The Role of Horizontal and Vertical Individualism and Collectivism in Online Consumers’ Responses Toward Persuasive Communication on the Web



The traditional conceptualization of individualism and collectivism as ideas on opposite ends of a dichotomous continuum is limited and in need of better formulation. This study tested Triandis’ horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism typology for its ability to detect differences in Web users’ cultural orientations within an individualistic culture, and examined the role of these cultural orientations in people’s media use, Web skills and challenges, and attitude toward Web advertising. Findings from an online survey among Web users suggest that these types of cultural orientations impacted people’s perceived Web skills and their attitudes toward Web advertising in both general and specific ways. Suggestions are advanced for future research to better understand the influence of cultural orientations on consumer response toward computer-mediated communication.


The basic tenets of cultural dimensions, individualism, and collectivism have helped illuminate and explain differences among cultures under the assumption that people in the same culture are largely homogeneous. This is evidenced by the vast amount of literature employing these ideas to explain differences in communication patterns and content, business practice, and preferences for communication styles and persuasive message appeals (Cho, Kwan, Gentry, Jun, & Kropp, 1999; de Mooij, 1998; Hall, 1984; Han & Shavitt, 1994; Hofstede, 1983, 1994; Miracle, Chang, & Taylor, 1992).

Contrary to the general belief of same-mindedness, however, the literature shows that people selectively form their personal characteristics, communication styles, and preferences from both individualistic and collectivistic cognitive structures under different situations (Triandis, 1995). Thus, it seems premature to assume that everyone in individualistic cultures is an individualist, whereas everyone in collectivistic cultures is a collectivist. Dutta-Bergman and Wells (2002) recently provided ample evidence on within-culture variations in terms of individualism and collectivism and consequent differences exhibited in behavioral indicators. Developments in cross-cultural psychology have also suggested that the traditional conceptualization of individualism/collectivism as a simple dichotomy could be limited and in need of better formulation.

Among the different propositions set out to improve our understanding of these cultural dimensions, Triandis (1995, 2001) suggested that individualism and collectivism may be horizontal where equality is emphasized, or vertical where hierarchy is emphasized. Horizontal individualistic people desire to be unique and to do their own thing whereas vertical individualistic people not only want to do their own thing but also strive to be the very best. People who are horizontal collectivists cooperate with their in-groups. In contrast, those collectivists who submit to the hierarchy defined by their in-groups and are willing to sacrifice themselves for their in-groups are generally vertical in their orientation (Triandis, 2001; Triandis & Suh, 2002). Although probably a useful mechanism to examine variations in individualism and collectivism, the typology so far has only been tested in a limited number of cross-cultural studies (e.g., Gouveia, Clemente, & Espinosa, 2003). With the recently recognized importance of within-culture comparisons, it would be valuable to employ this typology for an in-depth investigation of people’s orientations within a culture.

Culture is never static. It evolves and changes with the passage of time. Communication plays an important role in facilitating those changes by providing the relevant information, motivation, and interaction. Given the advancement of media technology, the study of cultural orientations needs to be framed within an environment that is increasingly technology-based. A thoughtful investigation of today’s culture should include the Web, a unique form of communication agent that is capable of delivering active user-controlled communication (Ariely, 2000; Cho & Leckenby, 1999; Steuer, 1992). A first step toward this effort would be to understand users of the Web and their attitudinal dispositions in relation to their cultural orientations.

The goal of this article is to understand the role of horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism in a person’s attitude toward persuasive messages on the Web, using these persuasive messages as an example of an emerging form of computer mediated communication. Specifically, an online survey with Web users was carried out to (1) test the horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism typology for its ability to detect differences in people’s cultural orientations within a culture and (2) examine how people’s responses toward persuasive communication, such as advertising on the Web, are influenced by their cultural orientations as differentiated by the typology. Results from the study will provide important baseline observations for future research in this direction.

Cultural orientations and computer-mediated persuasive communication

Individualism and collectivism

Perhaps one of the most important applications of the individualism and collectivism constructs is that they provide an objective assessment of what is often a fuzzy concept—namely, culture. By using individualism and collectivism as dimensions of cultures researchers are able to understand the way culture relates to social psychological phenomena in a systematic manner (e.g., Hui, Triandis, & Yee, 1991; Triandis, Brislin, & Hui, 1988).

Hofstede (1980, 1984, 2001) demonstrated how the constructs of individualism and collectivism can be characterized in people’s social perceptions and behavior. He further classified over 50 countries in three regions of the world based on individualism and collectivism (Hofstede 1983). In individualistic cultures, people are autonomous and independent from their in-groups. Their personal goals are usually valued over the goals of their in-groups. As such, their behaviors are usually based on their own attitudes rather than the norms of their in-groups. In contrast, people in collectivistic cultures are interdependent within their in-groups. Priority is placed on the goals of their in-groups. They generally behave according to norms of their in-groups. In short, collectivists tend to do what they are expected to do whereas individualists tend to do what they enjoy doing (Triandis, 1995).

Hofstede’s (1980, 1984) initial conceptualization was a one-dimensional view of human values, with individualism and collectivism at the opposite ends of a continuum. Nations and cultures were defined as residing at one or the other of those extremes or somewhere between the two. In the application of these concepts, a majority of the focus has been placed on explaining cultural or national differences using these constructs (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988). These applications range from psychological development to adaptation to social norms, self-identity and group membership, and behavioral responses (e.g., Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985; Dumont, 1986; Gurevich, 1995).

In the area of communication, individualism and collectivism have served as a useful means to compare communication style and content across cultures (de Mooij, 1998; Hofstede, 1980, 1983). Generally speaking, individualistic cultures tend to engage in low-context communication that is straightforward, explicit, and direct. In contrast, collectivistic cultures are likely to have highly context-dependent communication that is abstract, implicit, and indirect (Hall, 1976, 1984). This contrast of high- versus low-context communication styles is also evident in content materials such as advertising messages. Comparisons of communication styles and content are usually made at the national level using the simple dichotomous view of cultural orientations while overlooking the potential within-culture variations.

Given today’s global environment, the notion of a homogeneous population within a culture may no longer be valid (Singlis & Brown, 1995). In other words, not every person in an individualistic culture is an individualist. Nor does it mean that people in a collectivistic culture are all collectivists. Just as nations are compared based on their classification of individualism or collectivism, so should people within a culture be compared in this way. To this end, “idiocentrism” has been used to refer to personal individualism whereas “allocentrism” means personal collectivism (Yamaguchi, Kuhlman, & Sugimori, 1995). Research over the years suggests that the constructs of individualism and collectivism need to be expanded from uni- to multidimensional in order to be comprehensive (Singlis, Triandis, Bhawuk, & Gelfand, 1995; Triandis & Gelfand, 1998).

Taking the expanded view, Triandis (1995, 2001) suggested that there are, in fact, different types of individualism and collectivism. For example, Korean collectivism is not entirely the same as the collectivism of China. The individualism in France is different from American individualism. Among the many dimensions that can further distinguish individualism and collectivism is the horizontal-vertical aspect. In essence, both individualism and collectivism may be horizontal (emphasizing equality) or vertical (emphasizing hierarchy). Research has shown that some individualistic cultures, such as Australia and Sweden, emphasize equality whereas other individualistic cultures, such as the United States, emphasize hierarchy. This horizontal-vertical distinction could also be a useful starting point to understand individual differences within a culture.

From Triandis’ conceptualization, four types of cultures can be identified: (1) Horizontal Individualism (HI-uniqueness), where people strive to be unique and do their own thing; (2) Vertical Individualism (VI-achievement oriented), where people want to do their own thing and strive to be the best; (3) Horizontal Collectivism (HC-cooperativeness), where people merge themselves with their in-groups; and (4) Vertical Collectivism (VC-dutifulness), where people submit to the authorities of the in-group and are willing to sacrifice themselves for their in-group (Triandis, 2001; Triandis & Suh, 2002). Although this typology was initially proposed to facilitate between-culture comparisons, it also shows promise for an in-depth understanding of variations in individualism and collectivism within a culture.

To date, limited research has been devoted to the investigation of individualism and collectivism both within and between cultures (e.g., Dutta-Bergman & Wells, 2002). Especially lacking is the research on within-culture variations in individuals’ cultural orientations beyond using dichotomous comparisons. Therefore, it seems timely to employ the horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism typology and apply it first within a culture to test its applicability. If the experiment proves successful, additional comparisons at both national and individual levels may be made using the same framework.

Computer-mediated communication through the web

Fueled by hardware and software advancement, the Web is rapidly becoming a significant part of our daily lives. In the late 1990s, the online population was predominantly male, young, well-educated, and affluent (Schlosser, Shavitt, & Kanfer, 1999). This trend is gradually shifting with the greater penetration of the Web reaching a more general population, thereby leading to a demographically diverse population online.1 From breaking news to entertainment, from shopping to research, from personal communication to mass communication, the Web is present in many aspects of today’s culture. Since a significant amount of cultural transmission is carried out with the assistance of technology on the Web these days, it behooves us to take a closer look at people and their cultural orientations such as individualism and collectivism in a technology driven society (Gao, 2005).

Compared to traditional media, the Web is a distinctive medium with elements of constant message delivery, audience selectivity, audience-controlled exposure, and interactivity (Wolin, Korgaonkar, & Lund, 2002). Unlike traditional media users, Web users are generally highly active, selective, and constructive from a psychographic perspective. To understand consumers’ attitudes and behavior on the Web, therefore, their personal characteristics need to be taken into consideration. Numerous studies on demographic and psychological profiles of Web users suggest that differences in a person’s use and perception of the Web would result in different online behaviors (Donthu & Garcia, 1999; Jarvenpaa, Tractinsky, Saarinen, & Vitale, 1999; Lee & Lee, 2005; Li, Kuo, & Russell, 1999; Stellin, 2001).

Among the various characteristics of Web users studied, Web skills and challenges are the two key concepts that have been examined most extensively. This is because they have been identified as the two most important antecedents of “flow” (Hoffman & Novak, 1996; Novak, Hoffman, & Yung, 2000) where consumers are engaged in a continuous “dialogue” with the Web as a system (Huizingh & Hoekstra, 2003). In order for this type of computer-mediated communication to take place, consumers’ skills and challenges must be above a critical threshold. In addition, for the experience to be compelling, consumers should perceive a balance between skills and challenges of the interaction. Otherwise, consumers may become bored or anxious (Ellis, Voelkl, & Morris, 1994).

Attitudes toward web advertising

As the newest form of persuasive communication, Web advertising has received a great deal of attention from the press. This is not a surprise given that Web advertising revenues in the United States totaled $7.3 billion in 2003, up by nearly 21% from 2002 (eMarketer, 2004). Many advertising researchers and practitioners have argued repeatedly that Web advertising has a significant potential for brand building (e.g., Briggs & Hollis, 1997). This is probably because of the high degree of interactivity and user control afforded on the Web.

Given its various formats, Web advertising is often perceived to include free sample or trial offers, billboard-type logos, graphical displays of products, branded banners, online catalogs, shopper guides, and sponsor identifications for Web sites (Ducoffe, 1996). Schlosser, et al. (1999) therefore suggested that, because of differences in what is considered to constitute Web advertising, research on consumer perceptions of Web advertising would be better off by defining Web advertising loosely such as “any form of commercial content available on the Internet that is designed by businesses to inform consumers about a product or service” (p. 36).

As with any type of advertising, the goal of Web advertising is to produce a desirable impact on consumer behavior. Past research evidence has suggested that people’s attitudes toward advertising tend to affect their responses toward individual ads and subsequent purchase behavior (James & Kover, 1992; Lutz, MacKenzie, & Belch, 1983). Therefore, there is good reason to expect that attitudes toward Web advertising may impact on people’s online behavior in a significant way.

While researchers reported that public attitudes toward advertising in general were becoming increasingly negative and ambivalent (e.g., Alwitt & Prabhaker, 1994; Mittal, 1994; Shavitt, Lowrey, & Haefner, 1998), the few studies that specifically examined attitudes toward Web advertising have found consumers to be largely positive. In an intercept survey in various Manhattan business districts, Ducoffe (1996) found that respondents considered Web advertising to be valuable, informative, and hardly irritating. More recently, using a larger and more representative sample where online respondents were matched with offline respondents demographically, Schlosser, et al. (1999) reported that, comparatively, more online respondents liked Web advertising whereas fewer offline respondents liked traditional advertising. On several specific key dimensions such as informativenss, trustworthiness, and confidence, perceptions of Web advertising were found to be more favorable than perceptions of traditional advertising.

On the one hand, consumers’ favorable perception of Web advertising could be due to the newness of this form of advertising because consumers are still curious about it. On the other hand, it could be the result of inconsistent perception of what Web advertising is. It is likely that consumers make little distinction among the different types of Web content materials. Therefore, it is necessary to closely examine what factors influence consumers’ attitude toward Web advertising and their differential impact.

Ducoffe (1996) classified three perceptual antecedents of consumers’ attitudes toward Web advertising: informativeness, entertainment, and irritation. Findings from his study suggested that consumers’ perceived informativeness, entertainment, and irritation with Web adverting taken together influenced their overall attitudes toward Web advertising. These findings have been confirmed by a few subsequent studies (e.g., Schlosser, et al., 1999) with one notable finding in Zhou and Bao’s (2002) study. In addition to the three antecedents of attitude toward Web advertising, Zhou and Bao found that Web users were not simply reacting to advertising messages as in traditional media but, instead, utilizing those ads to achieve their goals or needs. Consequently, the way respondents formed their attitudes toward Web advertising were different depending on their Web ability. This suggests that, in order to be comprehensive, the study of attitudes toward Web advertising will also need to include additional personal factors such as Web skills, challenges and cultural orientations.

Given the above literature review, the following research objectives are set forth and examined empirically in a survey study. The first objective is aimed at understanding if the horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism typology provides a valid measure in differentiating people within a single culture such as the United States. Specifically, measurement scale validation and group classification based on the typology is performed. The next objective of the study is to examine people’s media use and Web skills and challenges in the four groups extracted according to the typology (HI, VI, HC, and VC). Finally, the last objective is to examine the extent to which groups under these four cultural orientations are similar or different in their attitudes toward Web advertising, both in terms of specific dimensions and overall attitudes.

The study

A Web survey with a sample drawn from an established online panel of consumers in the United States was undertaken in October 2003 to fulfill the research objectives. Currently, more than two-thirds of the U.S. population uses the Internet (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005), and online data collection is expected to account for 50% of all marketing research by 2005. Since the purpose of the study was to examine the validity of the horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism typology with Web users and to explore its role in understanding consumers’ attitudes toward Web advertising, a sample taken from the population of Web users and the use of a Web survey were deemed appropriate.


Prospective participants were recruited from an online consumer panel consisting of Web users with diverse demographic characteristics. As panel members, these Web users signed on to participate in Web-based studies at regular intervals over a period of time for various rewards. The demographics of the online panel track well with the latest online population trend figures, consisting of predominantly female, young, non-Hispanic white, Web users, with higher education and household incomes than average (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005). Of the original 1,101 surveys completed, a total of 1,033 were included in the sample after eliminating incomplete surveys.

Among the respondents, 58.5% were female and 40.9% were male. Respondents’ ages ranged from 23 to 80 years old with an average of 40 years. The majority of the study participants were Caucasian (79.3%), followed by Hispanic (8.2%) and Asian (5.6%) consumers. Over half of the respondents were married (54.5%) while one-third (30.5%) were single. The respondents were relatively well-educated, with the vast majority of them holding a college degree or higher (98.9%). As for their economic status, 70.8% of the respondents were employed full-time, and 50.7% reported that their annual household income was $50,000 or higher. Table 1 provides a description of the sample characteristics.

Table 1.  Sample Characteristics
  1. Note: The base of the percentages was the total sample size of 1033.

Over 6010410.1%
Native American3.3%
Marital StatusSingle31330.3%
Living with someone757.3%
EducationVocational/technical school (2 yrs)1.1%
Some college101.0%
College graduate (4 yrs)57956.1%
Master’s degree28327.4%
Doctoral degree464.5%
Professional degree (MD, JD, etc.)11210.8%
Household IncomeUnder $10,000242.3%
Over $100,00030929.9%

Data collection procedure

An email announcement including a brief description of the study was sent to members of an online panel. The invitation email message contained the URL where panel members could directly log onto the study site and take part in the survey. All participants were entered into a drawing of a $150 cash prize as an incentive.


The questionnaire consisted of five main sections. The first part of the questionnaire focused on media use. Respondents were asked to indicate how much time on an average weekday they used television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the Web. The second section of the questionnaire assessed respondents’ perceptions of Web advertising in all its various forms using a 7-point, Likert-type scale ranging from (1) “strongly disagree” to (7) “strongly agree,” which was originally developed by Ducoffe (1996). Measures of perceived informativeness consisted of seven opinion statements such as “Web advertising is a good source of product information.” Perceived entertainment was measured on a 5-item scale, including statements such as “Web advertising is entertaining” and perceived irritation of Web advertising was assessed using another 5-item scale with statements such as “Web advertising insults people’s intelligence.” In addition, overall attitudes towards Web advertising were measured on a 3-item, semantic differential scale with endpoints of “positive/negative,”“favorable/unfavorable,” and “good/bad.”

The third part of the survey was designed to determine respondents’ cultural orientations via the four-way typology developed by Triandis (1995). Using a 4-item, 7-point, Likert-type scale, each of the four dimensions was measured: (1) horizontal individualism (HI), (2) vertical individualism (VI), (3) horizontal collectivism (HC), and (4) vertical collectivism (VC). Measures tapping the cultural orientations included statements such as “I’d rather depend on myself than others” (HI), “It is important that I do my job better than others” (VI), “If a coworker gets a prize, I would feel proud” (HC), and “Parents and children must stay together as much as possible” (VC).

The fourth section of the survey gauged respondents’ experience with the Web. An 8-item, 7-point, Likert-type scale assessed respondents’ beliefs about their Web skills and perceived degree of Web challenges (Novak, et al., 2000). At the end of the questionnaire, information on respondents’ demographic characteristics such as gender, age, employment, annual household income, ethnicity, highest education level attained, and marital status was obtained. Table 2 provides the specific items for the major constructs and their reliability coefficients.

Table 2.  Specific items for the key measures
  • Note: All of the items are measured on a 7-point scale.

  • These items were dropped from creating an index score due to the low factor loading.

Perceived Informativeness of Web Advertising (α= .91)
 1. I like to see advertisements for prescription drugs.
 2. Web advertising supplies relevant product information.
 3. Web advertising is a convenient source of product information.
 4. Web advertising is a good source of up-to-date product information.
 5. Web advertising makes product information immediately accessible.
 6. Web advertising provides timely information.
 7. Web advertising supplies complete product information.
Perceived Entertainment of Web Advertising (α= .93)
 1. Web advertising is fun to use.
 2. Web advertising is entertaining.
 3. Web advertising is enjoyable.
 4. Web advertising is pleasing.
 5. Web advertising is exciting.
Perceived Irritation of Web Advertising (α= .68)
 1. Web advertising is annoying.
 2. Web advertising is confusing.
 3. Web advertising insults people’s intelligence.
 4. Web advertising is irritating.
 5. Web advertising is deceptive.
Attitudes toward Web Advertising (α= .98)
 1. favorable/unfavorable
 2. good/bad
 3. positive/negative
Cultural Dimensions
 Horizontal Individualism (α= .64)
  1. I’d rather depend on myself than others.
  2. I rely on myself most of the time; I rarely rely on others.
  3. I often do “my own thing.”
  4. My personal identity, independent of others, is very important to me.
 Vertical Individualism (α= .66)
  1. It is important that I do my job better than others.
  2. Winning is everything.
  3. Competition is the law of nature.
  4. When another person does better than I do, I get tense and aroused.
 Horizontal Collectivism (α= .69)
  1. If a coworker gets a prize, I would feel proud.
  2. The well-being of my coworkers is important to me.
  3. To me, pleasure is spending time with others.*
  4. I feel good when I cooperate with others.
 Vertical Collectivism (α= .64)
  1. Parents and children must stay together as much as possible.
  2. It is my duty to take care of my family, even when I have to sacrifice what I want.
  3. Family members should stick together, no matter what sacrifices are required.
  4. It is important to me that I respect the decisions made by my groups.*
Web Experience
 Web Skills (α= .87)
  1. I am extremely skilled at using the Web.
  2. I consider myself knowledgeable about good search techniques on the Web.
  3. I know somewhat less about using the Web than most users. (R)
  4. I know how to find what I am looking for on the Web.
 Web Challenges (α= .66)
  1. Using the Web does not challenge me. (R)
  2. Using the Web challenges me to perform to the best of my ability.
  3. Using the Web provides a good test of my skills.
  4. I find that using the Web stretches my capabilities to my limits.


Horizontal/vertical individualism/collectivism scale validation

One of the primary objectives of this study was to assess the validity of the scale for horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism with the sample of Web users. This scale has been validated in a number of cross-cultural studies and found to be rigorous across samples. Accordingly, confirmatory factor analysis was performed to test the measurement model with the four cultural dimensions for its validity, using AMOS 4.0.2 Of the 1,033 completed surveys, missing data were treated with listwise deletion, leading to the sample size of 1,008 for this analysis.

Results showed that all of the items significantly loaded on the corresponding factors that were intended to measure. The factor loadings of two items, however, were found to be smaller than 0.4, which led to a decision to drop these items for further analysis. Fit indices of the final measurement model without the two items indicated its reasonable fit with the data. Table 3 presents the factor loadings of the indicators for each latent variable and the goodness-of-fit indices. The items for each construct were averaged to form index scores. The descriptive statistics of the four cultural dimensions are shown in Table 4 and the correlations among the constructs are reported in Table 5. Overall, the results confirmed that the four-way typology can serve as a valid tool for differentiating Web users’ cultural predispositions.

Table 3.  Factor loadings of indicators
  1. Note: All coefficients are significant (p < .001).

  2. Goodness of fit statistics:χ2 (71) = 561.07, p < .001, GFI = .93, AGFI = .89, CFI = .83, RMSEA = .08

Horizontal IndividualismI’d rather depend on myself than others.1.00.72
I rely on myself most of the time; I rarely rely on others.1.30.72
I often do “my own thing.”.74.40
My personal identity, independent of others, is very important to me..54.40
Vertical IndividualismIt is important that I do my job better than others.1.00.59
Winning is everything.1.42.68
Competition is the law of nature.1.04.52
When another person does better than I do, I get tense and aroused.1.07.53
Horizontal CollectivismIf a coworker gets a prize, I would feel proud.1.00.65
The well-being of my coworkers is important to me.1.03.76
I feel good when I cooperate with others..70.58
Vertical CollectivismParents and children must stay together as much as possible.1.00.66
It is my duty to take care of my family, even when I have to sacrifice what I want..68.57
Family members should stick together, no matter what sacrifices are required..99.62
Table 4.  Descriptive statistics of cultural dimensions
  1. Note: All items were measured on a 7-point scale (N = 1008).

Horizontal Individualism5.39.92
Vertical Individualism4.031.05
Horizontal Collectivism5.72.84
Vertical Collectivism5.321.03
Table 5.  Covariance and correlation matrix of the cultural dimensions
  1. Note: * p < .01, ** p < .0011.

  2. Correlations are in the lower triangle and covariances in the upper triangle.

Horizontal Individualism1.00.33**.01.03
Vertical Individualism.521.00−.19**.09*
Horizontal Collectivism.01−.321.00.29**
Vertical Collectivism.04.13.391.00

Horizontal/vertical individualism/collectivism groups

After the scale validation, further analyses were performed to closely examine respondents’ cultural orientations. Table 4 shows the average scores on these four dimensions at the aggregate level, with the sample size of 1,008. The relatively high scores on the collectivism orientations and the lowest average score on vertical individualism are different from the vertical individualistic orientation identified in prior literature for the United States. Given the diversity in the U.S. population, this outcome might not represent the complex nature of this culture well and further highlights the importance to investigate within-culture variations in cultural orientations.

Given the ethnic diversity in the American culture, differences in the cultural orientations among different ethnic groups were examined. Significant differences between respondents with different ethnic backgrounds were indeed observed. The relatively small sizes of several ethnic groups, however, did not allow for meaningful comparisons across groups for further investigation. After eliminating those small ethnic groups, the sample used in subsequent analysis was comprised of a single majority ethnicity group, 814 Caucasian respondents.

In an effort to understand the relationship between a person’s dominant cultural orientation and his or her response to Web advertising, the sample of Caucasian respondents was further divided into high versus low groups on each of the four cultural orientations using a median split. The median scores were 5.5 (HI), 4.0 (VI), 5.7 (HC), and 5.3 (VC). This procedure resulted in a total of 16 (2x2x2x2) groups. From these 16 groups, 4 representative groups were selected for a closer examination of personal characteristics and attitudes toward Web advertising. Each representative group was classified as a group that displayed a high score on only one dimension but a low score on the other three dimensions. The four groups representing the HI, VI, HC, and VC dimensions consisted of 39, 29, 48, and 56 respondents, respectively. Preliminary analyses showed similarities in demographic compositions between this sample of 172 respondents and the large sample (see Table 1 for the demographic profile of the sample of 1,033). Since demographic variables (e.g., gender, age) were not notably skewed across the groups, they were not considered as contributing factors in further examinations of cultural orientations. Before investigating the relationship between cultural orientations and attitudes toward Web advertising, media use and Web experience of respondents in these four groups were observed.

Media use and web skills and challenges

On the survey, respondents were asked to indicate the amount of time they spent on an average weekday watching television, reading magazines and newspapers, listening to the radio, and using the Web. A great majority of them reported using all of the media on a daily basis. Respondents in the four groups (n = 172) did not show a significantly different media use pattern (p > .1). Consistently, respondents across the four groups were most likely to use the Web on a daily basis, followed by television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Table 6 reports the time spent with those media.

Table 6.  Time spent with media on average weekday
 TelevisionRadioNewspapersMagazinesThe Web
  1. Note: The base of the percentages was the sample size of 172 consisting of four representative cultural orientation groups.

Do not use on a daily basis10 (5.8%)4 (2.3%)51 (29.7%)41 (23.8%)1 (0.6%)
30 minutes16 (9.3%)48 (27.9%)61 (35.5%)94 (54.7%)21 (12.2%)
1 hour18 (10.5%)35 (20.3%)31 (18.0%)15 (8.7%)27 (15.7%)
1 hr., 30 min.10 (5.8%)15 (8.7%)6 (3.5%)2 (1.2%)13 (7.6%)
2 hours31 (18.0%)20 (11.6%)11 (6.4%)11 (6.4%)28 (16.3%)
2 hr., 30 min.8 (4.7%)5 (2.9%)1 (0.6%)0 (0.0%)4 (2.3%)
3 hours25 (14.5%)10 (6.4%)4 (2.3%)4 (2.3%)20 (11.6%)
3 hr., 30 min.6 (3.5%)1 (0.6%)0 (0.0%)0 (0.0%)1 (0.6%)
4 hours19 (11.0%)3 (1.7%)0 (0.0%)1 (0.6%)13 (7.6%)
4 hr., 30 min.0 (0.0%)1 (0.6%)1 (0.6%)0 (0.0%)3 (1.7%)
5 hours5 (2.9%)3 (1.7%)2 (1.2%)0 (0.0%)4 (2.3%)
More than 5 hr.22 (12.8%)23 (13.4%)1 (0.6%)2 (1.2%)35 (20.3%)

ANOVA3 tests revealed that respondents’ Web skills were significantly different among the four groups (F (3, 166) = 5.72, p = .001), whereas their perceived Web challenges did not differ (p > .1). Post hoc comparisons showed that respondents in the HI group believed that they had greater Web skills (M = 6.21) than those in the HC (M = 5.28; p < .001) and VC (M = 5.61; p = .035) groups, although other mean differences between the groups were not significant (p > .1). Respondents in the high VI orientation displayed a mean score of 5.77 on self-judged Web skills.

Cultural orientations and attitudes toward web advertising

With the main goal of the study to explore the relationship between the four cultural orientations and attitudes toward Web advertising, another set of analyses was performed to examine respondents responses to Web advertising across the four cultural orientation groups. In testing the differences in respondents’ attitudes toward Web advertising among the groups, ratings on the items for each of the three Web advertising attitude measures (informativeness, entertainment, and irritation) were averaged to create an index score. ANOVA results indicated a significant, overall difference in perceived informativeness of Web advertising (F (3, 164) = 3.90, p = .01). Tukey’s HSD tests for post hoc comparison showed that respondents in the HI group viewed Web advertising to be significantly less informative (M = 2.86) than those in the VI group (M = 3.86; p = .007).

Another ANOVA test showed that overall the respondents’ perceptions of Web advertising’s entertainment value differed across groups (F (3, 164) = 5.22, p = .002). Post hoc comparisons revealed that respondents in the HI group perceived Web advertising to be significantly less entertaining (M = 1.91) than those in the VI (M = 3.01; p = .001) and VC (M = 2.53; p = .053) groups. Respondents’ perceived irritation of Web advertising was not significantly different across groups (p > .1), however.

When general attitudes toward Web advertising were examined, the overall group difference was significant (F (3, 164) = 3.71, p = .013). Post hoc test results showed a significant difference between the HI (M = 5.79) and VI (M = 4.40; p = .008) groups while other group differences were not found to be significant. Mean scores of the attitude measures across the four groups are reported in Table 7.

Table 7.  Web advertising attitude means of the four cultural orientation groups
  • Note: All items were measured on a 7-point scale (N = 172).

  • A greater score means a more negative response.

Overall Attitude*5.704.495.275.055.16

Discussion and summary

Individualism and collectivism have been widely used to explain differences across cultures in various fields (Hui, et al., 1991; Triandis, et al., 1988). Recent research, however, has recognized the limitation of the traditional unidimensional conceptualization and has proposed a more sophisticated classification: Vertical and Horizontal Individualism and Collectivism (Triandis, 1995, 2001). While this typology has been validated in cross-cultural research, little is known about its applicability in differentiating people’s cultural predispositions within a culture. Therefore, this paper presents an empirical study that employed the four-way classification to examine people’s cultural orientations within an individualistic culture and their responses toward persuasive communication on the Web.

As a first step toward assessing the applicability of the typology in detecting within-culture variations, the measurement scale was examined for its validity. The results showed that the scale successfully represented the four interrelated but separate dimensions of Web users’ cultural orientations: horizontal individualism, vertical individualism, horizontal collectivism and vertical collectivism. The typology offers more comprehensive information on respondents’ cultural predisposition within a culture than the traditional dichotomous perspective. Furthermore, the four-way classification scheme would serve as a tool for examining the potential role of the cultural orientations in people’s attitudinal and behavioral responses toward media and persuasive communications.

Using the validated measurement scale, respondents’ cultural predispositions were assessed and those with different orientations were classified into each of the four groups respectively. Overall, respondents in the four groups shared similar media use pattern and showed no difference in terms of perceived Web challenges. With regard to perceived Web skills, horizontal individualistic respondents appeared to consider their skill levels higher than the other groups. Perhaps the most interesting finding of this study is that people with different dominant cultural orientations indeed seem to differ in their general attitudes toward Web advertising. Specifically, the four groups also differed in their perceived informativeness and entertainment of Web advertising. It appears that respondents with a strong horizontal individualistic orientation tended to express more negative views on Web advertising, and thought of it as less informative and entertaining, than other groups.

While the Web is said to be an ideal medium for tailored communications with a high degree of user control, horizontal individualistic Web users might still feel that these messages are targeted at a mass audience and do not reflect their personal uniqueness. As a mirror image of this tendency, those respondents also reported possessing the highest Web skills among all the groups. People with high horizontal individualism might strive to obtain as many Web skills as possible to control what they view on the Web and modify the format and content of persuasive messages in order to satisfy their desire to be unique.

Overall, these findings illustrate the important role of cultural orientations in consumers’ differing predispositions towards persuasive communications on the Web. In addition to personal characteristics such as Web skills and knowledge, cultural values or orientations might serve as a fundamental and stable base in people’s belief and attitude formations. In this way, people’s outlook on a wide range of topics and events, and their motivations, goals and behaviors, might also be considered the results of their cultural predispositions.

While this investigation provides preliminary insights into the relationship between cultural dispositions and people’s response to Web communication, our understanding of the cultural influences within cultures is still at the beginning stage. Continuing efforts are needed to better explain the nature of this relationship and the specific roles of each of the cultural orientations in determining people’s media preferences and response towards technology-mediated communication. At the same time, the qualitative approach that contextualizes people, either individualistic or collectivistic, within the realm of social environment is also needed to add depth to empirical observations and enrich our explanations.

Identified as a significant factor driving differences between cultures, the role of cultural orientations has been investigated predominantly in cross-cultural settings. The recent, growing attention to people with diverse cultural backgrounds residing in the same society, however, further highlights the importance of within-culture investigations of cultural orientations.

The results from the present study provide some interesting observations in this regard. Preliminary analysis seems to suggest that cultural orientations differed by ethnicity. Although further analysis was not possible due to the small sample size, the composition of the four cultural orientation groups by ethnicity and how that relates to perception and behaviors appears to be a worthy topic for future research. Although classified as an individualistic culture on the whole in prior research, Caucasian members of the American society exhibited differences in terms of their cultural orientations, which in turn produced differences in their attitudes toward Web advertising. Additional research is needed to disentangle the intricate nature of cultural orientations and better explain within-culture differences on a variety of outcome variables. These include the role of cultural orientations in individuals’ motivations for, use of, and response to other forms of technology-mediated communication such as emails, blogs, and mobile advertising.


  • 1

    Although access to technology has increased in all demographic segments of the population, the issue of the Digital Divide is still largely relevant. Looking beyond the increasing number of individuals who can access technology these days, scholars and policy makers alert us to the social gaps among different income, ethnic, and education groups that might widen due to their differential rate of access to technology.

  • 2

    AMOS is a widely accepted software program for Structural Equation Modeling (SEM). SEM is a statistical methodology that integrates confirmatory factor analysis and path analysis with latent variables (Byrne, 2001).

  • 3

    Analysis of variance (ANOVA) is a statistical technique that is used to compare means of three or more groups simultaneously (Agresti & Finlay, 1997).