Evolution of Consumer Behaviour – a brief overview

By John Dudovskiy

Consumer Behaviour can be defined as “the study of why people buy the products they do and how they make decisions” (Hudson, 2008, p.40). The study of consumer behaviour is not new with economists such as Nicholas Bernoulli, John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern initially addressing issues of consumer behaviour about 300 ago. Generally, evolution of consumer behaviour as an important area within the broad field of marketing incorporates the following stages:

First stage: economic man approach. The earliest approach to consumer behaviour, economic man approach perceives consumers to be thinking logically and rationally at all times in relation to decision making. According to Arnould et al. (2002) this approach to consumer behaviour has been subjected to criticism due to neglecting irrational aspect of consumer behaviour.

Second stage: psychodynamic approach. Psychodynamic approach is mainly based on the work of famous psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) and this approach views consumer behaviour as biological influence of drivers that are beyond rational thinking capabilities of individuals (Blythe, 1997). Specifically, three facets of human psychology are identified as the ID, ego, and superego.

Third stage: behaviourist approach. Behaviourist approach to consumer behaviour focuses on the impact of external factors on patterns of behaviour amongst individuals (Neal and Quester, 1997). The majority of literatures discussing behaviourist approach mention experiments conducted by Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov (1849 -1936), where dogs were taught to behave in certain ways in given conditions with organising impact of the same external factor in a repeated manner.

Fourth stage: cognitive approach. This approach to consumer behaviour is based on Stimulus – Organism – Response model proposed by Hebb (Bray, 2008). As illustrated in figure below, according to this model once organism is impacted by an external stimulus the response to the stimulus directly affects the nature of the final decision about the purchase of products and services.

Evolution of Consumer Behaviour

Organism-Stimulus-Response Model of decision making

However, according to Bray (2008) the linear nature of relationships in Stimulus – Organism – Response model as illustrated in figure above has been criticised by modern theorists for neglecting past experiences of consumers. In other words, the impact of consumers’ past experiences on the nature of response to stimulus is neglected in Stimulus – Organism – Response model.

Fifth stage: humanistic approach. Humanistic approach to consumer behaviour can be specified as the latest approach. The main difference of humanistic approach from previous approaches discussed above, relates to focus on explaining introspective factors affecting consumer behaviour rather then attempting to develop general rules for cluster of consumers (Bray, 2008).



Arnould, E., Zinkhan, G. & Price, L. (2002) “Consumers” McGraw-Hill International

Blythe, J. (1997) “The Essence of Consumer Behaviour” Prentice Hall

Bray, J. (2008) “Consumer Behaviour Theory: Approaches and Models”

Hudson, S. (2008) “Tourism and Hospitality Marketing: A Global Perspective” SAGE Publications

Neal, C.M. & Quester, P. (2007) “Consumer Behaviour: Implications for Marketing Strategy” Mc-Graw-Hill

Category: Consumer Behaviour