NG Shu Tian, Bachelor of Environmental Studies student – AY 2018-2019
Kiasuism and conscious consumption – like oil and water?
The term kiasu, from Hokkien, is best described as “fear of losing out”. It’s kind of like the concept of keeping up with the Joneses, but way more intense. and it’s one of the most distinctive traits of Singapore culture. It manifests in diverse ways, but especially as a competitive mindset in which pursuits such as reserving a spot at a table (which we call “choping”, as in rhymes with hoping) and scoring a bargain or a freebie are perceived as important. No doubt, kiasuism is a big contributor to our highly consumerist society (where shopping is a top pastime).
Shu Tian was interested in how pervasive this mindset is among millennials and the extent to which it contributes to the knowledge-behaviour gap of conscious consumption, which is a type of pro-environmental behaviour. Her hypothesis was that those who know more about environmental issues are more inclined to consume consciously, whereas those who are more kiasu are less likely to do so because kiasuism promotes materialism and prioritises individual over environmental interests.
She tested her ideas in a study population consisting of youths enrolled at the three main types of post-secondary institutions (universities, polytechnics and institutes of technical education). She employed a three-stage mixed methods design. The first step was a series of focus-group discussions to see which environmental issues this population is most familiar with and the most common ways individuals practice conscious consumption. Next, having clarified and contextualised her study variables, she constructed an appropriate questionnaire that also assessed kiasuism – she analysed these quantitative results using structural equation modelling (SEM). Finally, she qualitatively explained questions that arose from the SEM using semi-structured interviews with individuals who exhibit more traits of kiasuism or conscious consumption.