Where Am I Thinking?

3 11 2011

The WTAMU campus has been abuzz this fall with our Common Reader selection, Where Am I Wearing, by Kelsey Timmerman. Kelsey visited campus in September, and my colleagues and I had a chance to spend an entire day with him as he presented to local high school classes, and generally just hung out with us as we drove him around Amarillo.

In conjunction with the book, my colleagues and I used this as a research moment. We crafted a lengthy paper survey that was administered in the Elementary Group Dynamics course that nearly all incoming freshmen take. We printed and distributed 1180 surveys, of which 939 were completed and returned to us for tabulation.

Survey questions included typical demographic items, questions pertaining to student views on sweatshop product and labor, whether students desire to purchased, or have already purchased, a product labeled as being “Fair Trade,” and the oft-cited 17-item CETSCALE (Consumer Ethnocentrism Scale) developed by Shimp and Sharma (1987). Because a paper survey was utilized (in order to be deployed in a classroom setting), it took several weeks for data to be entered, and then analyzed. We have now written the first of several papers on our findings, with a journal submission imminent.

And to put it rather simply, boy, were the findings interesting!

Our first paper focused nearly exclusively on student responses to the CETSCALE. The CETSCALE measures a person’s tendency to favor domestic-made products over those that are imported. Dozens of studies have deployed the CETSCALE across numerous demographic groups and settings in the US, as well as in many countries. The scale has an extremely high validity coefficient, and is the gold standard in measuring this cultural artifact.

One of our contributions to the literature is that we applied the CETSCALE to a rather narrowly focused demographic: students of the same academic level, roughly the same age and primarily from the same region. While this also limits generalizability across broader populations, it did gave us the opportunity to test the scale in a very controlled environment.

Next on tap was some data manipulation and smoothing. We created a new variable that added the scores of student CETSCALEs. Since there were 17 items scored on a 1-7 scale, this meant the new summated variable could range from 17 to 119.

We studied the literature extensively and developed seven testable hypotheses. Without going into the mechanics of it all, we found that, among our incoming freshman class, the “typical” consumer ethnocentric student had the following tendencies: Male, White, Right-leaning politically, and from a Rural home. Our statistical analyses showed mean CETSCALE scores to be significantly different at a very high probability level. Furthermore, those who had not read the books had significantly higher CETSCALE scores (meaning they were more consumer ethnocentric) than did students who had read the book. Each of these findings supported our hypotheses that these conditions, as reflected in prior studies, would prevail at WTAMU. We had also hypothesized that students reading the book would also exhibit lower consumer ethnocentrism, and the data supported us.

The next step involved building a model using stepwise regression. The four variables above, plus the Not Read/Have Read variable, were used as predictor variables of CETSCORE. Stepwise regression allowed us to see which variable entered the equation first, effectively telling us the most important variable in the mix. The most significant predictor was Political persuasion, with Right-leaning wielding a huge impact on CETSCALE (in stat-speak, that variable alone accounted for 76% of the variance in the equation). In subsequent steps, we found that Gender (Male), Race (White), Home (Rural) and Book (specifically, not reading it) entered the equation. All five predictors were significant contributors to the model; collectively they accounted for 82% of the variance.

Finally, we compared CETSCALE mean scores between those who had/had not expressed a desire to purchase a Fair Trade product, as well as those who had/had not previously purchased one. Once again, significant differences were noted, with those desiring to buy, and those who had already bought, Fair trade products having lower CETSCALE scores. In other words, they were less consumer ethnocentric.

It should be noted that our students sample had a mean CETSCALE score of 54.2, which is less than the possible median (68). This means that, overall, the incoming freshman class is not excessively consumer ethnocentric. Still, our findings indicate that the most consumer ethnocentric freshmen can be profiled along dimensions that place them well within the conservative ethos of the region, as well as the state.

And while the Book variable was the last (and least significant) variable to enter the equation, this does not mean it had less value in the grander scheme of things. Far from it. The fact that it was a significant predictor at all indicates that the book has the potential to raise awareness among readers. Furthermore, it demonstrates the value of a common reader program, and that it can effect awareness and change as well.

Yes, we recognize weaknesses of the study. We cannot say with absolute certainty that the book alone caused people to have lower CETSCALE scores. Furthermore, we have no way of knowing if any change that occurred would be lasting. It would be very interesting to track this same cohort for five or ten years, and then administer the same survey for comparison purposes.

But at the end of the day, we are extremely satisfied with our findings, as should Mr. Timmerman. I think he accomplished what he set out to do.

Dr “What’s On Your Tag?” Gerlich

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14 11 2011
A longer, harder, more spine-tingling….consumer conscience | Kelsey Timmerman

[…] Nick goes in-depth on the details of the study on his blog. Here are the nuts and bolts: […]

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