Collectivists' Contingency and Autonomy as Predictors of Buffet Preferences among Taiwanese Adolescents

Article excerpt

Change of economic structure and social trends directly or indirectly affect dietary habits. More and more consumers expect to access quick, hygienic, delicious, and inexpensive food (Chen, 1997). In recent years, all-you-can-eat buffet has become a prevailing pattern in the diet market of Taiwan. From a common saying on the street, one can recognize the general attitude toward all-you-can-eat buffet: "There are three kinds of treasure (Pao) in Taiwan: health insurance (Chian Pao), labor insurance (Lao Pao), and $199 all-you-can-eat (Chih Tao Pao)." The all-you-can-eat buffet service not only allows one to enjoy a varied and abundant diet but to avoid the inconvenience of ordering and waiting. Although all-you-can-eat buffet is relatively popular in Taiwanese adolescents' diet market (Ai, 2001), the relationship of their buffet preferences and psychological correlates is largely unknown. However, since Taiwanese adolescents' buffet preference is nationwide (Lu, 1997; Su, 2000), it can be investigated from a cultural psychology perspective. The present research focused on the prominent characteristics of adolescents' self-construal in a collectivist society and examined whether they were associated with their buffet preference.

CHINESE SELF-CONSTRUAL AND DIET PREFERENCE

Taiwan is deeply influenced by Chinese culture (Yang, 1992). In general, Chinese and Western cultures exhibit extremely different self-construals that affect individuals' cognition, emotion, and motives and thereby determine their behavior. Western culture stresses independence and autonomy--the development of one's distinct characteristics and self-actualization, whereas the highly collectivist Chinese culture tends to value the connectedness and interdependence between individuals and other people (e.g., Kim, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Voronov & Singer, 2002). Collectivists' interdependent self-construal suggests that individuals' behavior, opinions, and judgments are contingent upon interpersonal interaction; in other words, collectivists are quite flexible and contingency-oriented (Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988; Yang, 1993).

Based upon differential self-construal across cultures, national behavior and consuming preferences are associated with that self-construal (Lee & Green, 1991). Roth (1995) proposed that consumers' preferences would be affected by their social value system. In an interdependent self-construal culture, whether product or service meets social function is critically important. In the context of diet consumption, an all-you-can-eat buffet offers high flexibility in its diverse choices (Ai, 2001; Su, 2000). If the characteristics of buffet consumption are congruent with Chinese self-construal, one might further assume that their diet preferences would be associated with self-construal.

Contingent Orientation and Buffet Preference

In terms of Chinese interdependent self-construal, contingent orientation has been widely demonstrated and recognized as a crucial determinant of their overt behavior (Kim, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Contingency-orientation in Chinese self-construal refers to flexibility in making personal decisions.

Adolescents generally eat at a buffet with others (Ai, 2001). Since buffet-style restaurants offer multiple options, those in collective consumption are more likely to find what they prefer. Further, seeking interpersonal harmony and avoiding interpersonal disagreement and conflict are highly valued in Chinese culture (Kim & Markus, 1999; Yang, 1992). Buffets not only are more likely to satisfy diverse preferences, but coincide with Chinese cultural norms. Therefore, when other conditions (such as price, environment, service quality) are equivalent, Chinese adolescents with higher contingent orientation are more likely to prefer all-you-can-eat restaurants. Contingency-orientation in Chinese interdependent self-construal may highlight the advantages of buffet restaurants over others, such as set-menu or single-cuisine. …