Although Erich Fromm's writings are stimulating and insightful, his ideas have produced very little empirical research. One relatively recent research topic is the marketing character, whom Fromm described as people who see themselves as commodities to be bought and sold. They believe that their personal value resides outside themselves and that they must constantly conform to the wishes of others.
Shaim Saunders and Don Munro (2000) developed the Saunders Consumer Orientation Index (SCOI) to assess Fromm's marketing character. This index consisting of 35 items thought to underlie the marketing character included, "It doesn't matter what something costs as long as it looks good"; "Other people's opinions are very important to me"; "The best thing about having a job is the money it provides"; and "If I'm feeling sad, I go shopping." High scores on the SCOI hidicate a strong marketing orientation.
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Saunders and Munro (2000) found that the SCOI had high test-retest reliability and was uncorrelated to the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale (Marlowe & Crowne, 1961). They also found significant correlations between Australian college students' scores on the SCOI and a number of other negative attitudes and behaviors. That is, students with a strong marketing orientation tended to be anxious, depressed authoritarian, angry, and conforming. These findings suggest that the SCOI demonstrates convergent validity because it is one of several scales that converge to yield similar results.
Saunders and Munro also found that their scale had satisfactory divergent validity because high scores on the SCOI were negatively correlated with positive attitudes and behaviors, such as biophilia (love of life) and environmentalism (taking care of one's environment). In other words, scores on the SCOI diverged from scores on scales assumed to measure something quite different from a marketing orientation. Thus, people who score high on the marketing orientation (SCOI) are more likely to score high on depression, anger, and anxiety, as well as authoritarianism and conformity.
Finally, the researchers found discriminant validity of their index by demonstrating that different groups of participants had significantly different scores on the SCOI. More specifically, they compared SCOI scores of college students with those of residents of Crystal Waters Pennaculture Village, a utopian-like community where people live by three ethical principles: (1) caring for the earth, or environmentalism; (2) caring for people, or providing access to those resources necessary for life; and (3) setting limits to population and to consumption. Saunders and Munro (2000) assumed that the residents of Crystal Waters who had volunteered to live a simple life would score very differently from college students enmeshed in a marketing-oriented society. As expected the students scored higher than the Crystal Waters residents on each of the 35 SCOI items and significantly higher on 32 of these items. Because SCOI scores discriminated between marketing-oriented students and a group of ecology-concerned residents, the authors concluded that then scale had discriminant validity.
This research supports Fromm's contention that viewing people as commodities to be bought and sold is a psychological defense that masks emotional and psychological conflict. Saunders (2001) argued that one reason for this connection may be that consumed objects lose then value very quickly; and if our self-esteem and self-worth are tied to these objects, then self-worth either drops over time or we continue to buy new things. This argument is essentially the same one Fromm made hi 1947.
Saunders (2001) also compared scores on the SCOI to other personality traits, such as the Rokeach Value Survey (Rokeach, 1973) to see if these two instruments would produce shnilar results among Australian students. As predicted Saunders found that as scores on the SCOI increased students ranked as less important such qualities as freedom, inner harmony, equality, and self respect.
Similarly, Saunders and Munro (2001) gave the SCOI plus a measure of individualism and collectivism (Singelis, Triandis, Bhawuk, & Gelfand, 1995) to a group of psychology students. As expected students who scored high on the SCOI tended to accept the notion that people are not equal and that rank has its privileges. In other words, people with a strong marketing orientation seemed to believe that the goals of the hidividual are more important than those of the community.
In summary, research suggests that people scoring high on a measure of Fromm's marketing character tend to be more angry, depressed and anxious than people who score low on that scale. In addition, marketing characters tend to assume the inequality among people and to value competition over cooperation.
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