Looking Into the Black Box

by Donna L. Roberts. Ph. D.

Researchers studying the psychology of consumer behavior have long struggled to identify the variables that comprise the proverbial black box of consumer decision making and advertising influence (Advertising Research Foundation, 1964; Baumgartner, 2002; Bearden, Netemeyer & Teel, 1989).  Furthermore, personality researchers too, have endeavored to determine the many specific aspects of behavior that are influenced by the differing personality variables (Bosnjak, et al., 2007).

Practically speaking, the fundamental purpose of advertising is to unequivocally generate a response that advances sales and thus ultimately improves profits.  Clearly businesses would not spend billions of limited corporate resources on an endeavor that would not at least attempt to significantly contribute to profitability.

Advertising is everywhere in the modern environment – on radio, television and computers, in magazines and newspapers, on billboards, on buildings, on public transportation, on the clothing, shoes and accessories of sports and entertainment figures and strategically placed in films, television shows and websites.  Far from being a passive mirror of society and reflection of already established consumer needs, advertising exerts influence that is cumulative, often subtle and at least partially unconscious.  If the average American is inundated with over 3000 ads per day (Du Plessis, 2008; Kilbourne, 1999; Vollmer & Precourt, 2008), which are theorized to influence and manipulate his/her behavior, then a thorough understanding of this powerful persuader is undoubtedly in the best interest of behavioral researchers, clinical practitioners and certainly the individuals themselves.

Understanding individual differences in response to external stimuli would contribute to a better understanding of both these differences and how the process of influence and persuasion work in our daily lives.  More fully understanding how particular types of messages carry more or less influence with differing personalities could be useful in shaping more effective assessment measures and subsequent approaches to therapy and counseling that take personality into consideration, similar to the way in which one adjusts teaching styles and modes with regard to individual learning styles.



Advertising Research Foundation. (1964). Are there consumer types? New York, NY:

ARF.Baumgartner, H. (2002).  Toward a personology of the consumer. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(2), 286-293. doi:10.1086/341578

Bearden, W. O., Netemeyer, R. G., & Teel, J. E. (1989). Measurement of consumer susceptibility to interpersonal influence. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(4), 473-481. doi:10.1086/209186

Bosnjak, M., Bratko, D., Galesic, M., & Tuten, T. (2007). Consumer personality and individual differences: Revitalizing a temporarily abandoned field. Journal of Business Research, 60(6), 587-589. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2006.12.002

Du Plessis, E. (2008). The advertised mind: Ground-breaking insights into how our brains respond to advertising. Sterling, VA: Millward Brown.

Kilbourne, J. (1999). Deadly persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the addictive power of advertising. Boston, MA: Free Press.