Self-concept in Consumer Behaviour

Understanding the mechanisms underlying consumer behavior has grown in importance, particularly for firms and marketers. Consumers spend significant time acquiring items or laboring to pay for them, making products a fundamental aspect of their life. Any marketing strategy that wishes to be successful must first comprehend consumer behavior. So what does it entail?

Self-concept in Consumer Behaviour

According to recent studies, many cognitive processes relating to the self-concept and how it affects behavior could be implicit or beyond our immediate mind. The self-concept has previously been theorized in a way that suggests self-related cognitions are often conscious, active processes. The notion that self-concept-related cognitive processes could unintentionally affect behavior is based on earlier research that indicates humans process information about people across both an accessible and a tacit level.

For instance, automatic or implicit processes have been seen in the activation of stereotypes and the behavior that follows, automatic attitude construction, the development of self-esteem, latent egotism, inherent partisanship, and the structure of one's self-concept.

In various fields, the impact of the unconscious self-concept has been investigated. People, for instance, utomatically display slight group bias, although they are unaware of the impartiality at the surface level. Little correlations across both explicitly and subconsciously assessed self-esteem and self-concept were observed by Greenwald and Farnham, pointing to different constructs that each measuring method taps. Also, implicit self esteem measurement forecasted anticipated mental buffering in response to perturbations of triumph versus defeat.

Implicit self-esteem was found to be a predictor of interview anxiety by Spalding and Hardin. Using intuitive and explicit measures, Swanson, Rudman, and Greenwald showed erratic attitude-behavior connections for smokers. Altogether, there is an indication that the self-concept acts at an implicit level and that the subliminal self-concept may reveal various associations and attitudes distinct from those revealed by the explicit self concept.

Self-Concept Theory

According to this theory, people have two concepts of self: who they think they are (the actual self) and whom they think they would want to be (the ideal self). Because the authentic self is comparable to the ego and the ideal self is similar to the superego, self-concept theory is connected to psychoanalytic theory. The goal to achieve self-consistency and the desire to improve one's self-esteem dictate self-concept theory.

In general, customers purchase things that confirm their current self-image. Nevertheless, if they are poor in self-worth, they are more prone to buy based on what they would want to be rather than what they are. Purchasing to establish an unrealistic self-image might lead to compulsive shopping. Regular purchases help to bridge the gap between the authentic and ideal selves and alleviate feelings of low self-esteem.

Another component of self-concept theory is the expanded self. Several symbolic items extend our personality (e.g., a car). Since it stresses the connection between humans and the symbols in their environment, this extension of self-concept theory has been dubbed symbolic interactionism. Marketers have recognized the symbolic function that items have in affecting self-image. Advertising for jewellery, cosmetics, autos, and apparel usually conveys a user image.

The self-concept has a highly complicated structure when compared to other attitudes. It comprises numerous traits, some of which are given more weight in defining total self-attitude. Content (e.g., face attractiveness vs. cerebral capacity), positivity or negativity (i.e., self-esteem), intensity, stability through time, and accuracy (i.e., the degree to which one's self-assessment matches reality) are all elements of self-concept. As will be seen later in the course, consumers' self-evaluations may be highly inaccurate, particularly regarding their physical appearance.

Consumption and Self-concept

By broadening the dramaturgical lens, it is simple to observe how consumer goods and services help self-definition. To perform a character convincingly, an actor requires the appropriate props, stage setup, and so on. Consumers learn that distinct roles are accompanied by product and activity constellations that help define these roles. Specific "props" are so vital to our roles that they might be considered an extension of the self, a concept that will be examined momentarily. Using consumer information to define oneself is especially crucial when one's identity is still being developed, like when a consumer takes on a new or unfamiliar position.

According to symbolic self-completion theory, persons with an incomplete self-definition tend to complete it by presenting linked symbols. The yes apparel commercial above capitalizes on this viewpoint by stressing the confidence gained by dressing appropriately. Teenage boys may utilize "macho" things such as automobiles and smokes to boost their developing masculinity; in this context, products serve as a form of "social crutch" to be relied on during times of uncertainty.

It is not unexpected that consumers display consistency between their beliefs and attitudes and the products they buy, given that many consuming activities are tied to self-definition. According to self-image congruence theories, products are chosen when their qualities fit some part of the self. These models presume a cognitive matching process between these features and the consumer's self-image. While results are somewhat mixed, the ideal self appears more valuable as a comparison criterion for highly expressive social items like scent. The actual self, on the other hand, is more relevant for every day, utilitarian things. These norms are also likely to differ depending on the scenario.

Research on Consumer’s Self-Concept

A study by Perkins, Forehand and Greenwald is one of the most recent fields of investigation that extensively uses the methodological advancement of the IAT. The authors introduce the concept of implicit self-referencing, also known as the reflexive self-association of items seen in the milieu, and the subsequent development of a favorable implicit attitude toward such objects.

According to recent research along the line of the cognitive consistency theory, interactions between self-objects and implicit identities are related (self-group associations). Interrelations between triads made up of the individual, a unit, and a characteristic like a valence were proposed by Greenwald et al. In this way, a relationship between valence and the self-concept is regarded as implicit identity, an association between valence and an object is understood as implicit attitude, and an association seen between self-concept and an object is regarded as implicit self-esteem.

However, a long history in social psychology and consumer behavior has argued that artifacts (in the manner of presents, goods, or brands) may also aid in defining new identities. This is true even though the research here emphasizes self-group interactions and identity concepts. These theories were put to use by Tietje and Brunel to produce an experimental framework for the unified brand theory that looks at the presence and power of these pre-existing triads in memory. Initial evidence for the integrated theoretical model comes from the authors' prior research, which found that Macintosh users disclosed stronger self-Macintosh associations than PC users disclosed self-PC associations.

They proposed that Macintosh users identify with the brand because it is a niche product in the market, and there is a deep sense of community among Macintosh users. Macintosh users actively choose the brand, which typically results in social and professional challenges, unlike PC users who are forced to use PCs due to availability for work. Similar to the paradigm put forward by Greenwald and colleagues, Tietje and Brunel offer a theoretical framework that considers self-esteem, opinions, preconceptions, and self-concept.

Perkins and colleagues have expanded these empirical and theoretical observations to include the development of new attitudes towards novel stimulus items like brands. "The introspectively unidentified (or erroneously identified) effect of the self-attitude on the judgment of self-associated and self-dissociated items" is how Greenwald and Banaji describe implicit self-esteem. Several studies have found that most people describe and evaluate themselves favorably, indicating that there may be a memory connection between the self-concept and a cognitive depiction of pleasant valence.

One would anticipate an additional link to emerge between the entity and an optimistic valence projection (i.e., forming or strengthening a positive attitude) to the degree that a new link is made between the ego and some item in the surroundings, possibly owing to environmental exposure. This ought to happen without the subject's conscious involvement or awareness of the development of an attitude.

Other References for Support

These are −

  • Extension of implicit self-referencing project examined the possibility that implicit attitudes may be spontaneously formed as a result of a self-group association.

  • Perkins and colleagues (Perkins et al., 2006) sought to further understand mere group membership by looking at its effect on brand attitude formation in two experiments.

  • Forehand and colleagues (Forehand, Perkins, & Reed II, 2003) explored self-identity and responses to advertising stimuli in three experiments.


Although the relationship between people's personalities and their purchasing tendencies is not entirely evident, market researchers are still researching it. For instance, several research has revealed that "sensation seekers," or individuals who display exceptionally high degrees of receptivity, are much more inclined to respond favourably to violent and graphic advertising. Finding out "who's who" in terms of personalities is a practical issue for businesses. Advertisers have had more success connecting consumer behaviour to their perception of themselves.

Updated on: 31-Mar-2023

2K+ Views

Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started