Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

Uncovering the Nature of Information Processing of Men and Women Online: The Comparison of Two Models Using the Think-Aloud Method

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

Uncovering the Nature of Information Processing of Men and Women Online: The Comparison of Two Models Using the Think-Aloud Method

Article excerpt


This paper compares two models predicting gender differences in information processing to determine if either of the models is more pertinent to goal-oriented Internet searches. The Selectivity Model (Meyers-Levy 1989) proposes that women make more comprehension effort than men whereas the Item-Specific/Relational Processing Model (Putrevu 2001) suggests that men and women differ primarily in their processing style, with men tending to use item-specific processing by focusing on product attributes and women tending to use relational processing by looking for interrelationships among multiple pieces of information. The study participants (106 total, 50% female) were asked to think aloud while performing one of two goal-oriented search tasks on a website. Their thoughts were then coded according to relevant categories by two independent analysts using Atlas TI software. Consistent with the Selectivity Model, women made more comprehension effort than did men. However, our hypotheses related to a difference in processing style between men and women received less support. Overall, the results help disentangle the two theories and provide website developers with a basis for creating sites that are suited to men's and women's distinctive information processing strategies.

Keywords: Selectivity model, Item-specific processing, Relational processing, Gender differences, Information processing, Online consumer behavior, Verbal protocol

1 Introduction

Many studies have highlighted differences in the psychological orientation of men and women [1], [6], [7], [9], [18]. According to these studies, men tend to be guided by agentic concerns, referring to instrumental and self-purposive concerns, whereas women adopt a more communal outlook, characterized by an emphasis on interpersonal relationships, affiliation and attachment to others. This agentic-communal distinction is considered so fundamental that it is the basis for two models grounded in cognitive psychology suggesting that men and women differ in how they process information [31], [40]. The Selectivity Model [31] contends that women are comprehensive processors whereas men are selective processors. The model suggests that women tend to engage in detailed, elaborative and effortful information processing. In contrast, men tend to employ heuristic devices that serve as surrogates for more detailed processing, such as focusing on highly available information that is salient in the context. In contrast, Putrevu [40] argues that men and women differ in processing style rather than in processing effort: men are itemspecific processors and women are relational processors (this model is called hereafter the Item-Specific/Relational Processing Model or IS/RP model). The latter model asserts that men only pay attention to attributes that are distinctive for a brand or product whereas women tend to engage in relational processing, looking for interrelationships and similarities between multiple cues as they process information.

Both of these models have received support in various marketing contexts. To our knowledge, however, this study is the first to test the basic tenets of the models, namely gender differences in processing effort or processing style, within the same context. It thus addresses the need to determine the exact nature of how men and women process information, as has been called for in the marketing literature [24], p.15 and also affords an opportunity to determine the degree to which these models are complementary. The Internet has become a prominent medium both for information searches and retail sales. In this environment, the consumer is in control of choosing and processing information about the firm. It is entirely in the consumer's power to decide which web page to browse, for how long, and how much information to obtain [12]. Further, a recent report went so far as affirming that women's online behavior is dramatically different than men's [45]. …

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