Lindquist, Jay D., Jodi Knieling, and Carol Kaufman-Scarborough (2001), “Polychronicity and Consumer Behavior Outcomes Among Japanese and U.S. Students:  A Study of Response to Culture in a U.S. University Setting,” Proceedings of the Tenth Biennial World Marketing Congress, forthcoming.



It has been theorized and anecdotally supported that the Japanese high-context culture is one in which polychronic time use is the norm.  However when in settings at home and abroad where people from other cultures, especially those from "Western" nations, are involved, the Japanese are thought to engage in more monochronic time use behavior.  The study of Japanese and U.S. university students in a U.S. university setting, reported here,  is an exploratory project to see if this culture-response shift in behavior does occur.  First a modified version of the PAI3 scale is validated and then applied to the two groups.  Also a test to see if combining behaviors that polychronic consumers typically carry out are actually happening were done.  Finally Japanese are purported to be more "procedural" in their time processing so this was tested.  Indeed the Japanese students were more monochronic than their U.S. peers, all combining behaviors tested showed the Japanese and the U.S. students on the agreement side of the scales.  However, no statistically significant difference was detected between the two groups on two of the three behaviors.  The U.S. students were more likely to make store choices to combine errands.  Both were on the agreement side of the scale and no statistical difference was found.


"Like the tonal scale of Japanese music, Japanese time is out of phase with American time, and vice versa (Hall and Hall 1987, p. 24)."

 Polychronic time use, sometimes called "p-time" or "polychronicity" was first identified in the cultural anthropology literature by Hall (1959).  Polychronic time use occurs when a person does more than one activity at the same time, usually with varying levels of attention paid to each.  Monochronic time use occurs when a person does one thing at a time during a specified time period.  Subsequently, it was explored in marketing and consumer behavior contexts by Lane and Lindquist (1988) and Lane, Kaufman and Lindquist (1989).  Traditionally the types of combined activities examined and studied were  household chores, mixing household actions with child care, combining work activities, social activity with work-related actions and travel and communications/work/social activities (Hall 1959; Lane and Lindquist 1989; Robinson 1977; Szalai 1972; Walker and Woods 1976).  Though polychronic time use has been discussed and evaluated in a cursory fashion in various disciplines, few attempts had been made prior to the early 1990's to measure the tendency to pursue such behavior and/or the feelings that people have toward it from the standpoint of consumer behavior.

In 1991 Kaufman, Lane and Lindquist (1991) developed and tested the "Polychronic Attitude Index" (PAI), a measure of people's tendencies to actually carry on two or more activities during the same clock block of time and their level of positive or negative feelings about this behavior. Individuals who scored higher on the scale were more polychronic and those with lower scores were more monochronic.  Scores were based on self-reports.  The items that ultimately became parts of the PAI were generated from discussions an suggestions found in prior time use studies (Hefferan 1982; Hill 1985; Robinson 1977; Szalai 1972) The original PAI scale consisted of four items and yielded a coefficient alpha (internal consistency reliability measure) value for the test population of 0.68.  This value was not strong, but showed potential during this its development stage.  The index was revised based on the concerns of the research team relating to one of the items which seemed to have a fixed location (at one's desk) bias and a new three item scale was tested (Kaufman-Scarborough and Lindquist 1999).  This "revised" PAI was the starting point for the project reported here.

The Revised PAI

The revised PAI consisted of three items, as noted earlier.  They were Likert-type, five position agreement scales ("strongly agree," "agree," "neither agree nor disagree," "disagree," "strongly disagree," scores 5 to 1, respectively).  The three statements presented to respondents were: "I do not like to juggle several activities at the same time," "People should not try to do many things at once" and "I am comfortable doing several things at the same time."  The first and second items were reverse scored and the three scale scores were then summed to determine a person's PAI score.  As with the original four-item scale (Kaufman, Lane and Lindquist 1991), the higher the score the stronger was the polychronic tendency.  Both the original four-item index and the new three-item scale were tested.  The coefficient alpha for the former was 0.79 and for the latter it was 0.82 for the sample of 181 respondents from the communities surrounding a large city in the eastern part of the U.S.  The alpha was slightly improved, but more importantly, the three surviving items allowed for unrestricted measure of the tendency.

Cross-cultural Reliability

When scales are developed for use in cross-cultural settings, it is important to test their validity and reliability on multiple samples of respondents (Usunier 1991).  Though the revised PAI has been shown to be an improvement over its predecessor, the authors of the current study were interested in testing a further modified version of the scale in a setting where respondents had dramatically contrasting cultural backgrounds and reasonably similar time demand situations.  A university in the U.S. is an excellent place to test PAI validity and reliability among persons of different cultural backgrounds.  Here students from other lands study along side each other and with American peers.


In the present study the authors have decided to compare and contrast Japanese and U.S. university students on their responses to the PAI.  Typically, most of the U.S. students are working at least part time, whereas only a small share of the Japanese students do so.  In the case of the latter group those working for pay are employed by the university part-time (20 hours a week or less) because of immigration status.  Also, lifestyles are quite different likely affecting time demands and the Japanese find themselves in a foreign cultural setting which assuredly impacts time use.

Japanese Time Culture

Time use among Japanese is interesting and complex and is characterized by several different types, depending on the cultural common practice and the level of personal interaction likely to occur.  Many behaviors can be better understood by considering them in terms of the anthropological distinction between high- and low-context cultures.  Hall (1977) classifies cultures on this basis.  In low-context cultures, explicit, verbally-communicated messages are emphasized, as is punctuality and adherence to schedules.  In direct contrast,  in high-context cultures, establishing relationships through a flexible approach to time is the rule.

Polychronic time use is more dominant in Japanese, Middle Eastern and Latin American cultures.  The Japanese language of time is not strictly polychronic.  For example, appointments and scheduling are adhered to with great precision (monochronic time characteristics), but polychronic time behaviors are followed once a meeting begins.  Japanese high-speed trains, for example, run on very precise schedules, but when decisions in a business setting are to be made it seems to take "forever."  Hall and Hall (1987) indicate that the Japanese are monochronic in their time use when dealing with "foreigners" and with technology, yet act polychronically in all other situations.  Further, in general, the Japanese are highly flexible and comfortable with compromises  in order to meet the needs of a variety of people.  Hall and Hall (1987) state, " ... in Japan the tightly scheduled monochronic pattern is applied to foreigners who are not well enough integrated into the Japanese system to be able to do things in a more leisurely manner ... the Japanese are polychronic when looking and working inward, toward themselves.  When dealing with the outside world, they have adopted the dominant time system which characterizes the world.  That is, they shift to the monochronic world" (Dance of Life, pp. 53-54).

A very interesting case occurs when the naturally-polychronic Japanese person encounters a low-context situation, such as a business meeting with people from the U.S.  Hall and Hall (1987) tell us that the Japanese system combines both monochronic and polychronic time uses, foreigners (here, U.S. businesspeople) are dealt with monochronically, but when interacting with countrymen, they behave polychronically.  One would anticipate a culture-response shift in behaviors when Japanese move into a low-context cultural living environment such as a U.S. university.  However, as they become more acculturated, living for longer periods in the U.S., their time use patterns will likely more closely mirror those of the American students.  Hall and Hall (1987) point out that cultures such as those in Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. tend to focus on monochronic time use.  Here time is viewed "as money."  It is tightly scheduled and budgeted.  Further it is divided into small units and a high value is placed on punctuality.

Time Use Among Japanese Students in the U.S.

In the present study, we would expect that the Japanese students would actually indicate attitudes and behaviors that reflect monochronicity.  In fact, the levels might be higher than U.S. as the Japanese strive hard to "fit in."  In an earlier study focusing on Japanese students, others from the "Far East" and their U.S. counterparts, two of the findings areas related to their "views on time," in general, and their "processing of time" (Lindquist, Tacoma and Lane 1993).  The results showed that the U.S. students were not as focused on the measurement aspect of time as much as the Japanese.  Further the Japanese expressed stronger feelings about time as an asset or "as money" and as being "very important."  The Japanese students were also more "procedural" in the way they processed time than the Americans.  The procedural approach is where when an activity begins the "clock stops" and a person stays with the task until it is done.  Then the clock "begins again" for him or her (Lane and Lindquist 1988).  The Japanese also commented on how work was to be done in a certain period of time and that time "tells you when to start or finish your activities or your task."  These positions point to a more monochronic (doing one thing at a time) time use style tendency for the Japanese students.  The American students reported behaviors and feelings about time that were interpreted as more polychronic than the Japanese.  These results reinforce the time use theories put forth by Hall and Hall (1987).

Research Objectives and Hypotheses

The research objectives of this project are:
1) compare and contrast the overall polychronic-monochronic tendencies of the Japanese and U.S. university student groups,
2) determine if the actual "combining of activities" behavior of the groups matches polychronic tendency and
3) determine whether the Japanese feel it is best to complete one task before beginning another as an indication of procedural time processing.

Hypothesis 1: The U.S. students will score below 12 (mid range of three item polychronicity scale) demonstrating monochronic tendency. A new version of the PAI3  will be validated and used to measure this.

Hypothesis 2: The Japanese students will score below 12 (mid range of three item polychronicity scale) demonstrating monochronic tendency.

Hypothesis 3: The Japanese students will be more monochronic in their tendency than the U.S. students.

Hypotheses 4: Japanese and U.S. students will report they do not (disagreement side of the scales) engage in the following three "combining activities:" a. choosing activities that are easy to do together, b. choosing products and services that allow them to combine activities, and c. choosing stores that let them combine errands.

Hypothesis 5: a. Japanese students will indicate it is best to complete one task before beginning another, demonstrating "procedural" time processing, and b. their agreement level will be statistically significantly higher than US students.


The data were collected using a self-administered questionnaire.  All questions were closed-ended and the vast majority of the items were seven-point Likert agreement scales.  This was a departure from previous measures which used five-point Likert scales.  Moving to seven positions allows the scales to be treated as equal appearing interval rather than ordinal.  The scale positions were "strongly agree," "moderately agree," "slightly agree," "neither agree nor disagree," "slightly disagree," "moderately disagree" and "strongly disagree."  Scale positions were numbered from 7 to 1, "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree."  Respondents could also select "don't know."  The three items used for the new version of PAI3 were: "I like to juggle several activities at the same time," "People should try to do many activities at once." and "I am comfortable doing several activities at the same time." The first two statements have been changed from negative to positive when compared to the earlier version of PAI3.  Further the word "things" was changed to "activities" in the first two items to provide consistency in wording for the respondents.

A non-probability sampling method was used.  A large Midwestern university was the setting.  The U.S. students were surveyed in classrooms not part of the research team teaching schedule.  The respondents voluntarily participated with no pressure, penalty or reward used for those who did or did not wish to do so.  The Japanese students were primarily recruited through the Japan Club.  A small per person incentive to go into the club treasury was offered.  Other participating Japanese students were found on campus in student lounge areas.  These respondents also voluntarily entered the sample pool.   A total of 52 U.S. students (34 males, 18 females) were in the sample and 68 Japanese (23 males, 45 females).

The data was analyzed using the SPSS package.  Frequencies, cross-tabulations, t-tests and coefficient alpha scale internal consistency reliability analyses were carried out.

Revised PAI3 Testing

The testing of the revised PAI3 was part of methodological actions.  Coefficient alpha tests for internal consistency reliability were run on various subsamples of the respondent pool to check reliability across them.  The coefficient alpha values for subsamples were as follows: U.S. citizens (0.88), Japanese citizens (0.77), U.S. males (0.91), U.S. females (0.83), Japanese males (0.68) and Japanese females (0.82).  The alpha values are greater for the U.S. students pool than the Japanese.  Also the values for both the U.S. men and women are greater than the 0.82 value that was achieved with the original PAI3 scale.   We can conclude that either the changing of all items to be positive statements or the changing of the word "things" to "activities" or the nature of the sample itself could have individually or in combination contributed to this increase in alpha value for the U.S. student sample.  Further testing would be needed to sort this out.  Why the U.S. males had higher alphas than the females and why the Japanese females had higher alphas than the males are questions for future research.   The revised scale is considered acceptable for measuring polychronic tendency.


Hypothesis 1 is rejected.  The U.S. students do not on average score below 12 and therefore are not on the monochronic side of the scale.  The mean value on the revised PAI3 scale for the U.S. students was 14.6 which is slightly onto the polychronic side of the scale.  Of more interest is the fact that the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile scores for the U.S. group were 13, 15 and 18 which are all above the 12 score.

Hypothesis 2 is accepted.  The Japanese students do on average score below 12 and therefore are on the monochronic side of the scale.  The mean value on the revised PAI3 scale was 10.5 which is slightly on the monochronic side.  Examining the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile scores the results show scores of 2, 10 and 14, respectively.  Through the 50th percentile we see these students on the monochronic side of the scale.

Hypothesis 3 is accepted.  The t-test run on the means of the two revised PAI3 distributions yielded at t-value of 5.168 for the 113 degrees of freedom (d.f.) with a two-tailed significance of 0.000.  This coupled with the previous observations on the percentile distributions of revised PAI3 scores demonstrates that statistically the Japanese students are more monochronic in their tendency than their U.S. peers.

Hypothesis 4 a is rejected for both U.S. and Japanese students.  The mean scores were 5.2 (13.7 percent neutral) for the U.S. students and 4.7 (10.8 percent neutral) for the Japanese which are both on the agreement side of the scale.    Hence combining activities which are easy to do together is done.  The scale statement used for measurement was,"When doing two or more activities at the same time, I choose activities that are very easy to do together."  There was no statistically significant difference at the 95 percent confidence level between the Japanese and U.S. students.  The t-test on the means yielded a t-value of 1.943 for d.f. of 114 and the two-tailed significance probability value was 0.055.

Hypothesis 4 b is rejected for both U.S. and Japanese students.  The evaluation of the statement concerning choosing products and services to allow activity combination resulted in a mean value of 4.82 (24.5 percent were neutral) for the American students and 4.31 (31 percent were neutral) for the Japanese.  Both respondent groups indicate that there is some effort to choose such products.  The item used was, "I try to choose products and services that allow me to combine activities."  The t-value for the t-test on the means was 1.823 for 86 d.f. with a two-tailed significance probability value of 0.72.

Hypothesis 4 c is rejected for both the U.S. and Japanese students.  For the store choice to aid in combining errands item the U.S. students average value was 5.53 (10.6 percent neutral) and for the Japanese group it was 4.33 (32.7 percent neutral).  The two groups score on the polychronic side of the tendency scale and, therefore, do engage to some extent in such behavior.  The scale item used was, "I try to choose stores that let me combine errands."  ( No definition of "errands" was given to respondents so this could be shopping only for some and shopping and other personal activity stops for others.)      The t-test on the mean scale scores yielded a t-value of 4.036 for d.f. of 100 with a two-tailed significance probability of 0.000.  This shows that the U.S. students are more prone to engage in this behavior than the Japanese.  This difference may not stem solely from polychronic-monochronic tendency differences.  People in Japan may not be used to being able to choose stores to combine errands or this may not be "typical" consumer behavior within the culture, or both.  Further they may be less likely to combine errands because they are new to the area, may not know store locations and/or may not have transportation available.  A clue to "other influences" is that three times as many Japanese indicated "neither agree nor disagree" than Americans in the sample.

Hypothesis 5 a is accepted.  A single item used to test this hypothesis to determine if the Japanese students in the sample were more "procedural" in their time processing than the American students.  The item was, "I believe it is best to complete one task before beginning another."  The average agreement scores were 4.96 (16.2 percent were neutral) for the Japanese and 4.77 (15.4 percent were neutral) for the Americans, near the "slightly agree" position.  The Japanese are showing a tendency to be procedural.

Hypothesis 5 b is rejected.  The mean test t-value for this comparison was -0.693 for 118 d.f. with a two-tailed significance probability of 0.49.  The Japanese do not show a stronger tendency to be procedural than the U.S. students.  The caution here is that this single item might not be capturing the "procedural" tendency.  Though this was not tested.


There were limitations in this exploratory study.  Using only one university and a small pool of students not selected by a probability sampling method all contribute to the lack of generalizability of the results.  However, the findings on the internal consistency reliability of the revised PAI3 scale and the stronger monochronic tendency of the Japanese students were as expected.  Additional tests of the scale should be done to confirm its validity in other settings.  Not addressed is the variability in central score bias when selecting answers on scales.  Direct comparison in this study of the Japanese and U.S. student scores may not be appropriate. Questions regarding the tie between polychronic or monochronic tendency and actual consumer behavior in various situations beyond those touched on in this study is a next step in this research area.  Do people have combining strategies to allow them to "be polychronic" or special strategies so they may efficiently "be monochronic" as consumers.  Do people have an overall tendency and then shift based on the marketplace situation with which they are faced is a question that needs answering.  A more comprehensive model of polychronic tendency should be built that would yield higher alpha values.  Likely different models using fewer or more items to measure tendency would be needed in different cultural settings and situations.  It is also essential to look across cultures to see if certain peoples have a tendency to be more polychronic or monochronic as anecdotally suggested (Hall 1959; Hall and Hall 1987).  If so, what affect does this have on the benefits they seek from products and services they choose and other marketplace behaviors.  Would an understanding of polychronic - monochronic tendency have impact on trading across cultures?  These and other questions likely have arisen in the reader's mind as a result of this exploratory piece.


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