Teaching Consumer Behavior: an Approach Emphasizing Consumer Attitudes

Thomas J. Stanley, Georgia State University
ABSTRACT - This paper illustrates several key points about a consumer behavior course format. Strong emphasis is placed on the discussions that relate to the theories of attitudes. The position taken by the instructor is one in which the point of view of the consumer as well as the marketer is considered.
[ to cite ]:
Thomas J. Stanley (1977) ,"Teaching Consumer Behavior: an Approach Emphasizing Consumer Attitudes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 276-277.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 276-277


Thomas J. Stanley, Georgia State University


This paper illustrates several key points about a consumer behavior course format. Strong emphasis is placed on the discussions that relate to the theories of attitudes. The position taken by the instructor is one in which the point of view of the consumer as well as the marketer is considered.


Today, more than ever before, the college educator is required to provide evidence of his effectiveness in teaching, course development and research undertakings. This writer has developed and employed four consumer behavior course formats over the last few years at the State University of New York at Albany. The format most recently developed is the topic of this paper. The contents of the other three are outlined in a recent publication. The results illustrated in that publication indicate that students' overall ratings of the consumer behavior courses varied with the format used (Stanley, 1975). By experimenting with course content the educator benefits in several ways, including: (1) developing an understanding of the relationship between teaching methods and course content and student reactions; (2) demonstrating an interest in improving what students will be taught; and (3) producing an opportunity for the instructor to cover a wide variety of material that is related to his research interests as well as his course objectives. No matter what the format, consumer behavior courses must be rigorous and the material must be relevant. The course outlined herein attempts to meet the multiple objectives and goals indicated.


In terms of the students enrolled in this course, the general objective is to acquaint them with the theories and techniques employed in studying the consumer's behavior. Although an attitudinal-perceptual approach is emphasized, concepts and theories from the psychoanalytic, field and reinforcement schools are also emphasized. By design, these class discussions provide insights into how the social sciences can assist the marketer in understanding, predicting and effectively tapping various market segments. Also, within the framework of this specific course format, students are provided with a wide overview of attitude theory, including development, measurement and change. This format is also designed to make the student aware of the persuasive forces that surround him and accordingly to make him a better consumer.


Consumer behavior at SUNYA was recently made a marketing elective for the undergraduate degree. However, counselors encouraged marketing majors in the research and advertising tracts to take consumer behavior. Mandatory prerequisites include managerial marketing, psychology or sociology and price theory. The suggested prerequisites are: social psychology, intermediate price theory and cultural anthropology. Marketing students who enroll in consumer behavior are required to take marketing research concurrently. The prerequisites for marketing research are managerial marketing and business statistics.


Approximately 70 percent of those enrolled in consumer behavior are marketing majors. The others come from a wide range of areas including the social sciences, mathematics, education and English. The majority of the students pursue graduate degrees.

The typical entering freshman at SUNYA has SAT scores that exceed 1250 and a 90 average in high school. Needless to say, these students are mature and highly motivated. The course outlined reflects these facts. Therefore, it may not be used effectively in all student situations.


Four fifty-minute periods during the sixteen-week semester are devoted to an introduction to consumer behavior and the major behavioral models. Seven meetings are devoted to discussions of the influences of culture, social stratification, reference groups and the family. During three periods, learning and the central control unit are covered. During the next 23 class meetings, various aspects of attitude theory are presented. These include: (1) a foundation for understanding the relation between attitudes and perceptions; (2) evaluative criteria; (3) attitude measures; (4) attitude change via exposure, association and reinforcement; (5) attitude change via persuasive communications; (6) source characteristics; (7) initial attitude, discrepancy size and involvement; (8) organization of the message; (9) types of appeals; il0) message context; (11) recipient dispositions; (12) enduring predispositions; and (13) attitude change via self-discrepant behavior.

The remaining periods are devoted to the adoption process, retail images and choice behavior, and diffusion of innovations.


Four inputs are used to compute students' grades. These include a case report, article critique, mid-term and final examinations. Case reports are given orally, and a written copy of the report is given to the instructor. Ail students are also responsible for a critique of an article that deals with attitudes. In this context reference is made to the marketing implications of the article.

Another aspect of the course is the students' evaluation of television commercials that are designed to change attitudes. Students as a group are asked to identify the methods used in the ads, i.e. classical conditioning, two-sided argument, etc.

The required textbooks for this course are Engel, Kollat and Blackwell (1973) and Blackwell, Engel and Kollat (1969) cases. In addition students are urged to read Himmelfarb and Eagly (1974).

During the class discussions and lectures, emphasis is placed on the marketing implications of the topics and on the development of consumer skills on the part of the students. Students are asked to view various marketing promotional programs from the point of view of the marketer as well as the consumer advocate.


This paper provides an illustration of one of several formats used by the writer in teaching consumer behavior. The unique characteristics of this course may limit its adoption by other instructors. However, it does provide students with a good understanding of the factors that influence their consumption behavior.


R. D. Blackwell, J. F. Engel and D. T. Kollat, Cases in Consumer Behavior (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969).

James F. Engel, David T. Kollat, and Roger D. Blackwell, Consumer Behavior, 2nd Ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973).

Samuel Himmelfarb and Alice Eagly, Readings in Attitude Change (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1974).

Thomas J. Stanley, "Adding Informal Experiments and Field Studies to Undergraduate Consumer Behavior Courses," in Edward M. Mazze, ed., Marketing: The Challenges and the Opportunities (Chicago: American Marketing Association, 1975), pp. 656-659).