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ED 258 717 






' ; - PS 015 211- 

Ftxehrer', Ann; And Others " - 

Age Differences in Children's Strategies for 
Influencing Parent^* Purchases. . * 
May 85 • . — / ^ 

lip,; Paj>er presented at the meeting of the 
Midwestern Psychological l^ssociation (Chicago, 
May 2-4, 1985).- * I 
Reports Research/^Technical (143) — ^ 
Speeches/Conference Papers tl5()) 


MTOl/PCOl Plus PostageC. ^ 
Adoleiscentst *Age Differences,* Children; Consumer 
Ecpltoi^ics; *Parent Child Relationship; Parent 
Influence; Parents; *Purchasing; Socialization , 
* Influence Strategies; 'Naturalistic l^tudies 

ABSTRACT ■ ' ^ ^ ' ^ - ■ 

' . , .The specific purposes of this study' were to examine 

(1) age differences in the sophistication of influence strategies 
children use to affect parents' consumption decisions, and (2) 
whether or not parents differentially reinforce such strategies - 
according to the child's age. Data were gathered by observing the 
interactions of 14,5 parent-child dyads in the-cereal aisles of two 
supermarkets. The dyads included 82 girls and 63 boys, of 'which 4^ 
were ji«3ged to be preschoolers, 80 to be grade-schoolers, and 16 to' 
he adolescents. Observers recorded children's use of eight types of 
influence strategies. Strategies were assigned to three separate 
grotips according to the degree to which they involved understanding 
of the internal state, of self and others and the use of exp>licit* 
implicit, or psychological power. Success of influence atteiipts was 
also tecord^d, -As predicted, older children used more psychologically 
sophisticated negotiatibn^trategies, particularly emotional appeals.. 
Parents did not -differentially, reinforce their child/ s. attempts 
accc^rding to ^'ge-related expectations. Unexpected differences were 
found betweeM the tw«»* Observation locations. (RH) 

* Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made / * 

* ^ from the original document. * 

- CENTER {ERiC) ] 

X ^ <10CUm.m hl»-.b*«,. rtorn*^. 

of*«^naftfTg it<* bt«n ma^ to tmp^ov. 

Age differences chlldnei^^s atrategies for infitienclng 

parents * pttrohases 


Ann Fuehrer, Kate MoGonagle, Lisa Meyer a/d Cecilia Sh 



Miaisi University - ^ * Pnn FugViyi^ x^ 



adults, w© engage in.^ -wideXvariety of aatipns vthioh may 
collectively be referred to as "consumer behaviar*?. 
A question which has been 9^ interest to psychologists is howsuoh 
behavior is learne^T In an early paper, Ward . - 

(1974) characterized researah is this area as being descriptive of 
relations betweeh demographic factors and consumption behavior. 
Kard argped that it. is important . to look at the procejss of' 
consumption in order to understand causal relation? between a ^ 
variety of predictors , and consumption outcomj&s. From this Roint.of 
view, important studies would look at whether parents • ♦ 

consciously guide their children » s ^develop^nt * through the 
differencial reinforcement' of age-appropriate|behavi.ors, or are less 

systematic in their responses to thaic offspring. 

- . ■■ f ^ . • ; , ' , 

One 9f the earliest forms of conjsumer behaviqr in the 

marketplace is the child's attempt to influence what " . 

hisj^ber parent purchases, .Previous studies have suggested tha^ 

# ^ 

Children are able ^0 

influence their parents » copsumption" of many market products (Ward 

aod ¥ackDian, 1972; Atlclir, 1978). Children's "at^ to be • 

most frequent and successful if the product is .one vhiel^v is used' 
By them, such as a toy or a box of breakfast cereal. 
, These studies have not; however, looked at the- strategies which 

' ■ ■ ■ * 

children use in prder to gain favorable outcomes for themselves, 
nor at parents' responses to these strategies. 

One might expect, according to a m.odel of .t%e development of 
interpersonal negotiation strategies^ (Selman, ,19§'l), to fin'd ag« 
differences' in the type of influence attempts children use. .sViefly^ 
Selman suggests that a child's abi.lity to understand another ^ ' 
person's perspective affects the negotiation strategy that he/she 
will use. He describes five lev.els ;pf strategies through whioh 
(Shildren and adolescents are thought to pr|)gress. 

At Level 0,. both self and other are viewed 
as non-psycliolo^lcal means or barrier^ to goals; influence occurs 
through the ^se of physical force, termed explicit power. At the 
'next- stage of development, both s^lf and other are accorded the' 
capacity for independent thought^ however, -one will is expected to 

K .... . ^ . - - 

conform to the <c6mmands of .the other because of the ot'her's 
greater perceived power. At thiV level, negoti^^on occurs through 
the use of implicit power, i.e. thrisate. At Level ^, , 
psychorlogical processes are recociized, 'and each is seen as opeA 
to changing her/his mind. Influence -is achieved through the use 
of psychological power, i.e.^bhe power; of persuasion. Levels 3 
and 4 are characterized by increasing attempts at collaboration, 
integration and synthfe^is. of .perspectives . 

Models of coghitiVe^development have informed psychologists^ 

thinking about other cofesumption behaviors, anich as children's 

understanding of monetary principles (S^^rauss, 1952>. -It seems- 
• I ■ ,. • ^ ; " . 

>lappropriate, then, to look at age differences in children's use"^ of 

I . - ■ ■ ■ i« • 

-negotiation strategies in their attempts to influende iheir 

parents' consumption. Selman»s^ (1981) model is well-suited to * ' 
•» \ ^ ' . , ' 

^erve as a conceptual framework for making predictions about the 

forms which those different strategies might take , It is true 
•that Selman's model applies to negotiations with peers, and that • 
somewhat different expectations ' about children's interactions with 
their parents might eiist because c^^ the- difference in power 
structures which exist in child-peer versus child-parent • 
relations(Youniss, 19§0), However, because as children get older 
'the-y have an ^ . . i /' ' . ' 

increasifag ability to take the other's point of view into account, 

^ ■. " ' " ■ • ■ : . . ' 

and to manip-ulate another » s psychological state, we* would expect 
somewhat siffiiiar age sequences in the appearance of various 
influence behaviors. 

The present study attempted to clarify the process by which 
children influence their parents' consumpti6h, and to determine 
whether par ents' systemat ically • socialize t,he use of 
developmehtally sophisticated negotiation strategies by their 
children within the cdntext of decision ma-king. The study 

• 4 

had two specific purposes. * ^ 

1. First, .we exiboined age^dif in t^e^ sophistication 
of influence strategics which, children use to affect parents' 
consumption decisions. / 


. 2. Second, examined whether ' parents differentiallyj^ 7 
reinforce these strategies according to the child's age. V This 
would indicate conscious socialization of ehildl^en^s influence 
^strategies* ' - % 

Method / • " ^" ' : ^ 

Subjects: Ib'e interactions of 1^5 parent-child dyads Here observed 
in two supermarkets* The dyads included 82 girls and 63 boys. 
* Children were, also assigned to age groups; 49 werjfe judged as 
preschoolers, 80 as grade schoolers, alid 16 as adol«scents. 

Procedure: When a parent-child dyad entered the cereal aisle, an 
observer positioned herself unobtrusively so that all interactions 
•could be overheard* The observer pretended to be a shopper who was 
exarsining the list of ingr^dients^^^j^ cereal-box, or consulting a 
shopRlng list. ThQ observers, who ha,d b-een trained to- a ^ 
satisfactory level of agreement, 

recorded the parent's sex, the child's sex, and the child's age. 

In addition, tne observer noted the use of eight types 

'* ^ • * " . . 

of influence attempts by -the child.. The eight categories were - ' 

constructed by '' • t 

the authorp on the bayis^of,inffo^mal observations of children's 

interactions with their parent s , and on the basis of judgments of ^ 

what typed of atteiapts children should be mkirlng, according to 

Selffian's (1981) model. The.ei«ght categories are as follows: first , 

non-verbai| which included atteapts to sneak the product into the 

cart, grabbing the l?ox, or pointing and gesturing; secbnd, 

attentioni»dir-ectAon,- includiixg statements si^ci/as "I| need some 

(product)." "Can I liavie one (product)?" "Look, mom, see tbisl**! 

third, reference to ^eer pressure, such as "Everyone eats this." 


and "Johnny likesf this."; fourth, referencf to advertisements *of»^ 
me.dia characters, including explicit mention of Smurf or. 
Strawberry Shortdake cereal, o^ saying "I saw thi§ on T,V." and 
"The T*V. says moms it."j fifth, reference to premiumjs or 
prizes wiiich are available in* the box; si'xtli, ei^otional a^ppeals 
through guilt indactwion ,■ flattery or bribery, exemplified by "You - 
»feven»t bought me anything in a long time.'f '♦You never Buy me 

* * ^ 

anything^" "If you get me this . 1*11 "never ask for anything again." 

* % ' ^ ■ * 

\ -"^ ■ , ' 

and "Please, pretty please, yo^'re the best mom in the World,!"} 

seventh, references to the cost or quality of the product, 

indluding "^his is on'^ale" "TliiS'doesij,«t cast very much." or 

"This one tastes good."; and eiglith, alluding 'to a previously * 

arranged deal and collecting on it, ^as in the statement ^You'said 

I ^ould hav^e this if I ate a healthy breakfast this morning.," 

The strategies were assigned - ^ ' 

to threS separate groups according to the degree to which they 

involved understanding of the internaSC state of eelf and othpr, 

and the use of ' explicit , implixjit or psychological pt)wer» The V 

j$-se of explicit 'power occurs Ifheg the child views botB se^f and 

other as noB^psyohological means or barriers to goal achievement. 

Negotiation occurs through the use of physical power, which in " 

this situatijon would involve the grabbing or taking of a desired • 

product, or nonverbal instruction of the parent to tSke thf box of 

cereal off of the supermarket shelf. Q ' ' * 


• ■ . . " M • ' . • : . 

Selman describes iiaplicit power ^strate^ies as those * 
which recognize the independence of the $1^. parties* willsC The 
* individual uses threats, orders and commands to influence the 
other.^ He cites bullying as an example of, this strategy lev^l« 

assigned the iTollcrwing strategies to this level: . 
attection-dirjection , .referejice to peers, reference to>media and 

• refferenc^ to premiums. These strategies, while ^re sophisticated- 

than the nonverbal one, f.ocus on the child's own- wishes or Willi' 

Calling attention to the- fact that | friend has one, that the 

television mentions the product or that there is a prize in the 

box is not calculated'to Appeal to the other's wishes or neec^. 

Kat^er, it in effect says "I want this.** By contrast, the* use of 
' ■ " ' , ' ' ' \ 

\ psychological power involves some attem,pt to inoopi>orate the ' 

other^s point of view. Bach person- is re|^arded as capable of 

making a chdic-e and being open to influence through baibes,- 

^ , reasoning or empsathy. We assigned emotional appeals^ "reference to 

cost oxj quality, and ^reference t6 past agreeme.nts with the pkr^ect 

to this level • Each of these strategies recognizes that tlie 

other's point of view may be different from one's own, that the 

other makes choices based on reason p.tfd/or feeling, /and t^at these 

reasons and , f eeling^can be manipulated. ' \ 

Finally, the observer recorded^the outcome of the dhild*s 

influence attemyt, th'at is, whether t^e parent purchased the 

requested brand ,Nanother brand, or nothing. ^ 



' ^ 974 ^ suggested. that sex of the child sight, be among 

/the ipd^iiual Xrar'iAbles which ► ^ ' . 

• affect,-ladchild-'s influence on paren'ts » consumpt i-on Nhehaviors ; 

No sex. differenced w.ere found in the^types o.f s * ■ 

inf-lueni^e attempts which were used, nor in th/^li* success. 

As predicted , dlder children did use more, psychologically ' 
^ ' , • s * ' ' \ 

sophisticated negotiation str.ategies, « VC2, N= 1 45 ) = 1 1 .^2 , p<.01; 

* • * * 

in partioiil^ar, they usegd more emotional apj>eals ^(2,Nr 145)2:6» 15 , 
*p<*05* (see Tables^ 2 and" Parents did not^ howevert . 
differentially reinforcie their t^ild^s attempts , ^ao^jording to 

agB-related expectations. ^ * • 

I ^ ^ ' ' ' ' ' 

Unexpected differences W^re found between the two locations; 

at supermarket B, children tended to use more srophist leaded 

strategies ( 1 , Nc 1 45 ) =3 • 9 1 1 p<»05, biit overall their attempts 

; ^ /' ' . : ♦ I 

resulted In lB\iBr successes ( 2 , 1 45 ) =^7 • 84 , p^.05. (see Tables 
4 and^ 5) — ^ ^ ^ , ' 

' ■ 'v^ ^. ' . ' 

' f IXi'sciission ^ ^ x 

.... . ^ 

A,s Youniss (1980^ and Sellnan ( 1 981 ) would suggest^ older ^ 
children use more sophisticated negotiat^ion strategies tO'^ : 
influence their parehts* consumption, 

indicating t'hat they perceive the psychological will of the 
parent and • attempt to modify^ it thorough .the use^ of psy'chological 
•power. -However, parents apparently do not consciously socialize 
the use of mone sophisticated strategies since they do'not 
^ differentially reinforce types of influ'^ce ajttvempts according 

the age the child. , . . / 

In order t9^ better understand the dlynamlos which were 
occur'ria^g in the interactions we observed, it is us^/ul to tliink 
ab.put the effects of two sets of^varia4>lesp situational factors 
and the parents" perceptioas .of the influence situation. 

Several situational differences may have affected t^^pro|t^e»s 
of influence in the two locations. . i ' * ^ 

First, supermarket F was a-newly opened hypermar^t which featured 
savings orf ^staples of approximately 20% off t'^e price of the item 
at supermarket Therefore, economic factors appeared to be 

salient ^n parents* purchase decisions at that store, and In 
children's use of selected influence strategies . First/. 
childrer| may have perceived the importance of economic 
determinants of parents* purchases, and* used more 

sophisticated influence attempts,' such as ^ost/rQuality appeals, 
in response '^o this. 

^ ilk 

Second , because the ^ hypermart had recently opened and because of 
the ecoDomid advantage, the cereal aisle' was almost perpetually 

crowded, requiring parents to devote more eneVgy to maneuvering 
t'^heir cart and* to makittg consumption ^decisirf>ns, and Ijeading to 
less at^tention to their ch'ildren's requests. In response to 
parents* distraction, children teay have felt the need to resort' 
to more psychologically powerful strategies, such as emotional 
, appeals . \ - ^ / . 

Rather than responding to the nature of the child's influence 
attempts, however , piarenti seemed to respond to situational 
factors, given the significant differencWin success of influence 

'\ attempt by location. Perhaps the children in , the . byperm^rt were ^ , 

jaot able to generate^persuasive enough strategies to compete with 

the economic or enviroameatal pressures on parents. 
,- ■ ■ ' ■ ' 

^ when children were- able to make sophisticated ^ 

. influence attempts, their parents were not likely to reinforce .. 

the children for their actions. In order to understand this, ii;is 

important to understand , ^ 

hoyi parents pet^eeive this specific influence situation* . Is this 
*interacrtisOn viewed as an opport\inity fof parents to teach their / 
children the principles of brand selection, or is it seen as, 
another attempt^ on the part^^of the qhild to manipulate the 

parentis actions? If viewed as the latter", it might not be wise 

* - ■' * • , 

for parents to reinforce increasingly sop^isticatred negotiation 

• .* , , , 

strategies. ' ^ ' ^ ^ 

It seems likfely that situational factors ' 
will affect the parent's perception of the consumption 
situation, and the child»s behaviors in that situation.- -IfJ^ 
economic factors beooiiie salient , ^ t^he sit^uation may 
become one in which the jparent tries to maximize his/her economic 
gains, independ-ent of" the child's requests. Crowded conditions 
may make the shopping trip an'ordeal to be compl'eted in as little 
time as possible, again making the parent less likely to pay 
, careful attention to ^ip/her chil.d*s demand©. Future research 

should attempt to clarify both parents *and children*s p^ceptions 

' : . \ ' 

Of tftis specific influence situation, in order to better 

/ ' ' ' 

understand the process ot* socialization of consumption behavior. 


0 *v/ 



Atkins, C.K. (1978). Observation of parent-child interaction in super- 
market decision-making. Journal of Marketing Research-^ 42*, 414-. 

Selman, R.L,'(1981). The development of interpersonal competence: The 
role of understanding in conduct. Develppmefltal Review, 1, 401-422. 

Stra^uss, A. L. (1950). The development and transformation of monetary 
meanings i^j^he child. American Social Review . 17., 275-286. 

'Ward, S. (1974). Consumed socialization. Journal of Consumer Research , 

Ward, S. and Wackman, D.B. . (1972) . V Children's purchase influence attempts 
and parental yielding. Journal of Marketing' Research , 316-319. 

Youniss, J. (1980). 'Parents and peers in social development. Chicago: 
The University Press. . - -