Categorization Theory and Research in Consumer Psychology

Marketers may use advertising to affect the product class to which the new product will belong based on consumers' perceptions. Cueing the proper category can be done conceptually by naming the category in an advertisement or visually by showing an image of the category member representative. Often, and even more so when consumer involvement is low, visuals can more effectively and quickly communicate basic requirements while freeing up processing resources for harder-to-understand needs, including exciting needs and desires.

What does Categorization Theory Define?

Categorization theory is a psychological paradigm that describes how people organize and make sense of their surroundings by categorizing objects, events, and experiences based on shared features. This theory proposes that categorization is a fundamental cognitive function that enables people to lessen the cognitive burden and simplify complex information by categorizing things or experiences based on similarity. The categorization theory has important implications for several disciplines, including marketing, psychology, neurology, and computer science. Researchers can improve artificial intelligence systems, create more persuasive marketing techniques, and create more effective therapies by better understanding how people categorize information.

Types of Categorization Theory

The major types of categorization theory are −

Social Categorization

People categorize their surroundings in light of how they see themselves. People tend to exaggerate how they perceive other people and items when doing this to make comparisons and distinctions between themselves and the objects they are categorizing. People's material belongings frequently influence the perception of others (person perception), whereas marketing and advertising can influence the classification of objects (object perception). The act of categorizing persons may result in the depersonalization of both oneself and others. People are seen as symbols of the groups and possessions they belong to rather than as unique individuals because we tend to focus on the groups and possessions they belong to. Individuals are therefore viewed as prototypes, allowing us to attribute stereotyped traits to them and treat them by those traits.

Product Categorization

Understanding how fundamental product features affect similarity or dissimilarity is necessary for categorizing how items and services are similar or different. Even though youngsters begin to group particular things at a young age, they frequently rely on observable perceptual characteristics. This means that how things are classified may sometimes differ from how adults or older children classify them. John and Sujan's study (1990) showed how categorizing products according to age differs. They discovered that younger kids—ages 4-5—grouped various drinks based on how similar their packaging looked, but older kids—ages 9–10—classified them based on characteristics like taste and carbonation.

Does Categorization reflect a Person's actual characteristics?

Since people utilize material goods to categorize others, it begs whether the categorization will accurately reflect the person's actual characteristics. Research has frequently demonstrated that people can form reliable impressions about other people's characteristics using brands and items. This is true even if the owner of the items has never been met or seen.

For example, Gosling, Ko, Morris, and Thomas (2002) discovered that people could accurately assess another person's personality only by looking at their bedroom or office. Similar findings were made by Alpers and Gerdes (2006), who asked participants to connect cars with their owners and discovered that they could do so successfully. Such matchmaking abilities are presumably based on the fact that people already have a distinct stereotypical idea of the type of person who would use a specific product, allowing us to use those conceptions to categorize others appropriately.

Beginning of Research in Categorization Theory

Consumer psychology research has investigated categorization theories by looking at product categories, brand categories, goal-related categories, attribute-based categories, cultural categories, product user categories, and the self as a category. The categorization literature was examined in two influential consumer psychology works from 1987, 20 years ago. Researchers in consumer psychology were beginning to explore the categorization research area at the time. Both evaluations covered the fundamental categorization theories as well as actual data from works in consumer, social, and cognitive psychology.

Since then, there has been an increase in consumer research in the field of branding, which extensively utilizes categorization ideas. Consumer goals and contextual elements that affect the representations retrieved from memory have taken center stage in consumer research, replacing the previous emphasis on brand and product benefits. An in-depth categorization study is a significant source of inspiration for consumer objectives, contextual factors, and branding studies.

Studying Consumer Population through Categorization Theory

In their 2004 article, Spira and Whittler explain how categorization theory can be used to study a variety of consumer populations. They point out that individuals favor those similar to them over those different, which is an intuitive explanation for the racial impact in advertising. Continuing this line of reasoning, they contend that it would make sense for this enhanced like to result in more favorable attitudes towards the product supported by a comparable spokesperson.

The relationship is then established by pointing out how these intuitive explanations align with forecasts generated from the social categorization theory. The fundamental tenet of the theory is that when an object is a member of a group, people can attribute effects or beliefs to it because of its membership in that group. A significant characteristic that distinguishes one group from another, such as race, may serve as the basis for classification.

Similarly, identification theory claims that people reflexively gauge their similarity to a source throughout an engagement and pass judgment on similarities. Due to apparent similarities between them and the spokesperson, this approach encourages people to connect with spokespersons in advertising. When viewers believe that the source shares traits with them, such as race, they assume that the source also contains other traits, contributing to increased identification. According to studies, those who identify more with television characters are more impacted by the media content in which those characters are included.


The categorization process is sometimes complex, and consumers may utilize several category dimensions depending on their preferences, prior knowledge, and environmental circumstances. Additionally, the research has emphasized the significance of category labels and how they affect customer perception and behavior. The label can influence consumers' perception of the product or service, create comparisons, and form expectations about the category. Because of this, marketers should choose category labels carefully and ensure they accurately describe the features and advantages of the category.

Updated on: 06-Mar-2023


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