The Interface of Consumer Cognition and Motivation Desperately Seeking Susan (Or Anyone Who Can Organize These Materials)


Jerome B. Kernan (1995) ,"The Interface of Consumer Cognition and Motivation Desperately Seeking Susan (Or Anyone Who Can Organize These Materials)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 273-274.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 273-274


Jerome B. Kernan, George Mason University

If a discussant is lucky, s/he is confronted with a task not unlike that of an art teacher who visits a renowned gallery. It is tempting to dwell on the individual works, but one's professional responsibility demands that these be organized, related, or somehow connected to one another in a larger mosaic of expression. No one needs to proclaim that the work of Sirsi, Reingen and Ward, of Luce, Bettman and Payne, or of Huffman, Ratneshwar and Mick is first-rate; that much is obvious to any but the most uninformed consumer researcher. How these relate to one another, however, is not so obvious. They each speak to an interface between cognition and motivation, but from highly disparate perspectives and absent any apparent pattern. Yet this relational ambiguity is self-imposed; over the years we have allowed cognition and motivation to become disconnected by force of the differing ways each has been studied. So if the Israelis and Palestinians can sit down together without their weapons and if Ian Paisley can so much as utter the name Sinn Fein without cursing, it must be possible to find a rapprochement between psychology's long-lost relatives, cognition and motivation.

Over the years cognitive science has become the fair-haired child, while motivation has lost favor (Bolles 1974). This, in spite of the fact that the two are, ipso facto, inseparable (Ostrom 1994, Sorrentino & Higgins 1986). Cognition obviously is driven by some form of motivation (e.g., goals) and this produces consequences (e.g., goal modification). We might dress this up in all manner of trope (Soyland 1994), but the fact remains: people interpret and respond to information differently when their intentions are injected into processing tasks (Bandura 1989; Pervin 1989). Thus we must deal with matters of declarative vs. procedural knowledge (Smith 1994), automatic vs. conscious processing (Bargh 1994), and other slippery phenomena as people are portrayed with either machine-like or god-like metaphors (Weiner 1992).

And that's just in the laboratory. In the "real world," complications abound. Payne, Bettman and Johnson (1993) tell us that people decide how to decide their processing strategies according to complex goals. That's a machine-like rule, but who sets the machine? Luce, Bettman and Payne say the individual's emotions play a big part in all this, specifically how s/he copes with them. That smacks strongly of motivation. Simultaneously, Sirsi, Reingen and Ward point to the existence of microcultural reasoning structuresCcommon understandings around which action is organizedCmuch like Louis' (1983) culture-bearing milieux. We begin to see the mind/body dichotomy break down, as nurture interacts with nature. And the complexity comes to an idiosyncratic head in the work of Huffman, Ratneshwar and Mick, where we see not only goals, but hierarchical ones driving people's perceptions and behavior. Still more motivation.

What is to be made of all this? Since cognition lost motivation somewhere along the way as it developed into cognitive science, we seem to have acquiesced to a tacit assumption that what consumers process can be studied apart from why. Yet nobody believes this; something drives every human's information-handling strategies. What we need is "motivated" cognitive science; it introduces complexity, but it also adds realism to information-processing models. So with a bit of intellectual recklessness, here is one wayCadmittedly that of a tenderfootCto organize cognition and motivation, to impose an organization on these interface papers.

If we use cognitive (representational) domination versus motivational (actional) domination of information processing as a horizontal axis and prescriptive (rule-laden) versus descriptive (goal-laden) accounts of how people interpret their environment as a vertical axis, a two-dimensional map emerges. Generally, the southern half of the map captures machine-like accounts of people, while the northern half reflects god-like metaphors. The western hemisphere is essentially nomothetic; the eastern one, idiographic. Thus, we place information-integration theoryCwith its how-to rules for representing environmental stimuliCin the southwestern quadrant. Luce, Bettman and Payne's work seems to fit best in the southeastern quadrant; it is based on rules, but motivated ones. Sirsi, Reingen and Ward's work belongs in the northwestern quadrant because it's mostly representational and culturally, not person-situated. Finally, Huffman, Ratneshwar and Mick's work occupies the northeastern quadrant, inasmuch as it is all-knowing and actional. Their information processer is a hermeneutic one (Packer 1985), engaged in Heidegger's "ready-to hand" mode of engagement.

This map reflects an ex post organization of cognition and motivation, so some interpretive liberty has been taken in order to fit the work of Sirsi, Reingen and Ward, of Luce, Bettman and Payne, and of Huffman, Ratneshwar and Mick (indeed, of Norman Anderson) to its dimensions. That is done with apologies to the authors. Similarly, while the map "advocates" a movement away from raw (or cold) cognition to motivated cognition (the northeastern quadrant), this should not be read as any sort of commentary on research not positioned there. Indeed, both the Sirsi, Reingen and Ward work and that of Luce, Bettman and Payne are labeled with arrows pointing to the northeastern quadrant, indicating that each of them contains strong shards of motivated cognition. The purpose of the map is merely to suggest that ecological validity seems better captured when information processers are adaptive rather than rigid in their reasoning and when motivation drives rather than is driven by their cognitions. It is not to suggest that any of the portrayed researchers do or should agree with this interpretation; they each have uniquely valid approaches to the cognition-motivation interface and that is as it should be.

It is not obvious that this map clarifies more than it confuses the relationship between cognition and motivation. Nor is it clear that it sensitizes us to the importance of the interface. Indeed, one might ask why we should care that consumer cognition and motivation be integrated. One can recite all the usual bromides about synergy and symbiosis, but it can be very comfortable to hide within the cocoons of our respective specialties. However, just as playing solitaire on a PC can become a crashing bore, so does the study of cognition eventually become empty unless it is infused with individuals' emotions, foibles, yearnings and deceits. We must never forget that consumers are real people.




Bandura, Albert (1989), "Self-Regulation of Motivation and Action Through Internal Standards and Goal Systems," in Goal Concepts in Personality and Social Psychology, ed. Lawrence A. Pervin, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 19-85.

Bargh, John A. (1994), "The Four Horsemen of Automaticity: Awareness, Intention, Efficiency, and Control in Social Cognition," in Handbook of Social Cognition, 2nd Ed. (Vol. 1), eds. Robert S. Wyer and Thomas K. Srull, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1-40.

Bolles, Robert C. (1974), "Cognition and Motivation: Some Historical Trends," in Cognitive Views of Human Motivation, ed. Bernard Weiner, New York: Academic Press, 1-20.

Louis, Meryl R. (1983), "Organizations as Culture-Bearing Milieux," in Organizational Symbolism, eds. Louis R. Pondy, Peter J. Frost, Gareth Morgan and Thomas C. Dandridge, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 39-54.

Ostrom, Thomas M. (1994), "Forward," in Handbook of Social Cognition, 2nd Ed. (Vol. 1), eds. Robert S. Wyer and Thomas K. Srull, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, vii-xii.

Packer, Martin J. (1985), "Hermeneutic Inquiry in the Study of Human Conduct," American Psychologist, 40 (October), 1081-1093.

Payne, John W., James R. Bettman and Eric J. Johnson (1993), The Adaptive Decision Maker, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pervin, Lawrence A. (1989), "Goal Concepts in Personality and Social Psychology: A Historical Perspective," in Goal Concepts in Personality and Social Psychology, ed. Lawrence A. Pervin, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1-17.

Smith, Eliot R. (1994), "Procedural Knowledge and Processing Strategies in Social Cognition," in Handbook of Social Cognition, 2nd Ed. (Vol. 1), eds. Robert S. Wyer and Thomas K. Srull, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 99-151.

Sorrentino, Richard M. and E. Tory Higgins (1986), "Motivation and Cognition: Warming Up to Synergism," in Handbook of Motivation and Cognition: Foundations of Social Behavior, eds. Richard M. Sorrentino and E. Tory Higgins, New York: Guilford Press, 3-19.

Soyland, A.J. (1994), Psychology As Metaphor, London: Sage.

Weiner, Bernard (1992), Human Motivation: Metaphors, Theories, and Research, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.



Jerome B. Kernan, George Mason University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22 | 1995

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