The cognitive theory, more pertinent to the understanding of buyer behaviour, or the theory of cognitive dissonance very pertinent to the understanding of human behaviour, has provided a highly useful and rational explanation for the buyer-behaviour. This theory has also been discussed in our theoretical explanation of brand loyalty, since it explains to a certain extent, the tendency towards consistent brand patronage.
Leon Festinger, the propounder of the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, hypothesised thus:
1) The existence of dissonance (a state of imbalance in the cognitive structure) is psychologically uncomfortable and will lead the person to reduce dissonance and achieve consonance, (i.e. balance).
2) Whenever dissonance exists, the individual, in addition to trying to reduce it, will also actively try to avoid situations and information which add to dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance theory has been used in consumer behaviour literature to explain customers’ cognitive re-evaluations after their purchases. The theory advocates that a person has various cognitive elements – the knowledge of himself, the knowledge of his environment, his attitudes, his opinions and past behaviour. If one cognitive element follows logically from another, they are said to be consonant with one another.
They are dissonant to each other if someone does not follow logically from the other. In consumer behaviour literature, the dissonance is more pronounced when the purchase decision is important and the consumer is exposed to new information not available at the time of decision-making which is contradictory to his experience and/or the information consumer already has. Dissonance reduction occurs to assist the individual to purchase more effectively and consistently.
Dissonance can arise in three fundamental ways:
1) Any logical inconsistency can create dissonance. For example, “all toffees are sweet; my toffees are sour”.
2) Dissonance can be created when a person experiences an “inconsistency either between his attitude and his behaviour or between two of his behaviours”. For example, Mohan actively compliments Nike training shoes on many occasions and then purchases a pair of New Balance training shoes. This is an example of an inconsistency between two behaviours. On the other hand, a discrepancy between an attitude and behaviour would exist when David strongly dislikes gambling but bets on-die outcomes of football games.
3) Dissonance can occur when a strongly held “expectation is disconfirmed”. To illustrate, Ritu expects to find significant savings at a sidewalk sale but finds only unstylish and damaged merchandise.
In all three cases, the dissonance is not automatic – a person must perceive the inconsistency; otherwise, no dissonance will occur.
Regardless of its source, cognitive dissonance arises after a decision has been made. The decision, in effect. commits the person to certain positions or attitudes, when before that time that person was capable of adjusting her attitudes or behaviour to avoid dissonance.
Types of Cognitive Models
Two main types of Cognitive models can be discerned:
1) Analytical Models: Analytical models provide a framework of the key elements that are purported to explain the behaviour of consumers. These models identify a plethora of influencing factors and intimate the broad relationships between aspects of consumer decision making. Due to their wide-ranging scope, such models are usually labelled the “grand models”. Typically they tend to follow the traditional five-step classification outlining problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, and choice and outcome evaluation as the key stages in consumer decision processes. The Theory of Buyer Behaviour and the Consumer Decision Model are two of the most widely cited analytical models.
2) Prescriptive Models: Secondly, prescriptive models “provide guidelines or frameworks to organise how consumer behaviour is structured”. These models include the order in which components should appear and prescribe the effect that should be observed given certain causal factors. As such, they promise to be useful to practitioners who can ‘measure’ what stimuli should be emphasised or modified to attract a certain consumer response. The most widely referenced and used prescriptive models are the Theory of Planned Behaviour and the Theory of Reasoned Action.
Psychological Field Theory
Lewin is most famous for his development of the field theory. The field theory is the “proposition that human behaviour is the function of both the individual and the environment – expressed in symbolic terms, B = f (P, E)”. This means that one’s psychological behaviour is related both to one’s personal characteristics and to the social situation in which one finds oneself.
The field theory may seem obvious to us now but most early psychologists did not believe in behaviourism. Many psychologists at the time believed in the psychoanalytic theory that held human motives to be blind and pushed from within. Lewin thought of motives as goal-directed forces. He believed that “our behaviour is purposeful; we live in a psychological reality or living space that includes not only those parts of our physical and social environment that are important to us but also imagined states that do not currently exist”.
Lewin’s psychological field theory leads to the development of actual field research on human behaviour. With courage, Lewin manipulated complex situational variables in natural settings. His approach has guided experiments in the field of social motivation, social cognition, and group processes. Most importantly Lewin helped to develop action research. Action research uses empirical social research, controlled evaluation and social action.
The Gestalt view of the world has been the basis for Kurt Lewin’s field theory. Lewin applied some of its tenets to the study of consumer behaviour. For his analysis, he employed the concept that computer purchasing in its essence involves a psychic conflict between the person’s desire for the item in question and his resistance against the undesirable considerations which the purchase entails, such as money, cost and buying time effort involved. Emerging out of the work of the Gestalt Psychologists in Berlin in the early twentieth century, it would be rather difficult to overrate Lewin’s contribution to social psychology and through psychology, his impact on consumer behaviour. His influence permeates the field ranging from studies on group dynamics and sensitivity training from attitude change to cognitive organisation and from balance theories to food eating habits.
The basic characteristic of Lewin’s theory is that behaviour is a function of the psychological field that exists at the time the behaviour occurs. The field is defined as the totality of co-existing facts, including both the person and his psychological environment, all of which are mutually interdependent.
Every specific instance of behaviour (say the change of attitude about a brand of refrigerator or the purchase of an automobile) must be viewed as the result of the interaction of a variety of influences or vectors impinging upon the person.
Since all of these co-existing forces are mutually interdependent, one cannot study any one of them (say influence of the salesman advertising, personality, social influence or price) independently and expect to be able to rebuild the act of purchase. This is the familiar Gestalt dictum that the whole is different from if not greater than the sum of the isolated components. The analysis must begin with the situation as a whole from which the component parts can be differentiated instead of beginning with a study of the isolated elements.
The Lewinian approach is historic. Only facts that exist in the current can directly affect present events. Since consumer behaviour depends on the forces and influences acting upon the individual at a given moment in time, the moment the behaviour itself occurs, past events and future events that do not exist now cannot affect behaviour.
Only the directly relevant facts from previous behaviour that exert an influence on the present are to be considered, rather than many of the childhood experiences or sexual memories used by adherents of Freud or the number of prior trials used by learning theorists or Markov analysts.
Further, aspirations, future events, and expectations as they are relevant and represented in the present are accounted for by field theory, concepts difficult to deal with in many of the other approaches to consumer behaviour.
In summary, Lewin’s Field Theory is:
1) It is an emphasis on a person’s subjective perspective.
2) It incorporates the whole that is subjectively relevant to a person and that organises behaviour, goals, needs, desires intentions, tensions, forces, and cognitive processes into one system.
3) The elements composing this whole are interdependent and stand in dynamic mutual relationships.
4) The key to the dynamic nature of this subjective whole is the idea of tension (energy) systems created by needs and discharged by achieving associated goals.
5) The dynamic psychological construct is of inner-personal forces, which result from the intensity of personal needs and the valence of associated goals.
6) Blocked goals can lead to an increase in tension and a variety of behavioural and psychological consequences.