Psychoanalytic Theory 


According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, personality is composed of three different elements.

These three elements of personality-known the id, the ego and the superego – work together to create complex human behaviours.

1) ID: The id is the only element of personality that is present from birth. This element of personality is completely unconscious and includes instinctive and primitive behaviours. According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary part of personality.

The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all wants, desires,  & needs. If these needs are not fulfilled immediately, the result is a state of tension or anxiety. For example, an increase in hunger or thirst should produce an immediate attempt to drink or eat. The id is very important early in life because it assures that an infant’s needs are met. If the infant is uncomfortable or hungry, he will cry until the demands of the id are met.


2) Ego: It is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a way that is acceptable in the real world. The ego functions in the preconscious, conscious,  and unconscious mind. The ego operates based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id’s desires in a realistic and socially appropriate manner. The reality principle weighs the benefits and costs of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses. In many cases, the id’s impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification – the ego will eventually allow the behaviour, but only in the proper time and place.


3) Super-Ego: The last element of personality to develop is the superego. The superego is the aspect of personality that holds all of internalised moral standards and ideals that a person acquires from both parents and society – one’s sense of right and wrong. The superego provides guidelines for making judgements. According to Freud, the superego starts to emerge at around the age of five.

There are two parts of the superego


i) Ego Ideal: It includes the rules and standards for good behaviours. These behaviours include those which are approved of by parents and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of value, pride,  and accomplishment.


ii) Conscience: It includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviours are often forbidden and lead to bad results, punishments or feelings of guilt and remorse.

The superego acts to civilise and perfect our behaviour. It works to suppress all unacceptable urges of the id and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic norms rather than upon realistic principles. The superego is present in the unconscious, conscious, and pre-conscious.

There have been two more contributions that have been made to the psychoanalytic approach, these are given below:

  • 1) Gestalt Theory
  • 2) Cognitive Theory


Gestalt Theory

Gestalt is a psychological term that means a “unified whole”. These theories try to describe how people tend to organise visual elements into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are applied.

The model based on Gestalt principles (meaning “patterns and configuration”) lays emphasis on the perceptual processes that impact buying behaviour. According to this model, consumer behaviour and decision-making are based on how a consumer perceives stimuli (the product and the service offering and the 4 Ps) viz a viz. the external environment and his own prior experiences. 

Related Article: Product Life Cycle

This model applies special emphasis on a person and his environment. Based on controlled experiments, it has offered quite conclusive proof that individuals perceive and interpret the stimuli, confronting them, about the organisation of their own individual experiences. The term “gestalt” means “from a configuration” and the gestalt theory deals particularly with the physical perception of stimuli.



Gestalt Theory of Perception


The five senses play an integral part in human interpretation and comprehension of experience. Beyond this, however, the processes through which we organise sensations demand a higher level of perception, known as the Gestalt principle, which can be stated simply as, “the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts”. Gestalt theorists contend that a whole object cannot be perceived simply by adding up our perceptions of its parts. Some of the parts may become unobservable when combined with other parts.


For example, the sensations of “brownness”, “smoothness”, “fizziness”, “coolness”, and “wetness” all add up into the meaningful unit, “I have a glass of cola in my hand”. Gestalt theory holds that we perceive form above all else. This is useful in understanding how individuals process perceptual data into meaningful wholes. Think of the different versions of the McDonald’s theme tune, “We Love to See you Smile. In some commercials, it is fast and bouncy, in others, it is a slow ballad.

Sometimes the tune is sung by a single vocalist, sometimes by a group, and sometimes it is played as an instrumental. But whatever form it takes, it is easily recognisable and consumers immediately link it with McDonald’s. In Gestalt terms, the form we perceive remains constant even though some specific features of it change.

Because lower-order variables – colour, single tones, and the like-can change without affecting our perception of form, the determinants of the overall form must be based on higher-order variables. Foremost among these is the principle of figure and ground. To illustrate this principle, let us focus on one form of perception-vision. Any contour divides stimulation of the eye into two regions and the shape of both cannot be perceived simultaneously.


Factors Influencing Gestalt Perception

Stimulus factors are the physical, chemical, electromagnetic and other observable characteristics of the person, object or situation perceived. Individual response factors are determinants of perception within the perceiver – the consumer.

Factors Influencing Gestalt Perception

 1) Stimulus Factors: The factors affecting consumer sensory perception include colour, contrast, size, intensity, movement, position, isolation, and repeated exposure. They are described in detail as follows:


i)  Colour and Contrast: Although a colour print or television advertisement generally captures greater attention than one in black and white, it loses impact when seen in the context of other colour advertisements. The principle of contrast suggests that, in a full-colour context, a black-and-white advertisement is more likely to be noticed. Colour perception involves subjective judgments. Although fluorescent colours may gain attention, they may also cause irritation. Some products seem to have limited ranges of acceptable colours. Would you wash your hands with jet-black soup?  Our perception of body cleanliness traditionally demands white or pastel colours, although new soap products in brown and green are gaining acceptance today. Shampoos, on the other hand, have always come in deep and varied colours.


ii) Size: Large sizes tend to attract greater attention than small, but the ratio of size increase to the attention gained is not a simple one. The larger an object is, the greater any enlargement must be to be perceived. The amount of size increase required for its perception is proportionately related to the initial size of the stimulus.


iii) Intensity: It has to do with the strength of a stimulus, eg, the loudness of sounds or brightness of colours. More attention is generally gained as intensity increases. As with size, however, increasing the intensity of a stimulus does not increase the attention given to it. There is only a partial increase in attention.


iv) Position: It is one of the most interesting determinants of sensory perception. When a written language runs left to right down the page, as English does, the upper half of a page gets more attention than the lower half, the left-hand side more than the right. However, languages with different movements, such as Arabic or Japanese, give perceptual emphasis to other portions of a page.


v) Isolation: Centering a small object on a virtually blank page draws the eye to it immediately. One television advertisement for an antacid began with a tiny rotating white sphere in a dark space – a dramatic use of the isolation principle.


vi) Unity: It refers to the extent parts of a display (eg, the visual components) connect in a meaningful way. Gestalt psychologists explain unity in terms of what they call figural goodness, or “pragnanz”. The Gestalt laws of proximity (ie, elements that are closest to one another form a group), similarity (i.e, elements that are similar form a group), and common density (i.e., parts of a figure that have a common density form units) are ways to achieve unity. One study conducted by consumer researchers instructed subjects to examine colour photographs of living-room furniture, Some sets of furniture were consistent in style (i.e. all contemporary or all traditional); others were a random mix of styles. The consumer researchers found that aesthetic response was positively related to perceived unity of style (ie, a consistent style). The greater the consistency of styles, the greater the perception of the “beauty” of the furniture.


vii) Repeated Exposure: Repeated exposure to the stimulus tends to increase interest in the stimulus, up to a point. A study has found that the influence of repeated exposure to a product may be dependent on the level of complexity of the product design. The study has manipulated the level of complexity of clothing styles and asked consumers about their liking of the different designs. Consumers’ preferences for visually complex product designs tend to increase with repeated exposure.


2) Individual Response Factors: Factors unique to the individual perceiving the service or product play a vital role in Gestalt perception. Internal response factors cannot, however, be gauged with accuracy as stimulus factors. The physiological capacity to respond can be measured, but interest, attention, needs, memory, experiences, values, and cognitive sets are less quantifiable:


i) Interest: Interest varies from individual to individual. We can, however, make generalisations about similarities among groups. Women, e.g. tend to be more easily stimulated than men by pictures of babies and children. The level of interest also influences brand perception. A Honda owner is more likely to notice Honda advertising than Yamaha advertising. Consumers tend to pay less attention to advertisements for lesser-known brands than for popular, widely distributed ones.


ii) Involvement: It is an indicator of how important something is to a person. The higher the level of involvement with a service or product, the more likely the consumer is to be attentive to its features & to interpret those features in a meaningful way. In contrast, consumers who are not involved are not likely to make the effort to understand the stimuli of a product. One study has shown that consumers use the dress code of salespeople to make inferences about service quality and purchase intention. 

Specifically, consumers who noticed employees dressing professionally made inferences that the quality of the service is high and made decisions to purchase again from the same service establishment. Consumers who did not notice how salespeople were dressed made no such inferences. What is interesting about this finding is the fact that consumers who were less involved made those inferences more often than did consumers who were more involved. This is because consumers who are more involved are likely to use more substantial cues to make inferences about service quality such as the service provider’s promptness, responsiveness, and care in service delivery.


iii) Needs: Internal needs do, within certain limits, affect perception. Because of internal needs, a teenage girl in American society is likely to overestimate the good effects of cosmetic products. Because of cultural pressures, she is influenced by a need to appear attractive to others. Similarly, advertisements for Marlboro cigarettes cater to many men’s needs to display signs of virility.


iv) Values: Related to values is the theory of perceptual defence, which posits that individuals block-out perceptions that, for various psychological or socio-psychological reasons, are repugnant to them. For example, certain people with strong beliefs can “block out” alcohol or cigarette ads.

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