Publication Detail

Reflexive Layers of Influence (RLI): A Model of Social Influence, Vehicle Purchase Behavior, and Pro-Societal Values


Working Paper

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), Electric Vehicle Research Center

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Suggested Citation:
Axsen, Jonn and Kenneth S. Kurani (2010) Reflexive Layers of Influence (RLI): A Model of Social Influence, Vehicle Purchase Behavior, and Pro-Societal Values. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Working Paper UCD-ITS-WP-10-03

Understanding consumer purchase behavior will facilitate the successful deployment of new vehicle technologies that offer societal benefits—such as plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEVs). To move beyond the rational actor model and similarly simplified behavioral approaches, this paper proposes an integrative, theoretically rich alternative: reflexive layers of influence (RLI). RLI is a framework that accounts for the role of social influence in an actor’s (or car buyer’s) development of pro-societal values and purchase behavior. Informed by a multidisciplinary literature review and empirical observation, RLI represents three layers that underlie the actor’s behavior; social influence is characterized by different processes at each layer. The bottom layer is the actor’s functional awareness of the vehicle, which can be influenced by the diffusion of simple information—such as the vehicle’s existence and basic purpose—from other actors or information sources. Next is the actor’s assessment of the vehicle based on perceived private and societal benefits. Assessment can be socially influenced through processes of translation, where the actor forms interpretations based on self-concept and group membership, and negotiates these interpretations through social interactions. The third layer is the actor’s self-concept—and associated values and lifestyle practices. Through reflexivity, self-concept can serve to frame the actor’s assessment, and can also be reinforced or altered according to their assessment, behavior, social interactions and perceived lifestyle practices of other actors. This paper applies the RLI framework to participants in a PHEV demonstration project as well as policy considerations.