How can psychology influence consumer behavior

The influence of attitudes on consumer behavior

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2.) What are settings?
2.1.) The structure of attitudes
2.2.) Strength and consistency of attitudes
2.3.) How do attitudes arise?
2.4.) Settings in advertising

3. Attitude change theories
3.1.) The Elaboration Likelihood Model
3.2.) The theory of cognitive dissonance

4.) Attitude and attitude-conform behavior
4.1.) How well can attitudes predict behavior?
4.2.) Which factors play a role in the attitude-behavior relation?
4.2.1.) Availability of the setting
4.2.2.) Strength of attitude
4.2.3.) The situation context
4.2.4.) The involvement of the consumer

5.) The MODE model

6.) Conclusion

7.) Bibliography

1 Introduction

The main goal of the advertising industry is to sell a product to the consumer. This is sold indirectly: the consumer should be inspired by the advertising to go to the store or to purchase the product by telephone or via the Internet.

Almost all models for advertising effectiveness contain an attitude component, which is usually followed by an action component. Even the AIDA model[1] from the 19th century, describes a "Desire" level immediately before the "Action" level, which in principle is nothing more than the attitude towards the advertised product. Modern models such as the 6-step model by Lavidge and Steiner (1961) or the model by McGuire (1985) continue this tradition. So it makes sense to see attitude and action as closely related concepts in advertising as well. Indeed, a large part of advertising of any kind aims to convey an attitude towards it in addition to selling a product. The ulterior motive is of course that the companies hope to increase their profit even further through a positive attitude.

In order to shed more light on the interesting relationship between the attitudes of the consumers and their behavior, I will try in this paper to shed light on the relationship between the attitudes of the consumers and their associated behavior. Of course, there are more factors that play an important role in the attitude-behavioral relationship than those I am discussing here, but I will mostly have to ignore these in order to limit the scope of the work in a meaningful way.

I would also like to forego unnecessary details from the marketing area here. It is much more important to me to shed light on the topic from a socio-psychological point of view in order to make it clear to what extent consumer behavior and their attitudes are subject to socio-psychological mechanisms.[2]

First, the construct of the attitude is presented, whereby, in addition to a definition, the most important influencing factors are also discussed. Precisely because the attitude construct is highly controversial, I will try to extract a lowest common denominator. In order to expand this further, I will also describe the structure and the process of creating attitudes.

In the following section I will deal with theories on changing attitudes, respectively the “elaborative likelihood model” and the “theory of cognitive dissonance”. I think this is extremely important for advertising, as it is often aimed at changing attitudes. This is followed by a treatise on the relationship between attitudes and behavior and what moderator variables influence this relationship. Finally, the Fazio FASHION model is presented.

2.) What are settings?

Floor polishers and walls define settings as "a summary evaluation of an object of thought“(Bohner and Wänke, 2002, p. 4), ie the evaluation of an object, whereby this can be a person, a product, an ideology, etc. Of course, this is only a minimal definition and the construct of the setting is far more complex that it allows one to guess.

2.1.) The structure of attitudes

First of all, settings can be divided into three basic components, namely one affective, one cognitive and a conative Component (see Mayer and Illmann, 2000, p. 131). The affective component includes the feelings towards the object of the attitude, e.g. whether one likes a certain product or not. The cognitive component, on the other hand, relates to (knowledge) knowledge of the object, for example whether one considers a product to be useful or superfluous, etc. The conative level stands for the actions, or rather, the tendency to act, which one takes towards the object pauses, whether you want to buy it or reject it outright. The existence of these three levels does not have to mean, however, that every setting inevitably addresses all three components; it depends on the one hand on the object and on the other hand on the evaluating person whether one, two or all three levels are occupied. For example, you can have a positive feeling about a product without worrying about it further.

In order to better understand the structure of attitudes, one also has to use the Polarity of settings consider. Unipolar Attitudes mean that one evaluates an object on a continuum from neutral to positive, or how much “joy” one can get from it (cf. Bohner and Wänke, 2002, p.50f). It's a little more complicated with the bipolar Settings. Here the evaluations of an object vary on a continuum from negative to positive. Usually these are more complex objects or theoretical constructs, such as political or social issues, which are often very controversial. “Abortion” is an example of a bipolar attitude object. Unipolar attitudes are predominantly related to material objects, so that most attitudes towards advertised products are of a unipolar nature. However, the boundaries are not always completely clear, because it differs from individual to individual whether the attitude towards the same object is of a unipolar or bipolar nature; one can also have a strong aversion to a material product.

It is also controversial in science whether attitudes are a stable or a temporary construct. The "File-Drawer" model states that attitudes are stable over a longer period of time and are simply used when necessary to assess an object. The opposite pole to this, sees attitude as temporary construct which is formed anew every time in a corresponding situation and is therefore very sensitive to context. One can assume that in reality it is very different between individuals and also depends on the attitude object which of the two poles applies. However, it can be said with certainty that the majority of attitudes have at least a “solid core” and that a situational influence may also have an impact.

2.2.) Strength and consistency of attitudes

In addition to the structure of the setting, there is also their consistency central, especially when it comes to the relationship between attitudes and associated behavior. One speaks of a consistent attitude if it is as little ambivalent as possible, i.e. if one does not have both many positive and many negative views on the partial aspects of an attitude object at the same time. Classically, inconsistent attitudes are particularly common when it comes to health-related issues, for example when someone has an overall positive attitude towards smoking, although at the same time they think that it is unhealthy, expensive and in principle pointless. As a result, one can also assume that very inconsistent attitudes are not stable because the people are, so to speak, torn back and forth. Strong dissonances can lead to more thoughts about the ambivalent views, which can ultimately lead to more consistent but possibly also changed attitudes (cf. Bohner and Wänke, 2002, p. 60).

The next important aspect to be covered here is that Strength of attitude. Views of certain objects can vary in their intensity. To like a certain clothing brand does not automatically mean that you want to own every collection and buy every piece, etc. There can be various reasons for why an attitude is stronger or weaker. Partly they are due to genetic predispositions, but mostly they are psychological in nature. Boninger et al. (1995) were able to identify three important psychological factors that influence the strength of attitudes: On the one hand, the personal relevance the target object for the person, on the other hand philosophical, religious and political Moral concepts and finally the Norms the social environment (see Brehm, Kassin and Fein, 2002, p.186).

2.3.) How do attitudes arise?

There are many sources of how attitudes can arise. In the controversy of the debate, a continuum has emerged that extends from “Nature” to “Nurture”, ie from genetic influences up to Environmental influences.

Especially with regard to the often different views of men and women in the sexual area, it has been shown that genetic dispositions have an enormous influence here. Men are more likely than women to enter into short-term sexual relationships, while women are more likely to seek long-term relationships. This is because there are two reproductive tactics for men: one that is fixated on a wide spread of the genetic material, with the hope that at least some of the offspring will survive and another tactic that specifically takes care of the elevator of a few children, to actively increase their chances of survival. For women, at the time when the genetic structure of today's people was formed, the latter tactic was quite successful, which explains why they are still more inclined to long-term relationships and prefer men with many material resources (see Bohner and Wänke, 2002, p.74).

But the objection that this gender-specific role behavior is no longer fully applicable today is entirely justified, as is the objection that sexual behavior is no longer solely geared towards procreation. In the meantime, for example, effective contraceptives are available and securing resources for the survival of the offspring has become much less problematic - at least in Western nations - even for single women. It is precisely these two aspects that have led to a fundamental change in values ​​and role models and thus also to changed attitudes towards sexuality. This again shows the environmental or social influence on attitudes.

In addition to this continuum from genetic to social influences, one can play the role of Motivations not to be disregarded, especially since these are extremely important for consumer behavior. A motivation is understood to mean the interaction between person and situation, between motive and incentive; stimulated motives lead to behavior (cf. Schuler, 2001, p. 350).

Let us assume that two consumers have exactly the same cognition that Mercedes sedans are very elegant - apart from other aspects. Such a situation does not mean, however, that they have the same attitude about it. One of the consumers may be less motivated to drive a stylish car than the other. Thus his attitude will be less pronounced than that of the other (cf. Kroeber-Riel and Weinberg, 2003, p. 169). If the consumer even has negative ideas about elegant vehicles - he finds them too ostentatious or similar, for example - he could even develop a negative attitude in this regard. The motivations also determine the individual different weighting and evaluation of the individual aspects of attitude objects.

Of course, there are other mechanisms by which attitudes can arise, besides social norms, genetic makeup and motivations. One way of generating attitudes that is particularly interesting for advertising is classic conditioning. In the case of consumer behavior, this would mean combining a new stimulus (e.g. a product or a brand) with an already known, positively assessed stimulus (pleasant stimuli such as music or beautiful landscapes) (cf.Gorn, 1982, p. 94) . The idea is to associate the target with the positive stimulus, that is, to see it in a more favorable light.

Gorn (1982) demonstrated this effect experimentally by presenting two ballpoint pens with either music that was generally rated as pleasant or unpleasant.[3] The pens were either beige in color or light blue, which was rated as similarly attractive in preliminary tests. In fact, the test subjects clearly preferred the pen that was advertised with the pleasant music over the pen that was not presented (78.7% vs. 21.3%). Conversely, when it came to unpleasant music, they preferred the non-advertised ballpoint pen (70.3% vs. 29.7%). Even if this effect is very impressive and has been successfully replicated in follow-up studies, one must be careful when working with moods in advertisements. This becomes clearer in section 3.1.) On the elaborative likelihood model.

Table 1: Choice of pen according to the background music. Source: Gorn 1982.

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Another method of setting up attitudes is "Mere exposure". The idea here is that the pure presentation of a stimulus has a positive influence on the attitude towards it (cf. Bohner and Wänke, 2002, p. 76). It is believed that the stimulus is rated better because familiarity makes it easier to process. That means you have to use less cognitive capacities, which is generally perceived as pleasant. However, the mere exposure effect only works under certain conditions. On the one hand, you shouldn't have a general aversion to the target object, because this is increased by increased presentation. Furthermore, the stimulus should not be presented too often, because this leads to a “wear-out effect” (cf. Brehm, Kassin and Fein, 2002, p.306f).


[1] The AIDA model by Lewis (1898) includes four hierarchically ordered phases that are essential for a successful advertising effect: Attention (Customer's attention), Interest (Interest in the product must be aroused), Desire (Purchase intent) and Action (Purchase of the product).

[2] Sharon Shavitt and Michaela Wänke, for example, share this view in their article "Consumer Behavior" from 2004.

[3] The positive stimulus was a piece of music from "Grease", which was rated as very positive, and the negative stimulus was traditional Indian music.

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