Working Papers

The Effects of Felt Involvement on Consumers’ Attention and Comprehension Processes

Jan 1, 1989

How felt involvement affects consumers’ attention and comprehension processes.

Type of Report
Development of conceptual model; test of propositions.

To provide a conceptual explanation of the motivational role of involvement in attention and comprehension processes.

Presents a model that identifies individual difference factors and situational factors that determine the level of involvement consumers experience; describes how varying levels of consumers’ involvement should affect their comprehension processes and outcomes; presents the results of a study that explores how intra-individual factors and external factors combine to influence overall involvement (and, hence, motivation to process information); tests hypotheses about how varying levels of involvement affect attention and comprehension processes; gives implications and suggests for future research.

Advertising planners will be interested in the findings about varying levels of involvement; academics will be interested in the theoretical information-processing aspects of this work.

Involvement is the perceived personal relevance of some object, event, behavior, or activity. The authors of the present report identify three sources of the amount and type of personal relevance that consumers experience in a given situation, namely intrinsic sources, situational sources, and consumer expertise. These three combine to form knowledge structures that contain cognitive representations of personal relevance. When activated, these knowledge structures are experienced as feelings of personal relevance, called felt involvement. The level of felt involvement is a motivational state that affects the extent of consumers’ attention and comprehension processes as well as the specific meanings that are produced.

The present report concentrates on the results of a study designed to test several hypotheses concerning the effects of the sources of felt involvement on the amount of attention and comprehension effort, the focus of comprehension processes, and the extent of cognitive elaboration during comprehension. In addition, it provides evidence for the role of involvement in attention and comprehension processes by showing that felt involvement mediates the effects of intrinsic and situational sources of personal relevance and knowledge on attention and comprehension processes and outcomes.

Findings and Implications
The present world concentrates on examining how felt involvement affects consumers’ attention and comprehension processes. Felt involvement was defined in terms of the self-relevant knowledge that is activated in a given situation. This activated knowledge is a function of intrinsic sources of personal relevance and situational sources of personal relevance (ISPR and SSPR). It is also related to consumers’ product knowledge.

The research shows that ISPR and SSPR affect consumers’ felt involvement or motivation to process salient product information in advertisements, and that felt involvement in turn influences their attention and comprehension processes. Specifically, as subjects’ felt involvement increases due to ISPR and SSPR, they (1) devote more attention to the advertisements, (2) exert greater cognitive effort during comprehension of those ads, (3) increasingly focus their attention on the product-related information in the ads, and (4) engage in more elaboration of the product information during comprehension. This consistent pattern of effects strongly supports the theoretical notion that ISPR and SSPR create a motivational state of felt involvement that affects attention and comprehension processes. The present results also provide preliminary evidence concerning how consumers’ product-related knowledge relates to their ISPR, and how both factors affect felt involvement as well as attention and comprehension processes.

The implications for marketing practice are numerous. Most marketing strategies involve changes in consumers’ environments–a price increase, a coupon sales promotion, a redesigned retail store, and so forth. These marketing mix factors have the potential to activate self-relevant goals and motivations. If those situational goals become linked to product attributes and functional consequences, they create a state of felt involvement with a product.

It is also possible that intrinsic sources of personal relevance (ISPR) can be used as a basis for market segmentation. Consumers vary considerably in the degree to which their consider products, services, and stores to be personally relevant. The present results suggest that consumers’ levels of ISPR will affect their attention to marketing stimuli. Thus, consumers with high levels of ISPR for a particular product class may be most effectively reached by advertisements communicating specific and highly articulate goal and product-benefit relationships. Alternatively, consumers with lower levels of ISPR for a class may need to be educated about the goals and values that can be achieved through product class usage. Advertising to this segment might simply have the goal of increasing the level in intrinsic personal relevance.

In sum, researchers can identify the particular sources of personal relevance that are likely to affect consumers in a particular environment. They can then develop specific strategies that enhance the consumers’ perception of those factors. Marketers who understand the basis for felt involvement will be better able to influence consumers.

Professor Celsi notes:

“We began this project with the goal of explicating the involvement construct, and we feel we have contributed to that end by building on previous research. However, much empirical research is necessary in order to more fully understand the effects of motivation on consumers’ behaviors. For example, relatively little empirical research has been conducted on consumer involvement and highly related areas such as consumer value and goal systems, means-end knowledge, and the ‘self’ construct. In addition, our knowledge of the effects of situational contingencies on consumer behavior is weak. We feel that an in-depth probe of these areas is the necessary next step.”

About the Authors
Richard L. Celsi is Associate Professor of Marketing at California State University, Long Beach. Jerry Olson is a Professor Chairman of the marketing department, and Binder Faculty Fellow at Pennsylvania State University.

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