The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that by 2020, 75-250 million people in Africa will be exposed to water stress due to climate change. With ever increasing amounts of reports and figures being released about the potential and imminent dangers of climate change, playing a part, however small, in making the world more ‘green’ is of importance. But are there more incentives to buying environmentally friendly products than solely the ecological benefit? This study will investigate if the purchase of ‘green’ products is driven by status motives. Identifying potential factors driving status motives has the implication of showing how to motivate society to increase spending on environmentally friendly products. The term ‘green’ is a label that can arbitrarily be given to products to make them appear more ecologically friendly in the eyes of the consumer, boosting product sales. The term ‘status’ is the manifestation of an individual’s value in society. Status motives then are aims of an individual that influence their own perceived value in society.
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Review of Prior Research
Prior research “suggests that socially visible acts of self-sacrifice, when pursued in exchange for a group’s benefit, can function to communicate one’s willingness and ability to incur costs and thus enhance the status and reputation of the sacrificing actor” (Naderi, I., & Strutton, D. 2013. Pp. 73). This is known as the costly signalling theory and offers a viable explanation for how ‘green’ purchasing can be motivated by status. Additionally, Green product purchasing as an influence of status is also dependent on how visible the green product is. “If I want to pay $5 for a ‘green’ detergent or sponge, I’ll know that I’m helping the environment. But those things aren’t highly visible.” (Griffiths, S. 2013, October 11. Pp 1). Furthermore, “typically higher green product prices may confer higher-status to the green product” (Naderi, I., & Strutton, D. 2013. Pp 73). Another prior study concerning factors affecting green purchasing behaviour “found a relationship between age and green purchasing behaviour. As the age of consumers increase, their green purchasing behaviour also increase” but “found no significant relationship between gender of consumers and green purchasing behaviour” (Seyrek, I. H., & Gul, M. 2017. Pp 317). However, some studies have found that “males are generally less prone to purchase green goods than females are” (Migheli, M. 2018, October 5. Pp 11) These prior findings helped narrow down the factors of price and visibility when considering status as a motive in ‘green’ product purchase as well as minimizing the demographic data recorded to gender and age.
Based on these findings, the experiment will focus on whether differing price and visibility of ‘green’ products affects how likely participants are to purchase said products in a group setting. Participants will be be grouped by their social desirability, how likely they were to give answers, which incur social approval. In theory, if status is a motivating factor, there will be a difference in what participants are willing to buy and how much they are willing to spend depending on whether they are in a group or solo environment and specifically, the products that will appeal to those with status motives will be those that are more visible and cost more.
Review of prior research implies participants with higher social desirability have higher status motives and will therefore show a greater increase in spending behaviour for ‘green’ products in a group setting compared to a solo setting. Additionally, products with higher price and visibility are more appealing as status symbols and therefore said products will have a greater effect on spending behaviour in a group setting compared to a solo setting.
Participants will be admitted to the study online through sona and peopleforresearch.co.uk with incentives of six credits or 12 pounds. Participants admitted through peopleforresearch.co.uk will be required to be between thirty and seventy years of age with the aim of widening the demographic range from simply students. All participants were required to have some prior knowledge about climate change. Recorded demographic information will be age, gender and social desirability.
Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale: The social desirability scale measures a person’s proclivity to answer questions in a way that they receive social approval from others. In this experiment, it will be used as a measure of a participant’s desire for social status in a group setting. This scale is a true-false questionnaire with 33 questions and asks questions such as “There have been times when I was quite jealous of the good fortune of others”. 18 questions increase the measure of social desirability if answered ‘true’ and 15 questions increase the same measure if answered ‘false’. This questionnaire will be directed at assessing the extent to which participants may change their ‘green’ spending habits in a group setting vs in an anonymous online questionnaire and will be the leading factor in the grouping arrangements of participants in the second, group phase of the experiment.
Personality and spending habits questionnaire:
This questionnaire has two sections. The first section asks participants questions to determine their demographics. The second section contains two types of questions:
(1) Dichotomous questions concerning whether the participant would rather spend less money on a normal product or more money on a ‘green’ product. Some examples of the products included are: laundry detergent, cars, sponges, bottles, clothing.
(2) Questions on a continuous scale, asking participants how much they are willing to spend on certain ‘green’ product after being given knowledge on how much the ‘non-green’ product costs. Data will be recorded as percentages of the price of the ‘non-green’ product.
This experiment will two phases with a cooldown period of 2 weeks in between so participants can forget their answers to the questionnaires:
Phase 1: Participants answer the personality and spending habits questionnaire and the social desirability scale online and in that order after receiving a brief on consent, the anonymity of the study and non-disclosure of information about the experiment until the end of the study.
Phase 2: Participants are allocated to groups of five in a laboratory setting based on whether their social desirability ratings are above- or below-average compared to the mean rating of the group. These groups are then asked the same questions from the second section of the personality and spending habits questionnaire and results are recorded in the same fashion as in phase one and compared to those taken in Phase 1. Participants will then be debriefed about the purpose of the experiment and asked if they have any insights about whether they considered status motives.
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The design of the experiment will be between groups. Identified independent variables are, social desirability, product price and product visibility. Social desirability will be measured using the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale out of a score of 33, with 33 meaning all questions were answered in a manner that is taken to mean social desirability is present. Product visibility will be measured using scoring out of 10 for visibility. For measures of product price, the prices are recorded and ranked. All participants will take part in both phases of the experiment. There will be two dependent variables. The first will be the percentage change in the amount participants were willing to spend on ‘green’ products. The second will be the extent to which participants changed their mind about buying ‘green’ products when told the comparison price of a ‘non-green’ product. Data on percentage change in the amount that participants are willing to spend and whether they would buy a product will be allocated to each product that is tested.
The design of this experiment will determine whether there is a cause and effect relationship between status motives and green purchasing. This is because it isolates two important factors in status purchasing, price and visibility. Because of the grouping of less and more socially desirable participants, groups which are more socially desirable should show a much clearer increase in willingness to buy and spend money on products, making it easier to identify if there is a relationship. In contrast, groups, which are classes as less socially desirable function as a control of individuals who are less driven by status motives, making it easier to compare people who could be more and less driven by status motives. However, a potential limitation to this is that there is no literature on the relationship between high social desirability and a high desire to increase status. This leap is made solely through the logic that if people are more likely to answer questions in a socially desirable way that would that mean they are more likely to say they would spend more on green products in a group environment vs in a solo environment. This leap is therefore potentially the biggest crux of the experiment. Potentially, participants will also be able to guess the motivation behind the experiment bases off of the social desirability questionnaire and the repeating of questions between phase 1 and 2. A strength of the study is that it will collect data on a wide variety of factors that can be further used in other studies including gender, age, social desirability, how participants act within groups compared to alone, how much people are willing to spend on items and which items people are more likely to buy. Potential ways to improve the study are to investigate the link between social desirability and status motives, to increase the number of participants and to leave more time between both phases of testing to ensure participants aren’t aware of how much they were willing to spend when asked on the online survey.
- Crowne, D. P., & Marlowe, D. (1960). Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale. PsycTESTS Dataset.
- Griffiths, S. (2013, October 11). How going green became a status symbol: Study finds hybrid cars are more popular than eco-friendly detergents as they are 'more visible' to other people. Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2454162/How-going-green-status-symbol-Study-finds-hybrid-cars-popular-eco-friendly-detergents-visible-people.html.
- Migheli, M. (2018, October 5). Green Purchasing: the Effect of Parenthood and Gender. Departimento Economia e Statistica Cognetti de Martiis
- Naderi, I., & Strutton, D. (2013). I Support Sustainability But Only When Doing So Reflects Fabulously on Me. Journal of Macromarketing, 35(1), 70–83. doi: 10.1177/0276146713516796
- Seyrek, I. H., & Gul, M. (2017). Factors Affecting Green Purchasing Behavior: A Study of Turkish Consumers. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 7(1).
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