Jungian Analysis and Psychological Types: an Interpretive Approach to Consumer Choice Behavior


Stephen J. Gould (1991) ,"Jungian Analysis and Psychological Types: an Interpretive Approach to Consumer Choice Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 743-748.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 743-748


Stephen J. Gould, Rutgers University

Further development with respect to personality in consumer behavior may depend on the better understanding of holistic psychological types. This paper discusses how Jung's (1971) typology of psychological types can be helpful in this regard. Two important dimensions of this typology for choice behavior are considered extensively: (1) sensing-intuiting which relates to perception and information processing and (2) thinking-feeling which relates to how an individual makes choices and decisions. The analysis shows how the psychological type of the consumer can play a determinant role in his or her everyday decision making.

An individual's behavior is a function both of his or her individual personal characteristics (P) and the surrounding environment (E), B = f(P,E), as Lewin (1935) formulated the equation. Personality as a key element of P does not seem to have been a rewarding area of investigation for consumer researchers. Kassarjian (1971) is often cited in this regard. But Kassarjian (p. 416) made an interesting point supporting further personality research, which seems to have been overlooked, i.e. "We seem to feel that the only function of science and research is to predict rather than to understand, to persuade rather than to appreciate." His words, which indicate a need for a change in attitude toward the goals of personality research rather than an abandonment of it, seem prophetic today in light of the recent movement toward interpretive approaches in consumer research. Personality as a key and highly individual construct needs to be reconsidered theoretically and in a more holistic fashion in light of these new approaches.

One important beginning in this direction was made by Albanese (1987). According to him, personality is a key factor in understanding the economic behavior of individual consumers. He demonstrated how personality development is related to ordinal utility theory in that, 'The highest position along the personality continuum strikingly supports ordinal utility theory; i.e., the economic postulate of rationality, which requires consistent consumption behavior, is supported by this position on the personality continuum" (Albanese 1987, p. 14). Consumer behavior at the intermediate range of personality development is viewed by Albanese as unstable and inconsistent and at the lowest ranges, as irrational. In terms of integrating personality and consumer preference, this approach serves as a departure for the further consideration of a personality approach to consumer preferences, namely a Jungian approach.

While as suggested by Albanese, consumers will differ in terms of metapreferences on the basis of their development, there are further elements of differentiation which need to be accounted for. For example, two people at about the same level of personality development in Albanese's conception may still differ, radically, in terms of their metapreferences and also in terms of manifest behavior. These individual differences reflect a person's psychological type (Jung 1971). It has been suggested in a number of contexts that a person's type may influence his preferences and decision-making style (Hirschman 1985; Nutt 1986). The purpose of this paper is to consider theoretically how psychological type plays an important role in determining consumer preference structure.


Modern psychological type theory is derived from Jung and largely follows the format established in the Myers-Briggs type indicator (Myers 1980; Myers and McCaulley 1985). The Myers-Briggs typology identifies four important dimensions of personality which determine a person's response to the world: (1) sensing-intuiting, (2) thinking feeling, (3) extroversion-introversion, and (4) judging-perceiving. According to Myers (1980), the first dimension reflects the individual's way of finding out about the world (information processing) while the second represents his or her decision style. Generally, an individual has a preference for one or the other of each the opposing poles of each dimension. For example, a person will prefer to use either sensing or else intuiting in processing information about the world.

Sensing (S) and intuiting (N) relate to how a person finds out about the world. A sensing person is more oriented to sensory information and prefers to process information in that way. The intuitive person, on the other hand, tends to prefer using his or her intuition and inspiration in developing informational input. The sensing type is practical, good with detail and numbers, and likes tangible objects; the intuitive type finds patterns and trends in things and is quite at home with intangibles.

Thinking (T) and feeling (F) are opposite ways of making decisions. Thinking is based on logic and leaves less room for human emotion. The feeling type makes decisions not so much on logic as on what is important to oneself, that is matters which reflect personal values and also consideration of significant others. The thinking type is 'objective' and the feeling type is 'subjective.' It should be noted that feeling in Jungian (1971) terms involves a valuation process of acceptance (liking) or rejection (disliking) apart from our usual understanding of feeling as affect. Jung (1971, p. 435) designates affect as something different from feeling. He calls it "feeling-sensation" in which both feeling and sensation are combined.

Another dimension relates to the individual's orientation to the world- whether he is more extroverted (E) or introverted (I). The extroverted person is oriented to the external world of people and objects while the introvert is generally more comfortable with the internal world of his or her own mind. The final dimension of the typology relates to how a person views the outside world-whether in a judging (J) or perceiving (P) mode. Judging individuals want to control and regulate life based on their judgements as to how it should be. Perceiving individuals, on the other hand, are relatively flexible and want more to adapt to life and understand it rather than control it.

These four dimensions of personality are integrated into a personality typology of sixteen psychological types. Thus for example, an individual may be an ESTJ (extroverted, sensing, thinking and judging). This individual would be a down to earth, realist type. On the other hand, an INFP, is more adaptive, flexible, and intuitive in his or her approach to the world. The most common way to measure these types has been to use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which has been found by some to be valid and reliable (Carlyn 1977; Nutt -1986), although consumer research need not necessarily be restricted to that particular scale. It is beyond our scope here to discuss each of the sixteen subtypes in detail but instead we shall draw on this typology more parsimoniously in showing how consumers manifest different tastes. Thus, the remainder of this paper will focus on the subset of dimensions which are most relevant to the economic dimensions of consumer behavior theory, i.e. processing of information (sensing-intuiting) and decision-making (thinking-feeling). Jung (1971) considered these dimensions to be the basic psychological functions of the individual. Myers also considered these to be the most important dimensions by which to group individuals (Myers and McCaulley 1985) and there is a great deal of precedent for considering them based on previous research (e.g. Hirschman 1985; Mitroff and Kilmann 1975).


A typology of psychological type, based on sensing-intuiting and thinking-feeling, consists of four groups of individuals: (1) sensing-thinking (STs), (2) sensing-feeling (SFs), (3) intuiting-thinking (NTs), and (4) intuiting-feeling (NFs). The ST is perhaps the epitome of the individual consumer whom classical and neo-classical economists have theorized about. In fact, it could be argued that as they are most probably STs themselves (based on Mitroff and Kilmann's (1975) and Hirschman's (1985) studies of researchers), they have projected their own behavior onto other personality types. The ST comes closest to their assumptions about rational, economic man in that he or she does try to logically and empirically make rational decisions. Of the four types considered here, the ST will weigh economic considerations most heavily in making a purchase decision and thus will tend to be more price sensitive than others especially in light of his or her tendency toward the quantitative side of things. The ST is also the epitome of the problem solving cognitive man who goes through a chain of search and information processing in order to arrive at a solution. The ST has been found in a management setting to be quite risk averse and averse to acting in making a decision (Henderson and Nutt 1980). STs will identify with material objects and in that sense, may be said to be highly materialistic.

As an economic decision maker, the SF is also quite empirical and data oriented. However, the SF differs from the ST in that he or she make decisions more subjectively, based on things that matter in the sense of personal values as opposed to logic (Myers 1980). The SF is more person oriented than the ST and is more likely to include consideration of others- in his or ha decisions. He or she may tend to share risk with others (Henderson and Nutt 1980). The SF, as the ST, identifies with material objects but is more likely to be conscious of how they influence his or her relations with others and even to be status conscious.

The NT tends to be holistic in orientation, that is to take a broad view of their particular situation (Mitroff and Kilmann 1975). While intuitive and relying on imagination, they tend to use logic in their decision making. They can be quite theoretical and even speculative (Mitroff and Kilmann 1975; Myers 1980). Mitroff and Kilmann suggest that NTs have extended time horizons while STs and SFs have short ones. We would also expect that both NTs and NFs are more likely to use mental imagery than STs and SFs who would tend to rely-on concrete imagery which can they tangibly see. In making consumer decisions, the NT is likely to consider a wide range of possibilities, largely through imagination and then, as a thinking type, to logically weigh them in his or her mind. Thus, material objects become more props or doors to the individual's own imagination rather than as ends in themselves. Furthermore, the material object is seen in a broad, holistic context which may exist only in the individual's mind.

The NF is the total opposite of the ST. Like the NT, the NF considers a great range of possibilities and operates in a holistic manner (Mitroff and Kilmann 1975; Myers 1980). They tend to have an indefinite time horizon and to be people oriented (Mitroff and Kilmann 1975). As consumers, the NF considers a large range of possibilities, as do NTs, but are more likely to involve others in their decisions. Both NTs and NFs are more likely to be risk oriented than sensing types and are therefore also more likely to consider new products for which there is little or no data or past experience. This suggests that intuiting types are more likely to be both product innovators and novelty seekers. As does the NT, the NF weaves the outer material into his or her own inner network of imagination; however, the NF, as a feeling type, is more likely to imagine what others would feel about these dreamed of possibilities as well and also to want to share them.


Personality differences are likely to help explain a great deal of economic phenomena and consumer behavior. Behavioral economists must consider the interaction of personality with environment in order to more fully understand individual behavior. Jungian theory offers us a way to go beyond merely recognizing that there are individual differences to systematically understanding and assessing those differences on a theoretical basis. In the remainder of the paper, we will consider how this theory might apply in the following key areas of consumer psychology and behavior: (1) utility theory, (2) information processing, (3) decision making, (4) the notion of the consumer as a 'naive' scientist, and (5) rationality.

Utility Theory

While economists often speak of individual tastes, choices and utility, they usually tend to form their theories more with an environmental (situational) perspective, assuming personal factors away, by simply ignoring them or by treating them as random noise or as constant. For example, expected utility theory (Von Neumann and Morgenstern (1947) tends to look at the distribution of individuals' situational behavior as a situational phenomenon rather than examining the basic structure of personality which might help explain individual differences. Theories such as prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky (1979) and anticipated utility (Quiggin 1982) involve approaches which move away from traditional expected utility and which compel researchers to face the fact that people do not operate within the strict bounds of previously modeled rationality. Yet, while these approaches embrace cognitive psychological insights, they still have tended not to examine individual differences except as relative aberrations.

The understanding and investigation of psychological type can help us to understand the origins of people's tastes from a more biological perspective and see how those manifest within the constraints of cultural norms as suggested by Frank (1986). Individuals of each psychological type will develop tastes consistent with their natural orientation to the world. Sensing types, particularly STs, will probably tend to conform more with the expected utility, rational man approach in the development of their utility functions. Intuitive types, on the other hand, will draw more on intuition and imagination in forming their utility functions. Of the four types, NFs are probably the furthest removed from the standard economic model in that they operate primarily in the worlds of intuition and feeling, the opposites of sensing and thinking, which are generally more compatible with traditional economic theory and the rational calculus of choice. Interestingly, intuition has been a topic of interest to researchers who have considered the use of intuitive and other heuristics in the face of uncertainty (e.g. Tversky and Kahneman 1983). But, no one has used the psychological type approach in determining which individuals are comfortable with and/or better at intuitive information processing and which are not. For a better understanding of the entire utility process, researchers need to consider how different types function under different conditions.

Furthermore, as (Frank 1986) points out in discussing seemingly inconsistent behavior, such behavior may appear to be inconsistent because it is examined within too narrow a context. We would contend here in agreement, that much present utility and judgement research, particularly that in very restricted or hypothetical experiments, forces people into very constrained situations. Though these situations are of intrinsic interest, many of them may have relatively little to do with how individuals function in most everyday situations and also in their evolving choice behavior over time. In fact, individuals of a specific type may be forced to act in experimental settings in a way contrary to how they would normally function. For example, a sensing type may be forced to use intuition in an experiment which calls for it and react in an artificial way, as required by the experiment, rather than as he or she would normally, such as seeking more information or even withdrawing from the situation if no more information is available. It also may be that some individual differences get submerged or are ignored because a sample may be biased in terms of the psychological types it contains (e.g. a study of business school students is likely to contain many STs) and also because the overall population has more of certain types, especially sensing than intuitive types (e.g. Thorne, Fyfe, and Carskadon 1987). In other words, some individual differences may be written off as random noise rather than as systematic variance.

As one solution to these problems, we need to look more between-subjects, particularly on the basis of psychological types, as well as within-subjects, in empirical research in this area. In addition, we should consider that choices do not occur merely as single discrete events but that they also occur as part of the context of an individuals' whole life. Both intransitivities and seemingly irrational behavior may take on 'rationality' when viewed in the context of the gestalt of an individuals' social and psychological needs, especially as they interact with his or her psychological type and utility determining style. Thus, these problems of both methodological and theoretical validity suggest that future research and theory development not only needs to incorporate psychological type as a metapreferential orientation in forming preferences, but also a greater recognition of lived everyday experience- something urged by Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) in a different context, as well.

Information Processing

One of the two personality dimensions which we have considered in detail was that of sensing-intuiting which relates to how a person processes information. The sensing person will consider the world as it appears to the senses as a concrete, present reality while the intuiting person will be more likely to rely on his or her imagination, to perceive the gestalt of a situation, and to consider how the world could or might be (Hirschman 1985; Mitroff and Kilmann 1975). The sensing person is likely to be more literal in his or her interpretation of the world than the intuiting type who will view it more in terms of connotation and inference. At present, most information processing research has seemed to focus on what appears to be the sensing type in that it has dealt with denotative meaning and less with connotative, experiential, imaginative, or gestalt perspectives (cf. Hirschman 1985; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982; Thompson, Locander, and Pollio 1989). Some research has focused on right-brain/left-brain differences in processing with the view that the right brain is more holistic and intuitive and the left brain more cognitive (Myers-Levy 1989). There needs to be more research along these lines, especially that which considers psychological type in relation to preferred brain processing patterns. From the environment side, a better understanding can be developed of which information providing stimuli and messages (e.g. emotional versus informational advertising appeals) are most effective in communicating choice-relevant information to each psychological type.

Decision Making

Decision making in the Jungian framework is a function of the thinking-feeling dimension of personality. Feeling types are more likely to make decisions with consideration of significant others, than are thinking types. In one sense, this dichotomous construct of personal decision making may correspond to the attitude-norm dichotomy of the much used attitude model of Ajzen and Fishbein (1980), in that feeling as a decision process takes into account others (the social norm), while thinking tends to be more internalized and self-reliant in scope (one's own attitude) - the extroversion/introversion trait is also likely to play a role. Feeling types tend to personalize and thinking types tend to depersonalize decisions. Thus, the two types will form their behavioral intentions and engage in their ultimate behaviors on the basis of different attitude formation processes. Viewing decision making from this perspective allows us to bring individual differences into decision making theory which has largely emphasized general rules and/or situational exigencies in the past.

Consumer as 'Naive' Scientist

Kelley (1973, p. 109) developed the notion of the lay person as a 'naive' scientist who "uses a naive version of the method used in science." Related research has examined such matters as lay persons' sensitivity to statistical information (Kruglanski, Friedland, and Farkash 1984) and the "scientific health consumer's" evaluation of scientific and medical information (Gould 1988, p. 115). The idea of the lay person as naive scientist, as adapted here, incorporates both information processing and decision making, and is an important one as consumers, who themselves are becoming better educated, are at the same time, increasingly called upon to evaluate scientific evidence, as well as to act upon it in making everyday rational choices. All types of people are generally forced to act upon incomplete evidence as Kelley suggests, but they still tend to differ from one another in the way they act. From the perspective of psychological types, it can be hypothesized that sensing types would tend to evaluate risk on the basis of what has already been proven or shown to be the case. On the other hand, intuiting types would tend to read into the evidence and go beyond what is 'definitely proven.'

For example, consider the statement that 'acid rain might possibly be harmful on the basis of early study although in need of further corroborating research.' Such a statement would tend to give sensing types less motivation to act than intuiting types who might imagine that the course of future research evidence will bear out the earlier findings, and thus conclude that the early work represents enough evidence for taking remedial action. Therefore, we suspect that most intuiting types are likely to go beyond 'definitely proven' evidence in the direction of greater perceived risk. Thus, many environmentalists, who tend to use such evidence, are likely to be intuitives. On the other hand, many individuals on the opposite side of the debate are likely to be sensing types. Interestingly, some who profess to find no risk in situations where the scientific evidence appears overwhelming may also operate intuitively. For example, some continue to eat a great deal of cholesterol rich foods in the face of evidence about the cholesterol-heart disease link. These individuals hold the belief, based on their own self-intuited evidence, that 'nothing will happen to me.'

Financial investment decisions may also be viewed from the perspective of the 'naive' scientific consumer and psychological type. For example, in making stock purchase decisions, sensing types will carefully weigh balance sheets and financial record information to get the objective facts. STs may make their own decisions and even use discount brokers while SFs will want to include the recommendations of others as part of their data. Others will buy on an intuitive hunch. NFs may buy stock on the basis of what they heard at a cocktail party. These examples illustrate how consumer economic decision makers evaluate evidence and make decisions in their roles as 'naive' scientists.


Jung (1921/71) saw rationality as a reasoning process which may manifest as either thinking or feeling (it is important to recall here that feeling for Jung represents a valuation process as opposed to affect). Both thinking and feeling are directed or motivated functions which are rational when they are concerned with the "rational choice of objects, or with the qualities and interrelations of objects" (Jung 1921/71, p. 455). They can lose their rationality due to the incidental and unintended intercession in the mind of the perception of the flux of events, either intuitive or sensational. Such states represent a lack of rational direction. Thus for Jung, rationality is intentional in directing the individual's behavior, but it is also limited in being only a part of the psychology of the individual- a thought echoed from a different perspective by Etzioni (1986) who found rationality to be only a part of all cognitive activity. Considering the Jungian view of rationality, we can see that different individuals will approach rationality and reason in different ways and look for different evidence to support their perspectives. The logical-thinking person is clearly different from the feeling type in how he or she directs his or her own decision-making.

Returning to the perspective of Albanese (1987), we find that he related rationality to a pattern of stable and consistent consumption behavior as opposed to one which is alternating and contradictory. From the perspective of psychological types, this view poses two interesting considerations. First, the stable and consistent pattern of the individual may appear to be totally irrational to another type of individual. Second, inconsistency may be relative and even 'rational' to some types of individuals. For example, intuitive types may appear inconsistent to sensing types because they change quite a bit in pursuing and materializing a wide range of possibilities. Feeling types may appear inconsistent to thinking types in that they may sway in their consistency with popular feeling. It should be noted that the same problems arise whether it is individual consumers or researchers who assess the degree of rationality, since both groups operate from the perspective of their own psychological type. Thus, rationality from this perspective should be viewed as a being a reflection of an individual's psychological type. On the other hand, since Jung (1971) suggested that a psychologically healthy person would integrate the various dimensions of personality, rationality might be viewed in terms of the degree to which an individual was able to do so and thus, make decisions by using the information processing and decision making personality modalities required by the particular situation (e.g. using sensing when there is good available data and intuiting when there is not). In any case, given a Jungian perspective, we can well understand how one person's rationality is another's irrationality and how different people all seeing themselves as 'rational' might reach different conclusions when confronting the same situation or scenario.


In this paper, we have discussed how important psychological type might be in determining a wide variety of consumer behavior. Future research relating this construct to various demographics, personality traits, and person situation interactions may prove useful in predicting behavior better than other personality constructs have because of its powerful combination of holism and dimensionality. Moreover, research with this construct may be especially intriguing for interpretive researchers who might otherwise shy away from personality research, but who in this case could use phenomenological (Thompson et al. 1989) and other interpretive methodologies in conjunction with this construct, as did Hirschman (1985). Such research might proceed in two ways: (1) by first measuring psychological types using Myers-Briggs and then applying interpretive methodologies and assessing the results across psychological type, or (2) by developing new ways of assessing psychological type and related behaviors which are totally rooted in interpretive methodology. In conclusion, this paper represents but a first step in encouraging research which more deeply probes the phenomenology of personality in consumer behavior.


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Stephen J. Gould, Rutgers University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18 | 1991

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