Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Why do We Choose This App? A Comparison of Mobile Application Adoption Between Chinese and US College Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Louisa Ha (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Other)

Third Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kate Magsamen-Conrad (Committee Member)


The present cross-cultural study applies the regulatory focus theory developed by Higgins and modifies the cultural dimensions proposed by Hofstede to explore and compare the relationships between cultural values and the focused strategic means college consumers use in China and the US. In total, 377 Chinese and 403 US college students participated in a survey to reveal the relations between variables of app download and their cultural values. In addition, for a deeper and insightful understanding of the app download behavior, the method of semi-structured interview was used to raise participants' and the researcher's consciousness of and critical reflections upon app download processes and experiences.

The research results are five-fold: First, Chinese college students share similar scores of four cultural dimensions with the US college students, and there is no difference in indulgence between the two countries. Second, country is a more powerful variable than cultural dimensions in model testing in terms of differentiating consumers’ regulatory focus. US consumers are more likely to be promotion focused and Chinese consumers are likely to be prevention focused. Third, promotion focused consumers are likely to seek both hedonic and utilitarian gratifications, and to heuristically process information. Fourth, US consumers and consumers who are seeking hedonic gratifications will download more apps of the same type. Finally, the interview data indicate that consumers consider many aspects when evaluating apps.

The results of this study also reveal that social norm and perceived behavioral control are important factors affecting the decision-making process in terms of gratifications sought. Social norm also affects regulatory focus and heuristic processing. Future studies of mobile app adoption should include more variables such as application type (e.g., engagement level, free vs. pay, etc.) and other gratifications sought such as social and communication. To ensure the validity of research results, this study triangulates surveys and interviews and provides breadth and depth in describing the commonalities and differences in decision-making process between China and the US. The results of the study build an understanding of regulatory focus and decision-making process of app download while also contributing to the knowledge of media marketing.