Emotional Aspects of Decision Behavior. a Comparison of Explanation Concepts


Peter Weinberg (1995) ,"Emotional Aspects of Decision Behavior. a Comparison of Explanation Concepts", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 246-250.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 246-250


Peter Weinberg, University of Paderborn


Scientific studies dealing with the decision behaviour of market participants often use hypocritical arguments. Some have gained the insight that buying decisions are not exclusively based on rationality, but cognitive problem solving behaviour is still in the focus of research interest. Does this paint a picture of the reality?

Consumer-good markets arc characterized by constantly growing market saturation, exchangeability of products and an overload of information for the consumers. Therefore, marketing strategies try to differentiate markets psychologically, for example by experience-oriented strategies. Addressing the consumer is conseuently becoming more personal and communication is co-determined by emotions.

On business-to-business markets practitioners like to confirm that emotional decision criteria like credibility, confidence, continuity of customer-contacts and personal relationships are constantly gaining significance through oligopolistic market structures with a matured quality-supply. Only a very small number of scientific studies dealing with the decision behaviour for investment goods pay tribute to this insight. [Recently, an exception can be registered in the growing scientific consideration of after-sales marketing, see for example Scutze (1992).]

Therefore this article examines to which extent three of the popular typologies of market participants' buying decision can pay or even pay attention to the emotional aspects of the individual decision behaviour.


Following the research concept of Kroeber-Riel based on the fifth edition of his standard work "Konsumenteriverhalten" (Consumer Behaviour) from 1975 to 1992, one can recognize the growing distance between the Anglo-Saxon dominance of cognitive approaches and his own interdisciplinary orientation. In his fifth edition (1992, p. 17f.) he emphasizes the relevance of biological findings especially concerning emotional and non-verbal behaviour which will "bring a new wave of scientific discoveries in consumer research." (p. 22)

Activation and Emotion

The most important element of human behaviour within the overall scientific work of Kroeber-Riel over the past decades is activation. He defines activation as excitement or internal tension which provides the organism with energy and puts it in a state of being ready and able to pet forni (1992, p. 55).

These excitement-activities can Usually be measured physiologically depending on their intensity and complexity, they can be felt personally and/or they can be observed in the external behaviour. The latest measurement concepts can be derived from research on non-verbal communication. [For additional information see the overview in Weinberg (1986).]

Practical consumer research addresses emotions even more than activation. Synonymous terms for emotions are feelings or sentiments (or the process of affecting), and sometimes these terms are differentiated with regard to the temporary dimension.

Following the activation theory, emotions are characterized by the already defined activation, which can be experienced more or less consciously concerning their direction (pleasant - unpleasant) and their content (quality or nature of emotion) (Kroeber-Riel, 1992, p. 103). This terminological expansion of the activation concept by the cognitive interpretation of the internal excitement simplifies the linguistic usage and leads to the level of having an emotional influence on human beings.

Effect of Activation

As we know, the connection between activation and cognitive performance of an individual is as follows:

"With increasing intensity of activation the individual performance first of all grows - given a certain intensity of activation the performance of an individual decreases again" (Kroeber-Riel, 1992, p. 74).

Thus, the activation concept focuses on the central question of interactions between activation or emotional condition, on the one hand and the cognitive performance in the widest sense on the other hand.

Practical consumer research starts from "normal activation", which can be understood as activation leading to the desired and actually possible cognitive performance. There are positive relations between activation of medium intensity and all kinds of cognitive performances, such as percepting, thinking, learning, and so forth.

Because consumer research deals with the question of how activation influences the consumers' decision behaviour the effects of activation on receiving, processing and recordingof information are quite interesting. In this process activation can be caused by internal and external stimuli.

External stimuli are of particular interest as they play a major role in marketing concepts dealing with the influencing process. They can be divided with regard to their transmission via mass communication (i.e. via advertising) or via personal communication (i.e. through personal selling at the point of sale). The aim is not to provoke the highest possible cognitive performance but to address the target group in the optimal way. A vast array of emotional experience-communication techniques are known including the strategies of emotional product-placement. (See Weinberg, 1992 and Kroeber-Riel, 1992, p. 122ff.)

Relevance to the Decision Behaviour

Following the Anglo-Saxon tradition (summarized in Weinberg, 1981, p. 12 f.), decision behaviour can be divided with regard to the degree of cognitive control. Buying decisions are emerging with

- strong cognitive control (e.g. extensive buying decisions) and with

- weak cognitive control (e.g. habitualized buying decisions).

"In between" there are buying decisions being made in a more or less simplified way.

Expanding this differentiation with emotional processes in parallel to the activation-concept, the decision behaviour can be explained by a combination of cognitive and emotional processes. Moreover, taking reactive processes into consideration can be helpful.



In this context:

'cognitive' stands for:             the degree of mental control of the buying decision,

'emotional' means:                 the activation and their interpretation and

'reactive' represents:             the automatic reaction process actuated by special stimulus situations.

This consideration of emotional aspects of the decision behaviour allows a more sophisticated differentiation between the different decisions with weak cognitive control.

The result is the following ideal-typical classification (Table 1).

This typology takes impulsive behaviour into consideration, differentiates between habiualized and impulsive decisions and explains how decisions can be made in a cognitively limited way. No decision behaviour of special empirical relevance remains unconsidered. the central objective of the typology is to explain that the degree of cognitive control of a decision depends on activation (or the interpretation of an activation in the sense of an emotion).

The activation-concept not only helps to differentiate and explain all kinds of decisions but also suggests how to influence the decision behaviour in a desired way. Thus, this represents an elementary key to modern marketing thought - the key to the development of social-techniques based on behaviouristic sciences. Kroeber-Riel himself made numerous contributions in this field, especially within the scope of advertising-research (1991).


For Trommsdorff (1989, p. 40) involvement represents the "key-construct" to marketing research. This construct initiated an intensive discussion at first in Anglo-Saxon and later in contemporary German literature of how to differentiate and measure the personal engagement in a decision making process.

The involvement construct fits into the tradition of consumer research which is significantly influenced by cognitive problem solving. On the one hand it call be empirically proved that decisions are made with involvement, more or less. Oil the other hand the involvement construct still concentrates on the cognitive dimension of the decision making process. Hence, in comparison with the activation-concept, the main emphasis is different.

Involvement and Emotion

As we know, no common definition of involvement exists. To propose "basic elements" of' a definition Zaichkowsky (1985, p. 341) can be quoted, as she underlines "a person's perceived relevance of the object based on inherent needs, values and interests." Thus, involvement represents a non-observable, hypothetical construct. It can be characterized as a state of activation and the mental engagement in the decision making process depends on it.

Following these basic elements of a definition, high involvement is connected with strong emotions (as cognitively-interpreted activation). The individual is ready to engage and therefore to deal with the decision cognitively and emotionally.

Looking at low involvement in cognitive respect, the differentiation is made between strong and weak emotional ego-involvement. If, in addition, the emotional involvement is also weak, we talk about the simple case of stimulus-controlled, reactive decision behaviour. In comparison, high emotional involvement is a case of special interest, as low cognitive activities corresponding with strong emotions.

Obviously, this special case of impulsive buying decisions is of less interest for involvement research. The involvement approach is not suitable for an explanation. In addition, some authors introduced the habitual behaviour with strong emotional involvement, thus "feeling without thinking."( Kroeber-Riel, 1992, p. 378). But, does this paint a picture of the reality?

Following empirical findings based on the activation -concept one can realize buying behaviour with manifest emotional and latent cognitive control. Consequently, the repetition of a well known and reliable purchase can be regarded as a conscious decision. Or does the affected-acting "Feeler" (Zaichkowsky, 1985, p. 32) in the sense of personal involvement really exist? In fact, this is an open empirical problem, that Groppel (1991) examined in the retail business while looking at so called "sensualistic" consumers.

Effect or Involvement

Involvement can be attributed to different causes which Deimel (1989, p. 154 f.), for example, arranges in the following way:

Person -specific factors characterize the influence of personal predispositions of an individual which depend on their subjective needs, values and objectives. It remains unclear to what extent the personal involvement can be controlled emotionally.

Situation-specific factors characterize the influence of stimuli in the situation of the decision. In this case emotional stimuli can be employed to support the purchase.

Stimulus-specific factors characterize the influence of the product and the way of communication, which again can be divided into advertising-media- and advertising-means involvement. While it is difficult to classify the product-involvement in a clear way, advertising-involvement can be closely analyzed with regard to emotional and cognitive effects. Accordingly, Kroeber-Riel (1992, p. 626 f.) depicts a pattern of effects of advertising depending on the nature of the advertisement and the involvement of the receiver.

The model distinguishes between advertising contact, attention (strong - weak), emotional and cognitive processes as well as attitude, purchase-intention and behaviour. The manner in which emotional influencing causes effects can be differentiated whether the consumer is involved or not.

If advertisement-contact attracts attention, following the activation-concept emotional reaction will lead to mental processes, which then will push forward the decision making process in the described manner. Otherwise, if emotional advertisement reaches passive consumers who are low-involved, emotional conditioning takes place, as this does not require high involvement and it contributes to an emotional brand commitment without cognitive efforts to learn. Table 2 presents a summary of the different characteristics of high- and low-involvement concerning communication via advertisement.





Relevance to the Decision Behaviour

In parallel to the activation-concept, the involvement-concept permits a derivation of the familiar decision-behaviour typology (see Table 3).

In both concepts the fundamental element of the decision behaviour=s activation on which cognitive and emotional processes are built. In contrast, the research- interests which underly both research-concepts are different.

Following the activation-concept, emotional influencing of the decision behaviour comes to the fore. Within the scope of the involvement-concept the degree of cognitive control of the decision is of special importance. One can find close relationships between the two paradigmatic approaches by considering low-involvement research. Especially low involved deciders have to be emotionally addressed in the correct way. Thus, only activation and involvement taken together hold the key position in decision-research of marketing.


To overcome the differentiation between consumer good, investment good and service marketing, research-paradigms of economics were recently developed which descend from the new institutional economics, especially from the Pri ncipal -Agent Theory. One of the representatives researching in this field is Kaas whose work will be referred to (1992a, 1992b).

Choice of a Transaction-Typology

The concept of the new institutional economics is built upon a classification of goods which distinguishes between the following transaction- types:

Exchange-goods are standardized products for an anonymous market which can be produced without any input by the customer. The customer has the possibility to examine the quality of a product before buying it(search-goods), to test the product after the purchase (experience-goods) or to rely on the assurance of qualities if it is not easy to check them personally (credence-goods).

Contract-goods are high-quality and complex goods or services which are tailored to the specific needs of the customer. Hence they represent individual promises of performance on which the consumer must rely. In this case a differentiation can be made between objects which can be assessed, even if it is difficult (real confidence-goods), and others which are produced in a continuous process leading to a vast array of subjective assessment-possibilities (quasi confidence-goods).

Business to customer-relationships consist of a sequence of transactions which are internally coherent. Therefore they represent an independent type of transaction. Relationship marketing can be developed on this basis, but this will not be considered in the material below.

The market-objects of the two transaction types depicted first above can be summed up fol [owing Schade and Schott (1991, p. 13) in Figure 1.

Customer-orientation in Marketing

The new institutional economics approach of marketing is supplier-oriented. Therefore two elementary functions are assigned to marketing (Kaas, 1992, p. 11 f.):

- creating a competitive advantage: finding a superior market offer

- communicating a competitive advantage: convincing the consumer of the superiority of that market offer



This concept of the new institutional economics relies on the decision making behaviour of the consumer as well because a competitive advantage has to be created and communicated with respect to the decision process of the customer. Taking the depicted transaction-typology into consideration, specific marketing activities can be derived for any good. While screening- and signaling activities are important for exchange-goods, with regard to contract-goods, influencing the determinants of cooperation is important to face the special problems of information and uncertainty related with the type of goods.

For the communication of competitive advantage all known kinds of marketing instruments can be employed and differentiated concerning the involved type of good. They all serve to establish confidence in a supplier, brand or product range and, as a result, to achieve the desired decision of the customer.

Because marketing is developed from the suppliers' (agents') point of view, the focus is oil the result of the customer- (principal) decision and not on the decision behaviour as a process. Ultimately, a decision behaviour is assumed, the result of which can be rationally understood.

Relevance to the Decision Behaviour

Hence, with regard to the concept of new institutional economics the question of if and how emotional aspect influence the decision behaviour of [lie customer remains unanswered. It is true that terms like experience, confidence and cooperation are discussed which all include emotional components, but the concept of new institutional economics does not demonstrate a picture of "how" they are communicated.

Moreover, the problem of which decision-typology optimally matches the transaction-typology remains unsolved. The following broad approximation would provide a solution:

When considering search- and experience-goods, cognitions in the decision behaviour are very important. The search and assessment of alternatives is limited if one disposes of a standard of demand. In this case the decision behaviour is more or less limited. Emotional aspects of the decision behaviour stay in the background.

In contrast, customers for credence-goods, on inspection- or experience-markets, have to be "won" emotionally. The consequence is twofold:

- To structure the market relations in such a manner that the strong involvement of the consumer is satisfied. Extensive decision behaviour needs to be emotionally energized (activation) to be psychically managed.

- To carefully manage the market relations in such a manner that psychic processes like confidence and satisfaction can be stabilized if the involvement is getting weak. From the supplier's perspective the aim is now to offer possibilities for cognitive relief to the consumer in parallel to emotional stabilization of repeated decisions. The concept of new institutional economics comprises diverse marketing activities which are employed to reach this aim (See Kaas, 1992, p. 46 f.).

Hence, a way to connect supplier-marketing from a new institutional economics perspective and the demand behaviour from behaviouristic science perspective is not yet found. The usefulness of such a linkage between the two research-levels becomes clear with a look at the following thesis: The earlier an effective intervention into the decision making process of the customers is possible, the more secure are the economic results as a consequence of their marketing activities.


If one is interested in the emotional aspects of the decision behaviour of market participants, research-paradigms with specific objectives and different degrees of free elements can be found. The research-guiding interest decides the choice.

Within the framework of the activation Theory emotions are of elementary importance to the individual decision making process in search for explanations and strategies to influence the behaviour of market participants.

From the point of view of the involvement concept, the decision behaviour on the one hand is also based on emotions. But on the other hand the theory is even more interested in the extent Of intellectual control of the decision behaviour. Research in low involvement and the activation theory arc a complement to one another with regard to influencing and describing market participants.

New institutional economics concepts make the effort to describe and explain marketing strategies from the suppliers' point of view, extensively. While the result of customer decisions can be rationally understood, these concepts do not focus on the development of the decision making process. However, the decision typologies of the activation and the involvement concept can be generally applied to the concept of new institutional economics. But maybe there are more "adequate" processual approaches to describe and explain the consumers' decisions?


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Peter Weinberg, University of Paderborn


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995

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