Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center
Available online at: doi: 10.1068/a43221
Axsen, Jonn and Kenneth S. Kurani (2012) Interpersonal Influence within Car Buyers' Social Networks: Applying Five Perspectives to Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle Drivers. Environment and Planning A 44 (5), 1047 - 1065
Although interpersonal influence is thought to play in important role in proenvironmental consumption behavior, mechanisms of influence are not well understood. Through literature review, we identify five theoretical perspectives on interpersonal influence: contagion, conformity, dissemination, translation, and reflexivity. We apply these perspectives to car buyer perceptions of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), a technology with attributes that can be perceived as functional, symbolic, private, and societal. The context is a PHEV demonstration project in which 275 interpersonal interactions were elicited from interviews with 40 individuals in 11 different social networks in northern California. Results demonstrate how perspectives shape research findings. Contagion, conformity, and dissemination provide useful concepts regarding perceptions of functional, symbolic and societal PHEV attributes, respectively. However, translation and reflexivity provide language and theoretical depth to describe observed perceptions and motives, while also addressing dynamics in’these perceptions and in consumer values. Utilizing these differing perspectives facilitated observation that participants are more amenable to developing new, prosocieta l interpretations of PHEVs if they: (i) easily form a basic functional understanding of PHEV technology, (ii) are in a transitional state in their lifestyle practices, and (iii) find supportive prosocietal values within their social network. Results demonstrate the importance of integrating complementary research perspectives to better understand consumer valuation of technologies with environmental benefits.
Keywords: vehicle purchase, social interactions, plug-in hybrid vehicles, diffusion, reflexivity