Consumer Psychologist

We've all done it. We all do it. And we will continue to make impulse buys from time to time. Don't worry it's not a sin, just good old human nature - or better said human behavior. We're all susceptible to sales, eye-catching packages, promotions and deals that are just too good to pass up. Whatever the reason, chances are that you're not entirely responsible for your actions. Consumer psychology probably had something to do with it.

Consumer psychology is one of the few branches of psychology that focuses on commerce. Some refer to this specialized field of social psychology as the psychology of marketing. It is the psychology of how consumers think, feel, reason, and make selections between alternative brands, products and retailers. Consumer psychologists apply their understanding of human behavior and mental processes to the marketing and promotion of consumer products and services. Consumer psychologists explore how consumers are influenced by their environment (e.g., family, culture, advertisements, media, etc.) and use this understanding to influence consumer behavior and marketing outcomes.

The following are the main applications of consumer psychology:

  • Marketing Strategy
    A primary use of consumer psychology is for developing more effective marketing campaigns. For example, by understanding how consumers react to negative political advertisements, aspiring politicians can determine whether or not to run a positive or negative ad campaign in certain areas of the country where their constituents reside. We also learn from consumer psychology that new product introductions are almost always slow to be adopted. Consequently, companies that introduce new products must be prepared to stay afloat until their products are adopted by the general public. Through consumer psychology these same companies understand they must please their initial customers since they in turn will communicate the brand value of new products to future consumers.

  • Social Marketing
    Consumer psychology also involves communicating ideas to consumers rather than selling them something. Consumer psychologists are often involved in marketing campaigns that are non- commercial in nature. For example, the Center for Disease Control has retained the services of prominent consumer psychologists in order to develop marketing campaigns aimed at increasing consumer awareness of the spread of disease it it relates to illegal drug use.

  • The study of consumer behavior not only benefits product vendors, it can also benefit consumers. Consumers who become senstized to common marketing practice, such as paying a size premium when buying a larger quantity, become more savvy consumers who check unit cost labels to find the real bargains out there.

Consumer psychology got its start in the early 1940's, when a psychologist named John Watson started taking advantage of consumers' emotions to help promote and sell products to mothers. A world famous company we all know, Johnson and Johnson, followed Watson's advice and started producing baby powder ads that played on the feeling of attachment a mother has toward her baby. The ads were a success and consumer psychology has been a vital component of modern day consumer marketing ever since.

How to Become a Consumer Psychologist
The first step to becoming a consumer psychologist is to earn a bachelor's degree. While a bachelor's degree in psychology or some other field of behavioral science is recommended, it isn't absolutely necessary. Students with degrees in fields other than psychology can find entry-level jobs in consumer psychology, but employers prefer graduates with psychology degrees. At minimum, students must have successfully completed significant psychology coursework. For those pursuing a major in a field other than psychology, earning a minor in psychology or consumer psychology is a good option. Career opportunities in consumer psychology are limited without a graduate degree and graduate admissions committees prefer candidates who have completed a bachelor's degree in psychology.

Since state licensing isn't required for psychologists working in non-clinical settings, earning a master's degree in psychology is often sufficient for industrial-organizational psychologist and consumer psychology positions. Many graduate psychology schools offer specialized degrees in consumer psychology, while others offer general psychology programs with consumer psychology specializations. Students may also consider pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Several MBA programs now offer degrees in advertising and marketing with concentrations in consumer behavior.

In addition to obtaining a master's degree, or as an alternative, students should consider completing a doctorate degree in psychology with a focus in consumer psychology. While earning a doctoral degree isn't always necessary, it's highly recommended. More and more employers are seeking candidates who possess a Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D). For those who intend to pursue a career in research or teaching at the university level, earning a doctoral degree in psychology is required. Earning a doctorate degree in psychology also opens the door to many more career advancement opportunities.

Whatever your educational path, it's important to focus on taking courses that build understanding of human behavior, social psychology, personality and culture. Developing a strong knowledge of advertising and marketing is also very helpful. Students should become very familiar with experimental design and statistics.

Career Options in Consumer Psychology
Your professional interests and educational background will determine in large part the career path you choose. If you have an interest in teaching and research, you may want to earn a doctorate degree so you can teach courses and perform research at a university. If however, you're interests focus on the commercial side of the discipline, such as advertising, sales and marketing, earning a bachelor's degree or master's degree may be sufficient.

Many consumer psychologists pursue jobs in consulting. Consultants are hired by private businesses to perform a wide range of duties including researching buying trends, developing marketing campaigns, designing media advertisements, performing consumer research, product development and analyzing statistics. Consumer psychologists are also hired by government agencies or work as independent consultants.

The following are just a few of the unique jobs/duties a consumer psychologist might fulfill:

  • Work in a laboratory analyzing the eye movements of consumer tests groups who are introduced to various soft drink containers
  • Conduct studies for the government which examine consumer response to advertising claims that have false inferential implications.
  • Assess consumer response to product features for an automobile company to help mechanical and design engineers determine the best combination of product features.
  • Administer questions and surveys to a sample of travelers on a international flight for an airline.
  • Work at a university developing theories and models to explain the financial decisions that families make.
  • Analyze advertising campaigns and commercials for an advertising agency and demonstrate how the company can improve attitudes toward a brand of clothing.
  • Teach psychology students about adolescent response to advertisements.
  • Testify as an expert witness in the courtroom in a trademark infringement case.
  • Study how consumers from different cultures view different advertising campaigns and how they use products differently.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Consumer psychologists are consultants, researchers, educators, administrators and managers. As a relatively young discipline, consumer psychology offers a very exciting future in an ever evolving career field. You can learn more about job opportunities and carer options by visiting the job board for the Society of Consumer Psychology at Another useful resource for finding jobs is the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology website at

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