lists, and budgetsthat must be monitored and managed, as they occasionally spend onelectronic equipment, clothing, and leisure, among other things. Manyalso carry with them laptop computers, to facilitate the timely entry ofSSO records.All 48 participants completed and submitted four SSO records.Originally we hoped to learn about purchases as well as non-purchaseevents, but the informants focused heavily on buying episodes (e.g., anew dress for a formal event), which may be a natural bias whenpeople are asked to report generally on any aspect of consumerbehavior. Since the number of non-choice events was comparativelysmall and heterogeneous (26 entries), we focused on analyzing thepurchase data (166 entries).4.2.2. ProcedureParticipants attended an introductory meeting for an anonymousstudy on wise and unwise consumer behaviors. They were told thatthey would be tracking and reporting their behaviors, thoughts, andfeelings pertaining to the topic. In concert with the implicit–theoretical approach adopted, participants were given only a short,unadorned definition of wisdom. They were told:Wisdom is most basically defined as “the capacity of judgingrightly in matters relating to life and conduct: soundness ofjudgment in the choice of means and ends” (Oxford EnglishDictionary). Thereby, in our study we are not so much interestedin consumer behaviors that are necessarily or merely successful,smart, or impressive, but rather, we really want mostly to know ofyour consumer behaviors that you believe are wise or unwisefrom your own subjective viewpoint.Each SSO entry was required to focus on a different consumerbehavior event. Following Rodriguez and Ryave (2002), participantswere first trained on the SSO record form, which included showing ahypothetical case and then engaging a free-roaming discussion aboutadditional meanings of wisdom. The researcher emphasized thatthere were no right or wrong perspectives. Immediately following,participants were encouraged further toward accuracy and refinement in their forthcoming SSO entries by completing a shortquestionnaire in which they rated their implementation intentionsand their commitment to the study, and described how they wouldremember to complete the SSO forms in a timely and thoroughmanner (cf. Wood et al., 2002). Once the study began, participantssubmitted the SSO forms electronically to a research assistant whorecorded submissions and then deleted names and any otheridentifying information. SSO records and measures. The initial items in the SSO formasked participants to mark the date, their gender, and which of therequired submissions the current one was (1st through 4th). Theparticipants then typed in their description of the event, using asequence of prompts. These were: (a) what is the specific consumerbehavior you are reporting on?; (b) describe the situation or occasionthat led to and surrounded this wise or unwise consumer behavior;D.G. Mick et al. / Journal of Business Research 65 (2012) 1051–1059 1053(c) where did this consumer behavior occur?; (d) who was involved?;(e) describe what actually happened, including (as relevant) yourgoals, your prior knowledge and experience with this type ofconsumer behavior, the steps you went through, and your specificthoughts, feelings, and behaviors; (f) was there specific dialogueinvolved that can be reported?; and (g) from your viewpoint, whatwas wise or unwise about your role, thoughts, actions, etc. in thisconsumer behavior? This last prompt was intended to ensure that wewere capturing informants’ implicit–theoretical conceptualizations ofpractical wisdom.Next, participants completed several scales. They indicated howfrequently they engaged in the specific consumer behavior (less thanonce per year, 2–6 times per year, 7–12 times per year, more thanonce per month [2–4 times per month], more than once per week, andjust about every day). Next they reported on 11-point semanticdifferential scales (a) how important the specific consumer behaviorwas to them (anchored by Not Important/Extremely Important),(b) how difficult the consumer behavior was for them (anchored byVery Easy/Very Difficult), and (c) how unwise or wise they were in thespecific consumer behavior (anchored by Very Unwise/Very Wise).This latter scale was also part of our implicit–theoretical/SSOapproach insofar as the participants were subjectively indicatinghow wise they thought they had acted in the described episode. Data analyses and related propositions. The SSO narratives andtheir assorted details in the 166 entries were reviewed several timesin the spirit of qualitative analysis that followed the path of priorinterpretive–hermeneutical research in consumer behavior (e.g.,Thompson et al., 1989). We searched for storylines with richdescriptions that harbored noteworthy insights about practicalpurchase wisdom, marking recurrent themes and supportive details.In addition, the first two authors created a guide book for contentanalyzing the storylines based either on the wisdom literature or theinitial qualitative analysis of the SSO records. The first two codes werestraightforward: the type of product or service being bought (e.g.,electronics, clothing, food, and automotive) and the purchase channelused (e.g., in-store, Internet, telephone, and catalog). Whether eitheraspect would impact intuitive ratings of purchase wisdom wasuncertain. Prior consumer research and logic suggest that someproduct types (e.g., food) and purchase channels (e.g., in-store) mightinvolve quicker or more visceral choices, leading to a perception ofless practical wisdom (see, e.g., Rook, 1987). Alternatively, sincewisdom is conceived in the literature as a transcendent virtue via areflective process that can be potentially invoked in any given contextof human judgment, practical wisdom may not be systematicallyrelated to any particular product type or purchase channel.The next codes cohered in four different subsets of factors: motivational, processual, situational, and buying outcomes (see AppendixA for details). Motivational factors are the need- or desire-forcesinvolved in the purchase event. In this study these factors were assessedthrough (a) the presence (or absence) of definitive purchase intent(based on Aristotle’s emphasis on the intentional quality of practicalwisdom; Fowers, 2003) and (b) the degree of external informationsearch (which is an indication of deliberation and a commonlyexamined factor in buying behavior that indexes effort to gain pertinentknowledge; Guo, 2001). Based on Aristotle, strong intent and higherlevels of external information search should elevate the sense ofpractical wisdom in consumer purchases.Processual factors are components of human psychology theorizedas central contributors to the evocation of wisdom. In this investigation these factors were measured as the presence (or absence) of:(a) taking a wide perspective (i.e., considering many different issuesin a self-reflective manner as per Fowers, 2003 and Sternberg, 2003);(b) integrating values, goals, and behavior (based on Baltes’paradigm); and (c) considering both short- and long-term goals andconsequences (from Sternberg’s paradigm). It is straightforward topropose that as each of these factors appears as a psychological forcein consumer purchase stories, the consumer’s sense of beingpractically wise should increase.Situational factors are social, environmental, or life-contextelements surrounding the purchase event. In this study these weremarked as the presence (or absence) of: (a) direct buying assistancethrough word-of-mouth (WOM) advice from relatives or friends and(b) time constraints. In general, it would be reasonable to proposethat WOM assistance should increase a sense of purchase wisdom (tobuy or not buy) due to the vividness and credibility of WOM on aninterpersonal basis (see, e.g., Grewal et al., 2003). Alternatively,elevated time constraints should cause stress and offer less opportunity for deliberation (Mick et al., 2004), which in turn should lead tothe consumer perceiving less purchase wisdom.Buying outcomes, as the phrase suggests, covers a wide range offactors, including the socio-psychological and economic consequences of the purchase event. Based on first readings of the SSOstories, the buying outcomes in this study were assessed in terms of(a) whether or not the consumer got carried away and seemed to havebought more than initially intended and (b) whether or not theconsumer spent less than s/he expected to. Overall, we anticipatedthat buying more than intended may decrease a sense of purchasewisdom, perhaps due to guilt or self-reproach (see, e.g., Kottler et al.,2004), and spending less than expected should increase perceivedpractical wisdom because the buyer will feel that s/he was skillful andresponsible for this outcome (cf. Schindler, 1998).The codebook was pre-tested and edited to improve its clarity andaccuracy of application. Then the second author and an independentrater separately read and coded the SSO entries. Overall, the raters’agreed on 84% of their codings, with the range of agreements being70% to 98%. Disagreements were resolved through discussion.The rating scale that informants completed after each narrative toreveal their implicit–theoretical conception of purchase wisdom wasanalyzed quantitatively as a function of the coded SSO data (as describedabove) and the other scaled data using hierarchical linear modeling(HLM, Raudenbush and Bryk, 2002). HLM has had limited use in themarketing and consumer research field, and, to our knowledge, none inSSO studies or wisdom research. HLM is particularly suited to data suchas ours, where the SSO records are nested within participants. That is,the span of 166 individual narratives on purchasing cannot be treated asindependent of each other since groups of three or four came from thesame informant. Moreover, each narrative record and its codings relateto a different consumer behavior episode putatively associated with arelatively wise or unwise buying event. In best capturing the inherentstructure of these data, HLM increases statistical power in the context ofhaving just 48 participants, and it serves to control for extraneousindividual factors. The HLM analyses particularly permit an assessmentof the statistical significance of each independent variable, and aqualitative comparison of their relative magnitudes for explainingvariation in the implicit–theoretical ratings of purchase wisdom.5. ResultsPractical wisdom in purchase activities may not seem like a topicthat people can readily grasp or report on—perhaps too ethereal forSSO. Yet, our informants were often able to convey contemplative andrevelatory insights. For instance, as one informant opined whilerecording a SSO episode, “Sometimes I cannot tell the wiseness orunwiseness of a decision until just after I buy.” Another example ofdiscernment came from nuances in informants’ realizations thatneither being satisfied nor finding good value in a purchased item is asufficient condition for being a wise consumer. Wise purchasesinvolve knowing that the item fulfills intent and appropriateness,including the awareness and control of expectations and desires, andthe infusion of values and goals. Alternatively, unwise purchases often1054 D.G. Mick et al. / Journal of Business Research 65 (2012) 1051–1059violate such qualities. For example, an informant bought a computer,and had this to say about the separation of wisdom from happiness:Spending $2000 on a brand new one was an unwise consumerbehavior action. I did not meet the original goals I set when Istarted the process of buying a computer. I just had troubleresisting the top of the line technology and I wanted to buy mycomputer on the spot. This made for an expensive computer andone that did not necessarily meet the expectations I set out to buy.I guess I was just very impatient and wanted the best thingavailable. It was especially unwise because this was such a largecomputer purchase and I should have taken more time and effortto get exactly what I wanted. However, ignoring the cost, I stillthink I’m going to be happy with my decision, even though it wasparticularly unwise. I just don’t think it was worth the cost.On the whole, our informants readily reported reflective, intuitive,and ethical dimensions of practical wisdom that supersede conventional criteria for pleasing or shrewd consumer choices and reveal thatpeople are capable of providing penetrating experiential insights onissues that are less concrete than those typically examined in priorSSO applications.5.1. Descriptive statisticsThe frequencies with which the diarists engaged in the sort ofpurchase event they were describing indicated that 44.8% occur lessthan once per year, whereas nearly 25% occur several times per month.Hence, some types of purchase events reported were quite frequent,whereas others were less so. It is worth noting that even though somepurchases represented specific types that were comparatively lessfrequent, if not infrequent (e.g., buying a car, computer, or electronicmusic device), these purchases were not unusual and, taken together,they occur regularly and relatively memorably across daily life.The means and standard deviations (11-point scales) for the ratedimportance, difficulty, and wisdom of the purchase were, respectively,M=7.2 (s.d.=2.61), M=5.1 (s.d.=2.87), and M=6.49 (s.d.=3.48).A variety of product classes were involved in the reported purchases,with the highest being clothing (21.7%), and then food (18.1%),electronics (15.7%), automotive (10.2%), and a miscellaneous category(20.5%, e.g., art, sports equipment, and home accessories).Bivariate HLM analyses revealed that informants’ wisdom ratingswere not related to the sequence of diary records (1st through 4th), thediarist’s gender, how recently the choice occurred, how frequently thereported type of choice occurs, how difficult the choice was, the productclass involved, or the purchase channel used (all F’sb1.1, p’sN.30). Theseinitial results suggest that practical purchase wisdom does notsystematically inhere in the familiarity, difficulty, product type, orpurchase channel being dealt with; rather, as prior wisdom theoristshave implied, practical wisdom is more likely to be about the individualand his or her process in a particular purchase event, i.e., it transcendsmany common and varied aspects of purchase events. Complementingthis interpretation, the wisdom ratings were positively associated withthe importance the person attached to the purchase (F=13.9, pb.001).This latter finding mirrors prior literature showing that higherconsumer involvement – a combination of personal interest andrelevance – tends to stimulate information processing that is morethorough and elaborate (Celsi and Olson, 1988).5.2. Motivational forcesThe role of motivations permeated the SSO episodes on practicalwisdom. For purchases deemed moderately to highly wise, consciousintent and acute deliberation via information search were widelyevident, reinforcing two Aristotelian factors summarized by Fowers(2003). In one relevant case, a male informant bought a $150 MP3player:I wanted one with a little more storage because then it could holdmost of my music and I would not have to change the songs asfrequently. I started out doing some research online about variousbrands and their prices. I discovered that the prices ranged from$100–$250. I was only willing to spend around $150….I startedmy search at Circuit City…then I checked Wal-Mart…My searchcontinued at Target … and I concluded my search at Best Buy,which had a much larger selection….The SanDisk one-gig playerwas on sale for $200 and had a $30 mail-in rebate…It had themost storage for the price and I used a Best Buy gift card thatreduced the price by another $25. This lowered the total to aroundmy price range….I felt it was wise to purchase at Best Buy becauseof the lower price and because I could use the gift card. Best Buyalso offered a two-year warranty and 30-day return policy, whichmade me feel better about my decision.Similar SSO wisdom stories of strong intention and thoroughsearch behavior involved the purchase of cameras, clothing, artwork,and a case for a laptop computer, among others.To check for quantitative convergence with these representativequalitative data, we conducted an HLM analysis across the full samplewith the two motivational factors coded in the SSO data as simultaneous predictors of the informants’ implicit–theoretical wisdomratings. Both factors were positively and significantly related to thoseratings: prior intent (b=3.29, t=4.5, pb.001) and amount of externalinformation search (b=1.0, t=2.7, pb.007). Hence, the qualitativeand quantitative analyses of two motivational forces were largely inagreement. But more than this, the coefficients in the HLM suggestedthat conscious intention may be the larger of these two drivers ofwiser purchases. The instantiation of purchase intent elevatedwisdom ratings by over three scale points, whereas a change fromthe lowest to the highest level of external information search in thesedata raised wisdom ratings by two scale points.5.3. Processual insightsMany informants wrote SSO reports reflecting implicit–theoreticalviews of purchase wisdom that revealed important processual factorsin wisdom that prior psychologists had pointed to. For instance, takinga wide perspective, with consideration of several factors in a decision,was recurrent in purchases deemed especially wise. One Asian femaleinformant was looking to buy a new dress for her boyfriend’sgraduation dinner. She was frustrated that the local shops did nothave the style of dress she needed. She was nervous that if she did notfind something soon, she might have to attend the dinner with a dressfrom the prior year, which could be a serious embarrassment. Shecurbed the aggravation and her anxiety, however, and thought aheadto spring break when she would be visiting Los Angeles, where manystyles and the latest fashions are available. As she reported:The Hong Kong Student Association’s graduation dinner is heldevery year and since the HK people circle is pretty small, I wantedto get a new/different dress each year just in case people noticeyou have the same one for every year…. I’ve been looking for agood dress for a long time; however, this kind of shop is limited inour college town. So I wanted to see if I could get a dress duringspring break…. Since my body proportion is different from themajority of people (short torso, long legs, broader shoulders), Iwanted to get a tube one instead of one with strips. There aren’tmany shops selling dresses in our town, and even if there are, theydon’t usually have this specific design I want…. Therefore, Idecided to get a dress during the LA trip….We went to Nordstromdepartment store and they happened to have the design I like:D.G. Mick et al. / Journal of Business Research 65 (2012) 1051–1059 1055tube with some beads in the middle. I tried it on and it fitperfectly, but it cost more than $300….I bought the dress afterthinking about all the possible consequences….It was a wisedecision because considering I’ve been looking for a dress thewhole semester, it’s really hard to find one that fits me well andthat I like. I don’t have to worry about getting the dress anymore.This informant considered and fulfilled several varied aspects ofher needs (to avoid embarrassment in wearing a current dress again;her physical shape and requirements; and her situation in a town withfew dress shops), and she was willing and able to plan aheadaccordingly for a wiser choice.Informants who reported wiser decisions also told SSO stories inwhich their values and goals were consulted, and then connected totheir behavior. These included acts of buying as well as resistance tobuying. In the latter case, a female informant told of withholding apurchase of a skirt.While I was on spring break with some friends I noticed someonewearing a skirt that I really liked. I decided that I wanted to look intopurchasing it; however, I quickly found out that the local mall doesnot carry that particular Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) skirt.Therefore, this led me to looking for the skirt on the Internet ontheir website….I quickly found the skirt online and also saw that itwas $98….I did not really want to spend $98 on a skirt. However, Ireally like the skirt and was disappointed that it cost so much. Ibelieve that I would have given the purchase a lot more thought if Icould have actually seen the skirt and tried it on at the store. Therewere other reasons why I didn’t want to purchase it over theInternet. When you make clothing purchases over the Internet, youcan’t try the clothes on ahead of time. I know I am picky about myclothes and there would be a good chance that I would not be happywith the way the skirt fits. Then I’d have to send the skirt back and Iwould to have to incur all those shipping costs. These risks and thehigh price for the skirt made me decide against purchasing it. Frommy viewpoint, this was a very wise decision.This informant felt a socially-induced impulse to indulge herselfwith an expensive new skirt. When she could not find it at a nearbymall, and when she learned the skirt’s price online, she was doubly letdown. She viewed the skirt’s price and the practice of buying clothesover the Internet as too precarious in light of how she is exacting aboutspending money for new clothes. Hence, this informant did not allow avacation-evoked desire for a specific skirt distract her from considering and applying her values and goals. SSO stories with similar frameswere told about buying a laptop computer, replenishing a wardrobe,and canceling a Blockbuster movie pass, among others.Another clothing example shows an additional processual factor atwork, namely the influence of taking both short-term and long-termperspectives for a wiser decision.Once the weather got nice, I looked in my closet and realized that Ihave plenty of spring dresses, but I don’t have very many springskirts….So I decided to go out and buy some spring skirts….BeforeI went shopping, I called my mom and asked her if it was ok….Shetold me that if I spent a lot of money, then I would have to pay forsome of it myself. At Old Navy and Gap I found skirts that were onsale, and so were good deals….However, when I got to J. Crew Ifound a skirt that I really liked, but it was not on sale. In fact, itwas $99 for a fairly casual skirt. My friend that I was shoppingwith thought it was really cute and told me I should buy it. I was alittle skeptical because while I loved it, it was pretty expensive.However, I thought about the fact that it was kind of a dressycasual skirt, so I could wear it on a lot of occasions. I could alsowear it throughout spring and summer for several months. It alsowas a really good fit, so I wasn’t going to grow out of it. It addition,it was a very colorful and bright skirt, which is exactly what I waslooking for, and I knew that I didn’t have anything even remotelylike it in my closet now. I didn’t have anything the same colors orstyle. So, in the end I decided to buy it because it was exactly whatI was looking for, and I would be able to wear it enough to get mymoney’s worth.This informant thought hard about the now-and-the-later ofwearing this more expensive skirt, and felt much wiser as a result.Other stories sometimes told the opposite theme, where products werequickly purchased without concern about current or future needs,current or future expenses, and so forth. Such cases even includedexpensive items such as a laptop computer.To complement these qualitative analyses, we conducted a HLManalysis that incorporated the three processual factors noted above.The results confirmed the role of these wisdom theoretical notions,showing that each was positively and significantly related to theinformants’ intuitive wisdom ratings as proposed earlier: adopting awide perspective (b=1.6, t=2.8, pb.005); orchestrating values,goals, and behavior (b=3.19, t=5.6, pb.001); and taking intoaccount both short- and long-term perspectives (b=1.3, t=2.75,pb.007). Moreover, since all three independent variables were binarymeasured, the coefficients are readily comparable. They show that theeffect of orchestrating values, goals, and behaviors on wisdom ratingsis twice or more as those for the other two factors.5.4. Situational forcesSituational details formed the backdrop of the SSO storylines aspotentially important influences on purchase wisdom. For instance, asrevealed in some of the narratives quoted above, there were familymembers, friends, and salespeople in many cases who interacted withand advised the purchaser. Some of these influences were positive, aswhen a sales person explained and demonstrated features of digitalcameras or a friend remarked on how well a contemplated piece ofclothing fit the informant. Others were negative, as when a salesperson encouraged a thin female informant to buy dietary supplements for weight gain when typically these are used to build muscle inathletes and weightlifters who are burning hundreds of calories intheir workouts. Friends often served as helpful recommenders basedon their own personal experiences, but also sometimes put unduesocial pressure on the potential purchaser, as in episodes when friendsaccompanied the informant on a shopping trip to a retail store (e.g.,clothing, electronics). These inconsistent results suggest that wordof-mouth influences on practical wisdom may be more complex andmore contingent than our initial proposition suggested.Time constraints also emerged in the storylines of purchasewisdom. For example, time constraints play inherent roles in auctionsites (such as ebay) that typically set deadlines for bidding, at brickand mortar retail stores that set closing hours, and on various kinds oftrips that have set departures to return home. Under such circumstances involving three respective SSO episodes, an ebay shopper hadto make a last strong bid if he wanted some attractive artwork he saw;another informant entered a store ten minutes before closing andhurriedly bought a scientific calculator he needed for a next-morningexam; and a young woman purchased a fashionable and expensivepink coat she admired during a brief visit to New York City (convincedthat nothing like it was available back home). All three informants feltthat their purchases were ultimately unwise, and it seemed that timeconstraints were an impairing factor, in line with a proposition weoutlined earlier.Following up on these insights, we coded and simultaneouslyanalyzed these two situational factors, namely, the receipt of word-ofmouth (WOM) advice and the presence of time pressures. The resultsshowed that WOM was non-significant (b=-.14, t=-.25, p= .80).1056 D.G. Mick et al. / Journal of Business Research 65 (2012) 1051–1059This result disproved our initial proposition about WOM effects onpractical purchase wisdom, but conformed to the individual qualitative cases that suggested both positive and negative impacts of socialinfluencers on informants’ expressions of feeling wise or not in theirbuyer behaviors. On the other hand, time pressures showed a trend ofreducing the wisdom ratings, though based on a two-tailed test theeffect was marginally statistically significant at best (b=-.51, t=-1.5, p= .14). Hence, the qualitative data seemed to vividly portraytime constraints as a detriment to practical purchase wisdom, whilethe quantitative evidence was convergent but weaker.5.5. Buying outcomesThe SSO episodes also regularly dealt with the conclusion of thepurchase, which included how much money was spent and how muchwas bought (e.g., number of products, number of features, etc.). Theseissues were part of a window – or perhaps, better to say, a mirrorlooking back – on determining how practically wise the consumer felthe or she had been. As proposed earlier, spending less (more) thanexpected led fairly consistently to a perception of greater (lesser)practical wisdom. One informant, for instance, bought an airlineticket, and paid a premium for convenience she did not judge, in theend, to have been necessary.I am taking a class in Paris and London this summer and have tobuy a plane ticket for the trip. I have to pay for it myself, so I waslooking for the best price I could find. I wanted to buy a ticketsoon because I didn’t want the price to go up. I also had to buy amulti-destination ticket which made the ticket more expensivethan a regular round-trip ticket would be. But my dilemma wasthat if I wanted to be on a non-stop flight, including the one thatmy professor would be on, the price was about $500 more than if Itook flights with layovers….I called my mom and she preferredthat I buy the more expensive ticket so she wouldn’t have toworry about me making my flights during layovers and being ableto find my way around Paris by myself….After all of this[information search], I had the choice of tickets that ranged from$500 to $1000. I ended up buying the more expensive ticket thathad me going on the non-stop Delta flight to Paris that myprofessor was on, and coming back on a non-stop flight withUnited. The ticket was about $980….[But] even though I got addedconvenience, the decision was an unwise one….Considering I willneed to pay for housing this summer wherever I have aninternship, and the fact that I will soon be graduating and be onmy own, it would make sense that I should save money where Ican…I think paying extra for convenience is fine in most cases,but $500 in this case was probably unwise.This story and others show how purchase prices play a crucial rolein practical wisdom, especially when the consumer has a priorreference-price range in mind and the purchase stays within or goesbeyond it.Obtaining more than initially intended also informs the consumerabout his or her practical wisdom. This outcome is often provoked orexacerbated by promotional deals. When consumers are drawn into apromotion that leads to getting more than intended, it appears that anethical issue of materialism arises that triggers regret, if not guilt. Onerelated SSO account, for instance, was tinged with disappointment:When I was at the mall on the weekend, there was a sale in one ofmy favorite stores. Even though the prices were still not cheap, Itried on and bought a lot of clothes just because they were on saleand I ended up paying a lot of money.…I have had experiences insimilar situations and each time I perform such an unwisebehavior, and I know that it should be the last time and Ishouldn’t do it again because I feel bad. I feel bad for variousreasons: (1) spending money unnecessarily, on things I don’tneed; (2) I have too many clothes; (3) I don’t have any room fornew clothes in my closet.A follow-up HLM analysis examined these same immediate aftereffects as they might influence the wisdom ratings. The resultsshowed that spending less money than intended was positivelyrelated (b=2.17, t=5.14, pb.001) and acquiring more products/features than intended was negatively related (b=-2.10, t=-3.08,pb.002) to practical purchase wisdom. Their impacts appeared aboutequal. Thus, the qualitative and quantitative results converged tosupport the propositions that when the consumer spent less oracquired more than originally intended, he or she felt, respectively,wiser or less wise overall.6. DiscussionIn this article we introduced the introspection technique ofSystematic Self-Observation (SSO) to marketing and consumer research, comparing and contrasting it to other introspection approaches.We also demonstrated how SSO can be successfully applied andextended through our specific inquiry on consumer purchase decisions.The results have implications for the SSO method as well as consumerbehavior and wisdom theory.We showed how SSO facilitates the collection of numerousintrospective narratives about everyday consumer behaviors andthen permits triangulation across narratives and across qualitativeand quantitative analyses. We extended the application of SSO byillustrating how the use of specific open-ended prompts, severalrating scales, and then hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) canincrease the benefits of SSO for building and testing theories in socialscience. To our knowledge, this is the first time that HLM has beenapplied in an SSO study. Also, whereas SSO has been applied in thepast to highly singular subjects such as telling lies or givingcompliments, our study has shown that SSO can also be successfullyutilized for more abstract concepts such as practical wisdom, providedthat informants are given appropriate training and incentives.Our study collected 166 narratives about consumers’ subjectiveconceptions and experiences of practical wisdom in purchasescenarios. Across multiple storylines, themes related to concretepurchase intent, intensive information search, wide perspectives, timeconstraints, and overbuying due to promotional deals, for instance,were found to be central contributors of what it meant for informantsto feel more or less wise in their buying behaviors. The bi-variate HLManalyses showed that consumers’ conceptions of purchase wisdomwere unrelated to the difficulty or familiarity of the choice situation,the product class, or the purchase channel, but highly related to theimportance of the purchase. Hence, as some theorists have previouslysuggested, but not thoroughly fleshed out with empirical data, wisdomis a rather transcendent yet personal, context-specific phenomenon.The multivariate HLM analyses confirmed several of our propositionsabout practical wisdom, while also augmenting the qualitativefindings, by showing how motivational factors (intent and informationsearch), processual factors (wide perspective; short- and long-termviews; and linking values, goals, and behavior), and buying outcomes(spending or buying more than intended) predicted consumers’intuitive ratings of purchase wisdom in their varied narratives. Theuse of HLM in this SSO project revealed insights of triangulation andtheoretical refinement that would otherwise have gone undetected.These included (a) tests for statistical significance, to provideadditional trustworthiness for the qualitative interpretations, and(b) the ability to compare the magnitude of coefficients in the HLMs toprovide new theoretical inroads on which aspects of purchase eventsmay have more impact on consumers’ own judgments of practicalpurchase wisdom.D.G. Mick et al. / Journal of Business Research 65 (2012) 1051–1059 1057Taken together, the results help to elucidate and expand uponprior research on improving consumer decision quality. Mann (1972),for example, demonstrated a balance-sheet technique for inducinghigh school students to consider and seek out a wider range ofalternatives in a college-selection task. Subsequently he found thatthe students second-guessed their choice less. A valuable contributionof our project is that the central act of forethought in purchasewisdom involves not only considering a wider range of options andincreased information search, but is also predicated on strong priorintent. In fact, analysis of the SSO data suggested for the first time thatprior intent may elevate a sense of wisdom more than informationsearch per se.In other decision making literature, Huber et al. (1997) developeda conceptual review delineating how consumers are poor atpredicting their preferences. The authors worked backwards fromthose insights to suggest strategies that could improve satisfaction,including thinking more in advance about one’s values. A contribution of our results for consumer behavior has been in showing thatHuber et al.’s (1997) hypothesis is correct. Moreover, while theconsideration of values is important, we found in addition that theirorchestration with relevant goals and behaviors is crucial to higherdecision quality gained through practical wisdom. Our findingsimply that values must be interwoven with the consumer’s goals in agiven choice context, and that these goals must be further tied to thespecific behavior undertaken in order to evoke a wiser choice. Abreakdown in that chain of linkages will likely undermine thepurchase wisdom.As a contribution to wisdom theory, the HLM analysis of the SSOdata showed that the integration of values, goals, and behavior had anotably stronger relation to the wisdom ratings than either theadoption of a wider perspective or the taking of short- and long-termhorizons into account. To our knowledge, this is the first time thatprocessual factors from wisdom literature have been simultaneouslyand quantitatively analyzed, suggesting which factor might be moreconsequential to implicit–theoretical views of wisdom. This resultneeds to be replicated and extended by incorporating additionalprocessual wisdom factors, such as humility about knowledgedeficits, asking difficult questions, and drawing on experience fromprior related mistakes (e.g., Baltes and Staudinger, 2000; Sternberg,2003).7. Limitations and future researchLike any study, ours had limitations that require recognition.First, it focused only on purchasing, and overlooked a wide gamut ofother consumer behaviors (e.g., product (mis)use and disposing). Italso used a convenience sample of young adults whose purchasesand financial means are narrower in range as compared to olderadults who, for example, are buying and furnishing homes, dealingwith child-rearing expenses, and so on. On a theory level thereseems to be no sound reason as to why conceptions of purchasewisdom would be much different among an older, more representative sample – issues such as concrete intent or linking values,goals, and behavior should also apply – but this is an empiricalquestion that future research could address, for possible refinementsof our results.Another limitation was the use of a single rating scale to captureinformants’ implicit–theoretical views of wisdom, without includingother scales of decision quality, such as ineffective/effective ordumb/smart. Consequently, we cannot say for certain that informants wrote about and rated wisdom in a manner that differentiatedit in all cases from other decision quality concepts. We trusted ourinformants to understand the instructions and to strive to reportwhat they perceived as unwise or wise consumer behaviors. The factthat their narratives contained components of elaborated theories ofwisdom, of which they were unaware, provides some evidence thattheir implicit notions of purchase wisdom included more than just adistinction between what is effective versus ineffective purchases,for instance. Future research could improve on our findings byincluding comparative measures to establish discriminant validityfor the concept and assessment of practical wisdom.Economists and decision researchers have largely ignored themoral aspects of consumer choice, and together they have alsosteered away from introspection as a research technique, despiteoften relying on analyses of their own behaviors as springboards tonew research questions or theoretical claims. Hence, practicalwisdom and Systematic Self-Observation seem to each haveintriguing advantages for future economic and consumer research.Topics can include studying consumer’s awareness and copingstrategies for well-known decision biases such as time-inconsistentpreferences and overconfidence (see Thaler and Sunstein’s, 2008review of these biases). Another important topic for future research,and well-suited for introspection, is word-of-mouth recommendations (WOM) about products and brands. Studying WOM couldbenefit from combining SSO with Interactive Introspection in whicha group of friends who share WOM advice could record their ongoingrelated experiences. Insights could include why, when, with whom,and how WOM is experienced, particularly in relation to giving orwithholding WOM, receiving or rejecting WOM, and so forth. In sum,introspection is a historically rich research paradigm that has severaldifferent forms waiting to be more fully mined by businessresearchers across disciplines.AcknowledgmentsThe authors thank Brittany Rhoney, Wade Reishman, Miji Lee, andEric Turkheimer for assistance in data collection, coding, and analysis,as well as helpful comments from Richard Lutz, Ajay Sidhu, and MaryBowen Cates on a prior draft. The authors also appreciate researchgrant support from the Marketing Science Institute and the McIntireSchool of Commerce.Appendix A. Content analysis codes in the SSO narratives forpredicting informant’s implicit-theoretical ratings of purchasewisdomMotivational factors:• Was there definite prior intent or goals to buy? (No/Not apparentlyor Yes)• How many different sources did the consumer seek relevantinformation from prior to completing the buying behavior?(catalogs, websites, stores, package, etc.). The categories were:low [0–2], medium [3–4], and high [N4].Processual factors:• Was the buying behavior engaged with a wide perspective in mind?That is, did the consumer consider several factors, issues, etc.relevant to the purchase? (No/Not apparently or Yes)• Did the consumer synthesize or orchestrate his or her values andgoals with his or her buying behavior? (No/Not apparently or Yes)• Did the consumer take into consideration both short-term and longterm goals and consequences of his or her behavior? (No/Notapparently or Yes)Situational factors:• Did another person (other than a marketing or company agent) givespecific advice regarding what to buy, how much to buy, etc. beforethe conclusion of the buying event? (No/Not apparently or Yes)• What was the degree of time pressures on the consumer for makingthe buying decision? (personal deadline, expiration of promotionaldeal, end of sale, etc.) (coded as low, medium, or high)1058 D.G. 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