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The Role and Measurement of Attachment in


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Impact Factor: 1.71 DOI: 10.1207/s15327663jcp0102_04

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The Role and Measurement of Attachment in Consumer Behavior


Author(s): A. Dwayne Ball and Lori H. Tasaki
Source: Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1992), pp. 155-172
Published by: Society for Consumer Psychology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1480363
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JOURNAL OF CONSUMER PSYCHOLOGY, 1(2), 155-172


Copyright ? 1992, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

The Role and Measurement of


Attachment in Consumer Behavior
A. Dwayne Ball and Lori H. Tasaki
Department of Marketing
Universityof Nebraska-Lincoln

Of recentinterestin consumerbehaviorresearchis the consumer'suse of owned


possessionsto developandmaintainself-concept.Thisstudypresentsa measure
of a centralconceptin this area-attachment.A conceptualdefinitionof the
constructis proposedand is relatedto social-cognitivetheoriesof the self. The
role of attachmentin the relationshipbetweenpeopleand possessionsis discussed.Evidenceis presentedforthereliabilityandpredictivevalidityof a simple
measureof attachmentand for the discriminantvalidityof the construct.Relationshipsbetweenattachmentand other importantconsumerbehaviorconstructsare explored.
Over the past 10 years, consumer behavior theory has begun to concern itself
with postpurchase psychological processes other than primarily satisfaction
and complaining behaviors. Some examples are the experiential dimensions of
product ownership (Hirschman & Holbrook, 1981; Holbrook & Hirschman,
1982; Marks, Higgins, & Kamins, 1988), emotional responsesto products after
purchase (Westbrook, 1987), ritualized behaviors toward possessions
(McCracken, 1986, 1988; Rook, 1985; Tetrault & Kleine, 1990), and changes
in involvement over time (Richins & Bloch, 1986).
In particular, consumer researchershave suggested that possessions play a
role in maintaining and supporting the consumer's self-concept and sense of
identity (Belk, 1987, 1988, 1990; Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981;
Myers, 1985; Schultz, Kleine, & Kerman, 1989). Simultaneously, there has
been a revival of interest among psychologists in the concepts of self and
identity, which usually expand on the issue of identity development most
closely associated in the past with Erickson's (1959) theories.
Some psychological theorists adhere to a social-cognitive tradition (e.g.,
Requests for reprints should be sent to A. Dwayne Ball, Department of Marketing, College
of Business Administration, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588-0492.

156

BALLAND TASAKI

Gergen, 1971; Greenwald, 1988; Greenwald & Pratkanis, 1984; Kihlstrom &
Cantor, 1984; Markus, 1977), and some perceive the self as an agent which
intergrates the individual's experience (e.g., Blasi, 1988; Deci & Ryan, 1991;
Loevinger, 1976).
A central issue from a consumer behavior perspectiveis the extent to which
an owned object serves the functions of defining and maintaining the selfconcept or identity of a consumer. One would expect different affects and
behaviors toward an object that serve these functions than toward an object
that does not. One protects and cultivates one's self. For example, if a home,
piece of furniture,article of clothing, and so on constitute part of a consumer's
identity, we might expect more protective behaviors, greater effort spent on
maintainingthe object, and greateremotional difficultyin accepting deterioration or loss of the object than if the object is not so much a part of identity.
In this subfieldof postpurchaseconsumer behavior, most interesting phenomena are related to, or extensively modified by, the extent to which the object
is part of the consumer's self.
The study presented here attempts to provide a measurement of the construct of attachment-the extent to which an individual uses an object to
develop and maintain a cognitive structure of self. This construct must first
be discussed in light of theories of the self before its measurement may be
considered. Social-cognitive theories, although not prominent in the possession-and-self literature in consumer behavior, offer a useful basis for this
discussion.

THE SELF AS COGNITIVESTRUCTURE


Greenwald (1988) presented a theory of self-developmentin which the self is
an organizationof knowledge. For example, some statementspertainingto this
organization may be: "I am a kind person," or "I will refuse to engage in
unethical business practices no matter how much my company will rewardit."
The kinds of elements present in the knowledge structurecan be characterized
by five stages of mental representationsof the self: features,objects, categories,
propositions, and schemata. The more advanced stages of complexity in representing the self as a knowledge structure (propositions and schemata) are
available by late adolescence, although their content certainly continues to
change through adulthood.
Propositions relevant to the self are generally of the form: "I am (quality
or category membership)," "I have (object, belief, etc.)," or "I (will behave,
am behaving, or shall behave in some fashion)." The emergent property of
schemata is consistency, such that a field of propositionsbegins to be processed
and integrated into a self-consistent whole. The propositions to be integrated

ROLE AND MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT

157

into a schema are evaluated on the basis of "narrative coherence, analogy,


logical proof, cognitive consonance ... cognitive balance ... self-consistency
... legality ... morality ... and empirical validity .. ." (Greenwald, 1988,
p. 32). Individuals develop schemata that explain their personal histories and
current behaviors in light of causes attributed to themselves or other agents
(narrative, causal, and inferential schemata) and form a framework within
which to evaluate their own behaviors and fix self-worth (evaluative selfschemata).
Propositions and schemata relevant to the self may include objects of consumption. If an object is included in an evaluative self-schema, that object is
tied to the individual's self-worth. A very simple schema along such lines
would be a set of three propositions: (a) to own a large, impressive house is
evidence of some good personal quality; (b) I own a large, impressive house;
and (c) therefore I have this good quality. Although an individual may never
say this explicitly, even to himself or herself, the ownership of the object
nonetheless supports self-worth.
Greenwald (1988) discussed four facets of the self: the diffuseself, the public
self, the private self, and the collective self. These facets are all present to
varying extents in normal adults. Each facet reflectsa differentego task (Breckler & Greenwald, 1986) and basis for self-evaluation with some relevant audience of the self or others. The ego task in the diffuseself (which is the unformed
proto-self present in a young child) is merely hedonic satisfaction, and the basis
for self-worth is finding it.
In other conceptions of self, there have also been facets or divisions. The
private self of the social-cognitive approach has rough correspondences to
Erikson's (1959) ego-identity, Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton's
(1981) "idiotic self," Lee's (1990) psychological dimension of the self, and
Schultz et al.'s (1989) individuation dimension. The public and collective
selves of the social-cognitive approach have similarities to Erikson's selfidentity, Lee's social dimension of the self, and Schultz et al.'s integration
dimension.
In Greenwald's (1988) social-cognitive approach, the ego task for the
public self is social recognition and status, and the basis for self worth is the
approval of others. The private self seeks individual achievement up to some
personal standard, and the collective self seeks to attain the goals of a reference group, which have been internalized by the individual as his or her own
goals.
The public and private facets are of interest in understanding the role of
possessions in the definition and maintenance of the adult self. The collective
self is also of interest, but, as explained later, is beyond the scope of this article.
The self plays to several audiences in the support of self-worth:a private, inner
audience (private self) and audiences of others (public self) and internalized

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BALL AND TASAKI

others (collective self). A self-directed individual is playing primarily to the


private audience, an other-directed individual to the public audience, and a
socially responsible individual primarily to the internalized collective audience.
The focus of this article is the extent to which a possession comes to support
the self, rather than the particular audience from which a sense of self-worth
is obtained. However, note that few individuals are likely to be playing entirely
to one audience. Therefore, measurement of attachment must take both the
inner and external audiences into account.

ATTACHMENT
The number and kinds of self-propositionsthat could include an owned object
are certainly very large. When schemata (i.e., combinations of propositions)
are considered, it is apparent that there are an infinite number of ways that
an individual can cognitively "use" a possession, a desired possession, or even
previously discarded possession as support for self-worth. To use all such
propositions or schemata in a measure of attachment is not feasible. In any
case, the attachment construct (defined next) concerns the extent to which the
object is used for self-concept support, rather than the particularpropositions
and schemata used. Therefore, those measuring attachment should concentrate on detecting the existence and importance to self-worth of all schemata
that utilize a particular possession.
The formal definition of attachment proposed here is: the extent to which
an object which is owned, expected to be owned, or previously owned by an
individual, is used by that individual to maintain his or her self-concept. The
domain of this construct includes evidence that the internal consistency of
self-schemata is dependent on ownership (planned, current, or past) of the
object. When the private facet of the self is considered, there should be: (a)
internal rehearsal of the schemata that connect the possession to the self
(accompanied by positive feelings of self-worth) and (b) feelings of self-loss
when an object is lost. When the public facet of the self is in use, external
rehearsalof possession-linkedself-schemata and positive and negative feelings
arising because of the reaction of others to the possession are observed.
Although the collective self is undoubtedly an important facet, it is most
evident in behaviors and activities directed toward a referencegroup. Attachment in this case tends to involve collectively owned property,such as a church
building, or the product or service produced by one's company. There are
definite feelings of ownership in these matters, as well as legal ownership in
some cases, and there may be very strong feelings associated with the objects
in any case, but such objects and relationships fall outside the scope of this
article. Questions of the definitions of possession and ownership become con-

ROLE AND MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT

159

fused with the issue of physical control of the fate of the object when it is
collectively owned. We focus on attachment manifested in the public and
private facets of the self.
INVOLVEMENTAND ATTACHMENT
At this point, it is worth mentioning a construct in the consumer behavior
literaturethat appearsvery similar to attachment, but conceptually is not. This
is involvement (e.g., Costley, 1988). Although involvementhas been defined in
various ways as importance, it is generally conceived as a property of the
relationship between a person and a product category, rather than a specific
possession. The category of products does not acquire the meaning and significance of the particular possession. The behaviors and feelings appropriate
to an owned object are of a different class of phenomena than those for the
product category as a whole.
OTHER CONSTRUCTS AND ATTACHMENT
Emotional Significance
A number of constructs should have simple and direct relationships to attachment. As attachment and the time of ownership increase, so should the emotional significance of the object. The emotional significance of a possession is
the total strength of associations with significant events or people in the
person's life, both good and bad. A possession with low attachment will
probably (but not always) have little emotional significance, whereas a possession with high attachment may require some time to acquire emotional significance.
Kind of Object
Attachment should vary across the population with respect to the kind of
object: One tends to use a house or car more for the purposes of self-concept
maintenance than a pair of shoes or a television, for example. Although
Americans are clearly attached (on the average) to their automobiles, for
example, it is difficult to say what the attachment level should be for many
kinds of objects. There should be wide individual variation in attachment to
any given object, because there is wide individual variation in how Americans
define themselves. Objects that are socially visible; expensive; reflective of the
individual's roles, relationships, accomplishments, and experiences; and usually "personalized" by the efforts of their owners are clearly more likely to
reflect self.

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BALL AND TASAKI

The "Stage" of Ownership


The extent to which an object is used to maintain identity should vary with
the passage of milestones in the relationshipbetween the person and the object.
One such milestone is purchase or acquisition itself. One would expect attachment to rise after acquisition, up to the point at which the person's identity
changes or the possession (through deterioration, perhaps) is no longer able
to support the self. After the individual begins to consider getting rid of the
object, a decline in attachment is expected, and a further decline is expected
after disposal.
For the purposes of this study, the stages of ownership are defined as: (a)
preacquisition,(b) early ownership (owned less than the median time for such
objects), (c) mature ownership (owned more than the median time for such
objects), (d) predisposal (thinking about getting rid of the object but have not
yet), and (e) postdisposal.
Social Desirability
But other constructs, such as social desirability (Crowne & Marlowe, 1964),
should not be strongly related to attachment. Social desirabilityshould reflect
the extent to which an individual seeks to present himself or herself in a
socially acceptable manner. Although the original interest in researchingthis
tendency was substantive,measuresof social desirabilityhave come to be used
more often as a indication of threat to the validity of a self-reportmeasure of
attitude or behavior. Thus, if social desirability correlates highly with a measure of attachment, it is reasonable to suspect the measure of contamination
by subjects seeking to present themselves as more or less connected to their
possessions than they really are.
Trait Materialism
Materialism is the "importance a person attaches to wordly possessions"
(Belk, 1985, p. 266) and seems to be related to attachment at first glance.
However, materialism is defined as a psychological trait, unconnected to any
possession in particular. In addition, neither the definition of materialismnor
its subscales (Possessiveness, Envy, and Nongenerosity) imply that materialistic people should use possessions for the purpose of maintaining a concept of
self and nonmaterialisticpeople should not. Over a broad range of possessions,
little relationship should be expected between materialism and attachment.
To recapitulate, the purpose of this work was to develop an instrument to
measure attachment and to find evidence of its validity. Reliability and unidimensionality of the measure of attachment was assessed, and evidence of
content, predictive, and discriminantvalidity was found through relationships
with other constructs just presented.

ROLE AND MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT

161

METHOD
Sample and Administration
Our sample consisted of 188 students from a large midwestern university and
143 adults from the surrounding community. Participation was requested
from students enrolled in a large lecture section of an introductory marketing class. Administration of the questionnairewas conducted in groups of 30
to 40 students. Adults were members of various organizations listed with the
local Chamber of Commerce, and administration was performed during a
regular meeting of the group. In compensation for their participation, a donation of $3.00 per person was offered to the organization or to the individual.
Administration of the questionnaire involved a multistage process. In the
initial stage, each subject was given four lists of the same 10 objects. The
objects listed were a car, family home, living room decoration other than
furniture,pair of everyday shoes, watch, television, wallet, nice piece of jewelry
other than a watch, souvenir of a trip, and something collected as a hobby.
Instructions for the first list asked the subjects to circle all items they were
planning to acquire. They were to identify the object to be purchased,but had
not yet purchased it (for mass produced items, the brand and type needed to
be identified). Subjects were instructed to circle all items currently owned, all
items that they were currentlythinking seriously of getting rid of, and all items
they had discarded in the past year in the second, third, and fourth lists,
respectively.
Based on responses to the object list, each subject was assigned two objects
from among those circled. Assignment was carried out to obtain as equal a
distribution as possible across the 10 objects and the five stages of ownership.
At this point in the administration, it was not possible to separate the early
and mature ownership stages, because this separation was to be based on the
median time that each type of object was owned. Therefore, the balancing
pattern given to the questionnaire administrators merely requested twice as
many subjects be assigned to objects circled on the second list.
For each object assigned, subjects were asked to respond to a questionnaire
concerning self-object identity and emotional significance. For example, because a particular subject might have been planning to buy a pair of everyday
shoes, have currently owned one, been thinking of discarding one, and have
recently discarded one, the instructions on his or her questionnairemade clear
which of these pair of shoes was under consideration. If he or she currently
owned the object and was not planning to discard it, the number of years and
months owned was requested. As a final task, subjects were asked to fill out
a questionnaire containing social desirability and materialism scales and to
supply demographic information.

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BALL AND TASAKI

Measurement of Attachment
Attachment was measured using a 9-item Likert scale (Table 1). Ten items
were originally generated to reflect the two facets of the self in the attachment
domain-the public and private selves. One of the 10 items was dropped
because it correlated poorly with the other items. A balance was maintained
among the items so that they somewhat equally reflected the two public
self-aspects and two private self-aspects of the domain of attachment already
mentioned.
Items 2 and 6 reflect the private self in internal rehearsal of the schemata
that connect the self to the possession. Items 5 and 9 are concerned with the
loss of self upon loss of the object, also a concern of the private self. Items 3
and 8 reflect the external rehearsal of schemata that connect the possession
with the public self, and Items 1, 4, and 7 concern the public selfs attention
to the reaction of others to the possession. Thus, the areas of the domain of
attachment previously mentioned were covered by the measure.
The verb tenses of the items varied slightly depending on whether or not
TABLE 1
Attachment Scale for the Early Ownership, Mature Ownership, and
Predisposition Stages
Respondents were instructed to fill in the blanks mentally with the object being rated (e.g., a
car). A 6-point Likert scale ranging from agree (6) to disagree (1) was used.
1.
Imagine for a moment someone making fun of your car. How much would you agree
with the statement, "If someone ridiculed my car, I would feel irritated."
2.
How much do you agree with the statement, "My car reminds me of who I am."
3.
Picture yourself encountering someone who would like to get to know you. How much
do you think you would agree with the statement, "If I were describing myself, my car
would likely be something I would mention."
4.
Suppose someone managed to destroy your car. Think about how you would feel. How
much do you agree with the statement, "If someone destroyed my car, I would feel a
little bit personally attacked."
5.
Imagine for a moment that you lost your car. Think of your feelings after such an
event. How much do you agree with the statement, "If I lost my car, I would feel like I
had lost a little bit of myself."
6.
How much do you agree with the statement, "I don't really have too many feelings
about my car."a
7.
Imagine for a moment someone admiring your car. How much would you agree with
the statement, "If someone praised my car, I would feel somewhat praised myself."
8.
Think for a moment about whether or not people who know you might think of your
car when they think of you. How much do you agree with this statement, "Probably,
people who know me might sometimes think of my car when they think of me."
9.
Imagine for a moment that you have lost your car. Think about going through your
daily activities knowing that it is gone. How much do you agree with the statement, "If
I didn't have my car, I would feel a little bit less like myself."
aReverse scored.

ROLE AND MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT

163

the object was currently owned, was a probable future acquisition, or was a
former possession. Items were usually prefaced by a sentence or two. Statements like "imagine for a moment... ." were used to place participants in an
appropriate mind set and to encourage greater consideration of items.
A Cronbach's coefficient alpha of .93 over all objects and stages was calculated for attachment. Factor analysis confirmed the existence of a single
factor accounting for 87% of the common variance.
Previous measurementsof attachment have used either a statement that the
object was a favorite possession, implying high attachment (e.g., Belk, 1985;
Myers, 1985; Wallendorf & Arnould, 1988), or a statement that the object
would be very hard or easy to part with (Schultz et al., 1989). Instead, we
measured attachment using a more traditional method derived from a domainsampling model (Nunnally, 1978). This Likert-type approach is both more
precise and provides a means of assessing attachment across the vast number
of objects which are neither favorites nor irrelevant to the self-concept, but
somewhere inbetween.

Measurement of Emotional Significance


Table 2 shows the three-item scale of Emotional Significance. These were
selected from a list of five items designed to tap the associations of the object
with significant people and events in a person's life. The three items chosen
had the greatest internal consistency. Like the Attachment scale, the verb
tenses of the Emotional Significance items varied slightly depending on stage
of ownership. Otherwise, the items were the same from stage to stage. Cronbach's coefficient alpha for the three-item scale was .76 when the sample was
aggregated across all objects and stages.
Measurement of Social Desirability
Nineteen of the items from Crowne and Marlowe's (1964) 33-item scale were
used. The items in this scale are rated true or false, with 1 point allocated if
an item is answered in the "socially acceptable" direction, and 0 points if not.
TABLE 2
Emotional Significance Scale for the Early Ownership, Mature
Ownership, and Predisposition Stages
Respondents were instructed to fill in the blanks mentally with the object being rated (e.g., a
car). A 6-point Likert scale ranging from agree (6) to disagree (1) was used.
1.
My car reminds me of important people in my life.
2.
My car reminds me of important things I've done or places I've been.
3.
If I lost my car, another one like it wouldn't be as meaningful to me.

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BALL AND TASAKI

The 19 items chosen from the scale were those used by Carlson and Grossbart
(1988), who found a Cronbach'salpha of .75. In our study, the 19-item scale
had a Cronbach's alpha of.69.
Measurement of Materialism
The measure of materialism used in this study is heavily derived from Belk
(1985). Belk used 24 items and three subscale scores-Envy, Nongenerosity,
and Possessiveness-to obtain an overall measure of materialism. Many of
Belk's items were used in this study, but several were replaced by items that
seemed to be more generalizable.
Sixteen Likert-type items were borrowed from Belk's scale, and we developed 4 more items. An item analysis was performed, and 16 items had sufficient item-total correlations to be retained in the final materialism scale
(Table 3). The factor structure of the scale was the same as Belk's original
scale, with the same interpretationfor the three oblique factors: Envy, Nongenerosity, and Possessiveness. Cronbach's alpha for the overall 15-item
scale was .76, roughly similar to the values of .66, .73, and .68 obtained for
Belk's original scale.
TABLE 3
Materialism Items and Subscales
Envy
(.78)
(.77)
(.66)
(.57)
(.54)
(.50)

When friends have things I cannot afford, it bothers me.


I don't like watching others enjoy things I cannot have.a
I am bothered when I see people who buy anything they want.
There are certain people I would like to trade places with.
I don't seem to get what is coming to me.
When friends do better than me in competition, it usually makes me happy for
them.b
Nongenerosity
I enjoy sharing what I have.b
(.60)
I don't like to lend things, even to good friends.
(.52)
I don't like watching others enjoy things I cannot have.a
(.48)
I enjoy having guests stay in my home.b
(.46)
I worry about people taking my possessions.a
(.43)
I enjoy donating things to charities.b
(.39)
Possessiveness
I get very upset if something is stolen from me, even if it has little monetary value.
(.62)
I don't get particularly upset when I lose things.
(.53)
I don't like to have anyone in my home when I'm not there.
(.39)
I tend to hang on to things I should probably throw out.
(.29)
Note. Factor loadings are in parentheses.
aAdded to Belk's (1985) scale. bltem reversed.

ROLE AND MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT

165

RESULTS
Overview
Though each individual rated 2 of the 10 objects, each object was treated
separately as though it had been rated by a unique individual. This doubled
the sample size availablefor the analyses, but raised an issue regardingthe lack
of independence of the observations. However, this form of independence is
not likely to reduce the validity of the analyses. Even though the assignment
of stages and objects to subjects was not completely random, it was nonsystematic with a strong random component, because the questionnaireadministrators chose from among several objects at each stage for most subjects.
Dependence among the observations could only take the form of response
biases arising from using the same person at each of two stages or for two
particularobjects, linking the two objects or two stages. Because the choice of
the two objects and two stages for the subjectsfollowed no pattern, and because
response biases are not likely to be large, the dependence of the observations
is not likely to have affected the results.
To separatethe early ownership stage from the mature ownership stage, the
median time owned was calculated for each of the 10 objects owned, but not
at the predisposal stage. If a subject had owned an object less than the median
time, his or her object was assigned to the early ownership stage; if an object
was owned for more than the median time, the object was assigned to more
the mature ownership stage.
Because the number of objects of each type at each stage was not quite
equal, each observation was weighted to give equal influence to each of the 10
objects at each stage. The weighted mean of attachment for the mature ownership stage, for example, representsequal influencefor homes, cars, wallets, and
so on. Unless otherwise specified, all analyses that aggregate across objects
used these weights.
To observe the variation of attachment over the range of the 10 objects and
over the five ownership stages, means of the 50 resulting cells were computed
and a two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) performed. To quantify the
relationship between attachment and emotional significance,materialism, and
social desirability, product-moment correlations, combining data across all
object types and ownership stages, were computed.
Attachment, Objects, and Ownership Stages
As shown in Table 4 the objects that one might expect to be most closely
associated with identity typically have higher mean attachment levels. Homes,
hobby items, cars, and personaljewelry might be expected to be items reflective

166

BALL AND TASAKI


TABLE 4
Attachment Means by Object and Ownership Stage
OwnershipStage

Object
Family home
Hobby item
Car
Nice jewelry
Living room
decoration
Shoes
Souvenir
Watch
Television
Wallet
Totals

All
Stages

Preacquisition

Early
Ownership

Mature
Ownership

Predisposal

Postdisposal

4.18
3.42
3.35
3.33
3.11

4.46
3.53
3.85
3.56
3.64

4.63
3.17
3.47
3.71
3.32

4.63
3.67
3.54
3.73
3.54

4.43
3.38
2.75
2.22
2.15

2.74
3.33
3.14
3.43
2.88

2.97
2.95
2.93
2.69
2.69

3.11
3.34
3.62
3.12
3.11

2.84
3.16
3.07
2.67
2.67

3.26
3.39
3.25
2.55
2.94

2.97
2.40
2.72
2.71
2.49

2.66
2.44
1.98
2.42
2.22

3.16

3.53

3.28

3.45

2.82

2.72

Note. Observations weighted to give equal influence to each object and stage.

of the self, and shoes, watches, wallets, televisions are less reflective of the self.
The main effects for type of object and for stage of ownership were significant
at p < .05, but the interaction between them was not.
With the possible exception of the preacquisition stage, variations across
ownership stages are predictable. Attachment rises slightly from early to mature ownership, then declines as the consumer begins to think about disposing
the object and finally does. The relatively large decline from mature ownership
to predisposal probably reflects the adjustment of evaluative schemata to
achieve cognitive consistency. If one's identity is changing or the object no
longer supports identity, the act of considering disposal should be concurrent
with distancing oneself from the object and adjusting or eliminating propositions that tie the object to one's self-esteem.
The fact that attachment, for most objects, is higher in the preacquisition
stage than in early ownership is a bit surprising. A plausible explanation is
provided, however, by examining this relationship with respect to age (Figure
1). The drop in attachment is a function of the younger age group (ages 15 to
24), which comprised slightly over half the sample. Younger consumers probably have much more changeableidentities and are less sophisticated, especially
with respect to infrequentlypurchased items. They are more likely to imagine
themselves as different people, build propositions relating themselves to the
object and its personal and social consequenceswhich support a new and better
self, and then discover that those consequencesdo not materializeafter acquisition. Hence, younger people are likely to experience a drop in attachment for
many objects from preacquisition to early ownership.

ROLE AND MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT

167

0 ages 15 to 24
El ages 25 to 44

Attachment
4

[7 ages over 44

Pre-acquisition

Earlyownership

NOTE:
Values
to giveequalinfluence
to eachobject.
weighted
FIGURE 1 Interaction between age of subject and the stages of preacquisitionand early
ownership.

Attachment, Emotional Significance,


Social Desirability, and Materialism
Table 5 shows correlations between attachment and emotional significance,
social desirability, and materialism across all 10 objects and five ownership
stages. As expected, attachment is not contaminated by social desirabilityand
does not correlate highly with trait materialism.
As expected, attachment covaries strongly with emotional significance, although it is incorrect to conclude that attachment and emotional significance
are the same construct. Figure 2 demonstrates that, although attachment and
emotional significance generally covary across ownership stages, they diverge
significantly at one important point. Emotional significance begins at a low
level and rises through the mature ownership stage. This is to be expected:
Emotional significance reflects important memories, which cannot be present
before acquisition, and require time to accumulate. Attachment, on the other
hand, reflects the schemata used to connect the self to the object, and these
may be present prior to acquisition. The drop in both measures in the predisTABLE 5
Correlations Between Attachment and Emotional
Significance, Social Desirability, and Materialism
Attachment
Emotional significance
Social desirability
Materialism

.503*
-.069**
.159*

*Statistically significant at p < .0005. **Not statistically


significant at p < .05.

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BALL AND TASAKI


Attachment

4 -

o Averageattachment
2 -

0 Average emotionalsignificance

PreMature
PreEarly
acquisition ownership ownership disposal

Postdisposal

NOTE:Valuesweightedto give equalinfluenceto each object.

FIGURE 2

Pattern of attachment and emotional significance.

posal stage probably reflects similar cognitive consistency processes of eliminating propositions that give the object meaning and value to the individual.

DISCUSSION
The measure of attachment proposed here varies as expected with other constructs on the basis of the conceptual definition. Evidence of reliabilityis quite
strong, with Cronbach'salpha at .93, and unidimensionalityseems present as
well.
Attachment should vary coherently with the type of object and with the
stage of ownership, as this measure does, reflecting predictive validity. Furthermore, attachment should be strongly related to emotional significance,but
should be differentiatedfrom it when an object reflects the self; attachment is
something other than important memories. For the proposed measure, this is
the case, because the preacquisitionstage of ownership is often associated with
high attachment but not with high emotional significance,especially for young
consumers. This latter findingprovides some evidence toward the discriminant
validity of attachment.
Attachment should not be related to social desirability because such a
relationship would imply contamination, and the proposed measure is unrelated to social desirability.Finally, attachment should be distinct from trait

ROLE AND MEASUREMENT OF ATTACHMENT

169

materialismbecause materialisticindividuals should not use all of their possessions to support the self, even though possessions may be generally important
to them. Nonmaterialistic consumers should nonetheless be attached to at least
a few of the things they own. Thus, only a small correlation between materialism and attachment was expected and was found. This lack of strong covariance between attachment and social desirability and materialism is further
evidence of discriminant validity.
These findings, along with the face validity of the measure, support the
notion that what is being measured here is attachment, not some other construct such as emotional significance or materialism. This variable is a critical one, especially in the study of postpurchase consumer behavior, and its
measurement in a precise and valid way is important to the field. Although
there are limitations to the methodology of the study, the measure of attachment proposed here shows sufficient validity to make it useful in further
research.
Any future work on the measurementof attachment should addressconvergent validity, an aspect of construct validity. The multitrait-multimethod
matrix (Campbell & Fiske, 1959) is the basic tool for this analysis, often
augmented by an analytic measurement model such as that available in LISREL (Bagozzi, 1980). Convergent validity is the tendency for multiple measures of a construct, using differentmeasurementtechniques, to correlatemore
highly with each other than with measures of other constructs. Because multiple measures of attachment were not attempted, this could not be done.
This is a flaw in our study, which we do not take lightly. However, the
evidence of reliability, unidimensionality,content validity, predictive validity,
and discriminant validity presented here, although not complete from a construct validity point of view, is nonetheless substantialevidence of the validities
of the measure and construct.
Attachment should predict many postpurchasebehaviors, among them the
amount of time to disposal (and, hence, repurchase of a replacement object
within its product class, if needed), and behaviors surroundingprotection and
maintenance of the object and the amount of effort and money devoted to
them. Such knowledge would be useful to many marketing practioners in
understanding purchase cycles and aftermarkets, for example, as well as to
marketing theorists attempting to understand consumer psychology.
Furthermore, understandingattachment should help in understandingthe
emotional aspects of product ownership. Obvious psychological conflicts arise
when a product no longer performs satisfactorily and yet is still a part of the
consumer's identity, for example. What is the process by which an individual
becomes disattached, and how could this be affected by marketing actions?
Here are implications not only for practitioners of the traditional marketing
arts but also for those studying garbage disposal and recycling. For another
matter, what is the process of attachment? An intriguing result found here

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indicates that, for young consumers at least, attachment may sometimes precede ownership.
A possession has a life cycle over time in terms of its relationship with the
owner. We speculate that the use of owned objects to support identity will
systematically vary with critical events-not only the obvious ones, such as
purchase and disposal-but also with more difficult-to-captureevents such as
the critical comments of others, performance successes and failures of the
object, and the use of the object in self-esteem enhancing, goal-directed activities.
More important, the constantly changing character of identity itself must
be recognized as a factor in attachment. The propositions and schemata connected to the self are constantly changing as new propositions about the self
are introduced and processed. Cognitive consistency will result in change in
many schemata as events occur and as the maturing individual integrates his
or her personality and acts out of this integrity. People will psychologically
outgrow many possessions and acquire attachments to others that reflect the
new self. If there is, in fact, such a thing as a "core self' (Belk, 1988), it may
consist of a small number of simple propositions related to higher level qualities such as intellectual honesty, spirituality,and connectedness. If the core self
tends to become more prominent and well-defined as the person matures
psychologically, we might expect lower attachments to possessions in general
(although not necessarily fewer possessions) and high attachment to only a few
objects that reflect an integrated core.
An obvious benefit to developing a theory in this area is the study of the
life cycle of the person, particularlythe changing nature of identity. Also useful
would be the study of personal relationships:Inasmuch as attachment reflects
a relationshipbetween a person and an object, theoretical constructs from the
person-person relationship literature will be valuable. Finally, cross-cultural
psychology literature should be tapped to explore not just cross-cultural differences in what people become attached to, but to suggest whether there are
cross-cultural differences in the processes of attachment and disattachment.
Research methods in this area should tend to be more longitudinal than
consumer behavior studies typically are, requiring quantitative measurement
of attachment and other constructs at multiple points in time. In-depth interviewing and interpretivist approaches also have value, particularly when
focussed on extracting the complexes of schemata surrounding an object,
assessing the place of the object in the definition and evaluation of self, and
exploring the role of life events in altering attachment. The scale presented in
this article, although designed specifically for quantitative hypothesis testing,
could also be a useful prompting device in qualitative research methods.
Identity is the central concept in understandingthe person, and attachment
is the central construct in understandingthe role and meaning of possessions
to their owners. This is a new area of consumer research, with vastly more

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171

hypotheses than data points, and is potentially valuable to the broad understanding of consumption behavior.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank those in the Marketing Department at the University of Nebraska
for their support and ProfessorsJames Gentry, SanfordGrossbart,and Robert
Mittelstaedt for their advice.

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