Motivation-Need Theories and Consumer Behavior

ABSTRACT - Motivation-need theories are reviewed, their implications to consumer behavior investigated, and the various findings and concepts integrated in formulating a model of generic choice prediction.


W. Fred van Raaij and Kassaye Wandwossen (1978) ,"Motivation-Need Theories and Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 590-595.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 590-595


W. Fred van Raaij, Tilburg University

Kassaye Wandwossen, Tilburg University


Motivation-need theories are reviewed, their implications to consumer behavior investigated, and the various findings and concepts integrated in formulating a model of generic choice prediction.


In the mainstream of Darwinian evolutionary theory, certain behavioral tendencies are innately built into organisms for survival of the individual and thus the species. William James (1890) and William McDougall (1923) made lists of instincts that were seem as mainsprings of all kinds of behaviors, simple and complex. Later, Murray(1937) made another classification of human needs. Murray, however, distinguished a directional aspect and an arousal component that actually kicks the behavior off and that can be motivated in a number of ways. Needs, in Murray's concepts, are hypothetical constructs directing behavior toward certain goals, or end states. Classifications of needs, as provided by McDougall or Murray look similar to classifications of elements in chemistry, but lack their strictly defined structure and usefulness. A structural principle is needed to explain the dynamic interactions of needs and their fulfillments.


Abraham Maslow (1965) postulates that needs are hierarchically structured and that needs low in the hierarchy must be fulfilled before need higher in the hierarchy become salient. Interrelationships between needs are specified, which are missing in McDougall's and Murray's systems. According to Maslow, the physiological needs (e.g., hunger, thirst) come first, followed by security needs, social needs (affiliation), self-esteem needs (recognition), and finally self-actualization needs. Recently, the need to know and to understand, and aesthetic needs are added to the list (Maslow, 1970). The need to know and to understand is comparable to Berlyne's (1963) epistemic behavior.

Maslow's basic needs (Maslow, 1943, 1965, 1970) are thought to be structured in such a way that the satisfaction or gratification of the lower-order needs leads to the activation of the next higher-order need in the hierarchy. This is the gratification/activation principle. The other principle is the deprivation/domination principle, which states that the most deficient need is the most important need. A distinction is sometimes made between deficiency and growth needs. Needs for belongingness, love, and self-actualization are referred to as growth needs; the others are deficiency needs. To achieve growth needs, deficiency needs must first be satisfied. This may be compared with Herzberg's (1966) hygienic and motivating factors in his job satisfaction theory. A deficiency in the hygienic factors creates dissatisfaction, while fulfillment of these factors does not create satisfaction. The motivating factors, when fulfilled, give rise to job satisfaction. Job satisfaction, and probably also consumer satisfaction, is not measurable on a simple bipolar scale but consists of two more or less independent (sets of) factors. In consumer research, we may distinguish between necessary product attributes (hygienic factors) and motivating product attributes. Absence of necessary attributes gives rise to dissatisfaction, while the presence of motivating attributes leads to satisfaction.


Despite its vagueness and lack of adequate empirical support (Wahba and Bridwell, 1976), Maslow's need hierarchy has influenced the work of numerous psychologists (Argyris, 1964; Clark, 1960; Dichter, 1964; Leavitt, 1964; McGregor, 1960; Schein, 1965). Nonetheless, the findings remain largely controversial; and an evaluation of interdisciplinary approaches is rare (Jacoby, 1976). A number of factors seem to have favored the appeal of Maslow's need hierarchy, while the lack of foresight among researchers and the absence of standardized measurement techniques seem to have forestalled the comprehensive evaluation of the interdisciplinary approaches. 1. Maslow's approach is a theory of motivation, in that it links basic needs-motives to general behavior (Wahba and Bridwell, 1976). In other words, the basic needs/motives are linked to behavior through a theory of motivation which asserts that (i) deprivation is followed by gratification; (ii) less potent needs emerge upon the gratification of the more preponderant ones (Maslow, 1970); (iii) and it is a dynamic process where deprivation is hypothesized to lead to domination, which leads to gratification that culminates in the activation of the next higher order need in the echelon. 2. At times, the findings have been used to support two apparently contradictory hypotheses. For instance, Maslow (1965) postulated that (i) gratification of the self-actualization need results in an increase of its importance rather than a decrease, and also that (ii) a long-time deprivation of a need may create a fixation for that need. Maslow noted the exception to his model; that, it is possible for higher-order needs to emerge not after gratification of the next-lower need, but after long-time deprivation (Maslow, 1970). The state of affairs remains that Maslow's need hierarchy, and his propositions regarding gratification and activation, especially in the self-actualization stage, remain controversial. His need hierarchy is by no means definitive, and is rather out of focus in comparison with the role of learning, perception, values, and expectations in human behavior (Atkinson, 1964).

Alderfer (1972) points out that satisfaction with regard to some environmental and job characteristics are studied rather than satisfaction with the postulated needs. Maslow initially postulated that high satisfaction or dissatisfaction is given high ranked importance (Maslow, 1965). Contrary to what is postulated by Maslow, high job satisfaction rather than deprivation is correlated with importance (Dachler and Hulin, 1969). In another study, again, contrary to what Maslow hypothesized, Mobley and Locke (1970) concluded that extreme satisfaction and dissatisfaction depend on the importance attached to them, and not importance determining satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Some support has been found for Maslow's (1965) deficiency and growth needs in studies that compared executives and workers in an organization. In these studies higher-order (growth, actualizing) needs are judged to be more important for top executives than for underprivileged workers (Davis, 1946; Pellegrin and Coates, 1957). In a deprived environment, lower-order needs (existence hygienic) needs seem to be more important than higher order need, (Cofer and Appley, 1964; Porter, 1961, 1962; Porter and Mitchell, 1967). By implication, the rating of importance of job satisfaction seems to be positively related to the level of the job one holds (Porter, 1961; Porter and Mitchell, 1967) or "that the deprivation domination principle may only be operative in the case of the deprivation of the lower-order needs, especially physiological needs" (Wahba & Bridwell, 1976, p. 231).

Notwithstanding the above conclusions, the concept of deprivation/domination seems to have little or no effect on the behavior of consumers in relatively affluent societies for a number of reasons. (1) The daily purchases are mostly over and above what is (basically) needed. (2) Until the time that the law of diminishing returns sets in or depleting raw material resources make "abundant" consumption difficult, there is a "need" to buy and possess more. Instead, consumption is influenced by relative deprivation compared with "relevant other consumers". This relative deprivation may trigger the dominance of the desire "to keep up" with the reference group.


Consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction studies will benefit from the two-factor need theories (Maslow, 1965; Alderfer, 1969; Herzberg, 1966). Brands possess two types of attributes. The first type of attributes (inhibitors) give rise to dissatisfaction, if their level is below a certain threshold. A car that is insufficiently safe causes dissatisfaction, while no satisfaction is derived from a car that is sufficiently safe. The second type of attributes (facilitators) give rise to satisfaction, is their level is above a certain threshold. Similar to the deprivation/domination principle, the presence of inhibitors causes dissatisfaction and (extending the above principle) this dissatisfaction cannot be compensated for by facilitators. If no inhibitors are present, a "zero point" has been reached. Consumer satisfaction can only be obtained through the absence of inhibitors and the presence of facilitators.

The distinction between inhibitors and facilitators has its analogy in consumer decision making. In terms of decision rules, the first type of attributes (inhibitors) elicit the conjunctive decision rule to eliminate brands with inhibiting (below threshold) values on certain attributes. The second type of attributes (facilitators) elicit the disjunctive decision rule to select brands with facilitating (above threshold) values on other attributes. The conjunctive rule must occur before the disjunctive rule.

Jacoby (1976) emphasizes the applicability of Herzberg's (1966) two-factor model for the study of consumer satisfaction, which may be compared to a simple choice heuristic: the sequence of conjunctive and disjunctive information processing (Van Raaij, 1977, p. 23-26). Some problems exist, however, in applying Herzberg's (1966) two-factor model in consumer satisfaction research:

1. In the decision process the consumer will avoid brands that give rise to dissatisfaction through the application of the conjunctive decision rule. Dissatisfaction may only occur after an incorrect application of the conjunctive rule, or after using incomplete or deceptive information.

2. As Jacoby (1976) points out, Herzberg's propositions as well as the findings cited before are involved with the determinants of satisfaction/dissatisfaction and not with performance. Therefore, they cannot be directly extended to a purchase situation that involves a combination of dichotomies involving purchase behavior-satisfaction and purchase behavior-dissatisfaction. As a solution, he proposes another behavior-satisfaction dimension orthogonal to the facilitator-inhibitor dimension (Jacoby, 1971).


Cognitive motivation models fall into three broad categories: equity, need achievement and expectancy-value models (see Table 1). The commonality of the models is that the units of framework we present are of cognitive, subjective nature, and that they include hypothetical constructs as perceived equity, need achievement, expectation, and values. A similar, but shorter, review of the three categories is given in Van Raaij (1976).


The concept of equity may be explicitly stated as the even exchange of values such that what is received is presumed to be equal to what is given (Adams, 1965). Equity operates within a range, with a lower and upper limit. Inputs ("what is given") are defined as "what a person perceives as his contributions to the exchange for which he expects a just return" (Walster and Walster, 1975). Apparently, equity theory may be applied to social relations such as management-worker and seller-buyer. Further, the concept of power seems to be related to perceived and subjective equity.

It is our hypothesis that the ranges of equity (upper and lower limits) may well be measured by the expectancy-value type of model (Table 1) for two reasons: (1) The expectancy component of the model is general, comprehensive and brand specific. (2) The expectancy component handles expectations about equity as compared with "relevant others". We return later to the discussion of how consumer behavior is motivated by perceived inequity or a disparity between the desired and actual state. The application of the equity concept of consumer behavior may be restricted to some aspects of consumption.



Such equity-based motivational forces include sensitivity of consumers toward primarily price, time and effort expended (e.g., Gabor and Granger, 1966). However, it has to be pointed out that (1) it is not prior known how equity is created and what its upper and lower limits are; (2) promotional activities make the equity relation relative and situation-affected, depending on whether the purchase has been prompted by a deal or not, for instance; (3) consumers tend to "satisfice" (March and Simon, 1958), and do not necessarily maximize as implied in the equity concept (e.g., Pritchard, 1969).

To summarize, equity is useful in two ways for consumer research. First, the inequity of the seller-buyer relation may give rise to consumer dissatisfaction and the motivation to restore equity. Armstrong (1976) provides some examples of the restoration of equity between consumers and marketers. As with Herzberg's (1966) two-factor model, an equitable relation as perceived by the consumer prevents the elicitation of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, and equitable relation is a necessary but not a sufficient prerequisite for consumer satisfaction. Second, the equity relations holds for the consumer with regard to "relevant others" (reference groups). Here, an inequitable relation motivates the consumer to restore equity, that means he is motivated to bring his consumption level and pattern into agreement with that of his reference group. Generally, this results in an increase in consumption expenditures, as aspirations and expectations become higher (e.g., Duessenberry's 1949) "relative income hypothesis" and Katona, Strumpel and Zahn's (1971) "rising aspirations and affluence").

Need Achievement

The concept of need achievement (McClelland, 1961) is basically another variation of the expectancy-value approach. Need achievement resembles Maslow's (1970) self-actualization motive in a number of ways. The main difference, however, is that it includes the probability of attaining a goal and a probability of failure. The need achievement model (Table 1) attributes the strength of motivation to the cognitive expectation that the action will result in the consequence. Stated somewhat differently, the tendency to engage in an activity is determined by the desired goal of the action. Therefore, the outcome or consequence has attraction or value to the individual. Assuming that If = -Ps = 1 (a particular outcome is either a success or a failure). As indicated in Table 1, the summation of Ts and Tf provides the tendency or motive to achieve (Ta), which may be derived from the given algebraic relationship: Ta = (Ms - Mf) (Ps - Ps2).

The need achievement concept is only applicable in cases where the consumer perceives some risk of failure. Two ways exist to increase the tendency to achieve (Ta): (1) Increase the approach tendency (Ts) by making the product more attractive, and (2) decrease the "avoidance" tendency (Tf) by reducing perceived risk (see Roselius (1971) for possible risk relievers). Again, a congruence with Herzberg's two-factor model can be observed. The avoidance tendency (Tf) may be related to some unsatisfactory product attributes (inhibitors) and the approach tendency (Ts) may be related to other, satisfactory product attributes (facilitators). The only difference is that in the approach-avoidance paradigm unsatisfactory attributes can be compensated by satisfactory product attributes. As Schewe (1973) points out, "The greatest problem appears to be determining a valid and reliable measure of the need achievement construct" (Schewe, 1973, p. 33). In addition, achievement needs are not operating in all purchase situations. Ps and Is may have low levels and, hence, re-suit in low levels of the strength of the motive to achieve success (Ts). He concludes that further research is necessary to find its true potential as a determinant of consumer behavior (Schewe, 1973).

Finally, contrary to the postulate of need achievement, motives are not stable behavioral dispositions, though they may well be partly learned. Also, it must be emphasized that it is not necessary for motives in general to operate after they are aroused by the presence of the incentives or situational cues that have been associated with the incentive (see Campbell and Pritchard, 1976, pp. 112-14).

Expectancy-Value Models

The basis for expectancy models has been made by Tolman (1932) and Lewin (1938). It seems to be influenced more by Lewin's field theory in that it involves the perceptual analysis of (1) alternatives with their (2) desirabilities and (3) expectancies, and their (4) outcomes in the immediate psychological field.

Many psychological theories come under the label of expectancy-value models: subjective expected utility theory (Edwards, 1954), social learning theory (Rotter, 1954), motivation theory (Atkinson, 1964), and attitude theories (e.g., Rosenberg, 1956; Fishbein, 1967). An overview of these theories can be found in Van Raaij (1977).

Expectancy theory states that the desire or motive to engage in a certain behavior is a composite of the expected outcome of that behavior and the value or evaluation of that behavior. As can be seen from Table 1 the motivational force to engage in a particular behavior, as applied in organizational psychology, is a function of the four factors stated above (Vroom, 1964; Green, 1969; Porter and Lawler, 1968; Campbell, Dunnette, Lawler and Weick, 1970). However, it needs to be pointed out that the expectancy concept is not without questions. We will try to find answers to these questions before we apply this concept to consumer motivation.

First, the extension of the concept of "evoked set" (Howard and Sheth, 1969) seems to provide an answer to the question of how many alternatives, as well as type of alternatives are considered by the individual. Second, the desirability or attractiveness of the alternatives is a function of the probability that the alternative possesses a certain attribute times the evaluation of that attribute on a bipolar favorable-unfavorable scale. Third, Jacoby (1976) emphasizes not to overlook that the desired outcomes of a behavior are influenced by "motivational inputs". A distinction is made between input and output. "Outputs or outcomes refer to the primary functional aspects of the alternatives in the product set; they are the basic purpose for buying and using the product. Inputs, on the other hand, are those motivational forces other than perceived functional consequences which influence the selection of one specific behavioral alternative over the other available alternatives" (Jacoby, 1976, p. 1049).

If the functional goal of the purchase of a car is its service and economy, say, as opposed to status or a combination of all these, then these consequences constitute the desired outcomes. The inputs such as advertising, availability of deals, past satisfaction with the product, referred to as "antecedents" (Jacoby, 1976), may induce the consideration of one brand over another. Jacoby suggests the partitioning of the evaluation component into input (or antecedent) and output (or consequent) "values". Unfortunately, this is only at the brand level, and even at that level, it fails to resolve a number of questions raised earlier. Although Jacoby's revision make the traditional models more comprehensive and richer in their construct composition, some drawbacks have to be mentioned: (1) It fails to answer how and why an individual becomes motivated to consider certain outcomes or consequences. (2) It ignores the interdependency between product and brand, that is, the desire to consider a product class and then to engage in brand(s) selection. (3) It fails to note that some repetitive buying behavior is influenced by simple S-R relationships, or may even be stochastic, making motivational models too elaborate or irrelevant for this kind of buying behavior.

Our interest in motivational models of consumer behavior is mainly at the product class level (generic choice) but has also implications for the brand level (specific choice).


We think that motivational models are especially useful for the generic choice (among product classes) and less useful for the specific choice (within product classes). For the latter case, multi-attribute attitude and preference models may hold better predictions for brand choice within the product class. In most cases, the generic choice is more important and critical for the consumer; however, this seems to be a neglected area of research in marketing. We think that the generic choice, whether to buy a car or to go on a vacation, for example, has more relevance for general economic policy, consumer education, and also for marketing mix decisions. Between the generic and specific choice, a "modal choice: or method choice can be distinguished in many cases (see, for instance, Sheth (1975) for travel mode selection).

Figure 1 gives the sequence of the three choice levels as they occur in consumer decision making regarding travel. The product choice is the first to be made. Subsequently, a selection of a modal or method within the product class is made. Then, within the mode, the consumer selects a specific brand.



Sheth (1975) distinguishes five utility needs. These utility needs can be seen as the basic needs that products satisfy. In the generic choice process, consumers compare the product classes on their ability to satisfy the basic needs. We may also conceive these utility needs as the basic dimensions of motivation. In all cases, consumers want to reach certain goal states and the products are instrumental in reaching the goals.

The five motivational dimensions are (Sheth, 1975): (1) functional motives, (2) aesthetic-emotional motives, (3) social motives, (4) situational motives, and (5) curiosity motives. 1. Functional motives are related to the technical functions the product performs. The combination of product attributes forms the total functional utility of a product. 2. Aesthetic-emotional motives are the style, design, luxury, and comfort of a product (class). These motives are not only important for the specific (brand) choice but also for the generic (product) choice. The product class is evaluated in terms of the fundamental values of the consumer in the emotive areas of fear, social concern, respect for quality of life, appreciation of fine arts, religion, and other emotional feelings. Thus, it may be contended that individuals tend to select those product classes that match with their life styles and enable them to express their fundamental values. 3. Social motives are related to the impact that consumption makes on relevant others. Status, prestige, and esteem may be derived from the possession and usage of products and their conspicuous features. Some products are selected for their conspicuousness only ("conversation pieces"), sometimes in combination with aesthetic motives. 4. Situational motives are not motives in the sense of long-term desires to reach a certain goal. The selection of a product may be triggered by situational determinants such as availability, price discount, and/or accessibility. These situational factors apply usually for a specific brand or type. The brand choice is usually made in these cases without a careful evaluation of the product class (es). 5. Curiosity motives are motives that are supposed to prompt trials of new and/or innovative products. The consumer may try a new product; however, his repeat-purchase may be independent of such trials.


It has to be emphasized that the motivational model suggested here is mainly applicable to consumers' product choices, involving large financial outlays or high perceived social and/or physical risk. Repetitive brand or product choice triggered by depletion of stock is not relevantly described and predicted by our motivational model. Further, note that within each of the five motivational dimensions subclasses exist for different product classes. For example, the generic choice between a refrigerator and a TV set involves different functional utilities-cooling food versus entertainment/information, respectively. In the generic choice process, the consumer essentially compares products on a different set of dimensions for each product, while in the specific choice process the same set of dimensions apply for all brands within the product class. The consumer necessarily, unlike in the specific choice situation, has to "compute" an overall utility for each product class to see whether it satisfies a number of motives, and then compare these overall utilities to make a final choice. To depict these relationships, we suggest a straightforward multi-attribute model. In this model (eq. 1), overall preference or total utility a product class satisfies and the evaluation of these motives may be written as,


Uj is the utility of product class j that satisfies m motives (Mij), and Vi is the evaluation of the m motives on a favorable-unfavorable scale. Mij can be thought of as a vector of probabilities that the product class j satisfies a specific motive i. These probabilities are strictly zero or above zero, and therefore, only positive. This composite measure, U., is expected to cover the five dimensions outlined above. Thus the behavior or behavioral intention (BI) of the consumer equals the maximum of Uj (j=1, ..,m) if m product classes are considered,o


Usually, the number of product classes is smaller than the number of brands in the specific choice situation.

Individual consumers differ not only in their evaluation of motivational dimensions (Vi), but also in the saliency of these dimensions over time. Recent gratification of a motivational dimension may lead to a decrease in the evaluation of that motivational dimension. This is especially true for the functional, social, and curiosity motives. Lack of gratification of a motivational dimension increases the evaluation of that motive (the deprivation/domination principle).

Basically, motives are "means-end beliefs" (Tolman, 1932). That is, there is cognitive association between a specific product class or the buying of a certain product from a set of product classes, and the expectation that the product contributes to the attainment of a goal or the satisfaction of a motivational dimension. This expectation is thought to be a subjective probability. Parenthetically, the strength of motives or motivational dimensions is largely determined by cultural and life history factors. Further, motives become salient if a disparity exists between a desired goal state and the actual state on a motivational dimension. A desired state is triggered in the comparison of one's own position and the position of "relevant others" on the various functional as well as non-functional utility dimension(s). Equity theory (Adams, 1965) predicts that differences in the input/output ratio bring about a change in the desired goal state. Need-achievement theory (McClelland, 1961) attributes the strength of motivation to the cognitive expectation that the action will result in the consequence. The origin of motivation is external in equity theory (reference groups) and internal in need-achievement theory. We assume that an intermediate disparity between desired and actual state of the individual has the strongest effect on motivation. For a small disparity an assimilation effect is thought to occur; the disparity is rationalized away. For a large disparity, a contrast effect is more likely; the disparity is too great to be bridged by the acquisition of a product. The desired goal state is perceived as unattainable in this case. This curvilinear relationship between motive strength and disparity may be effectively compared with Berlyne's (1963) exploratory behavior theory and the level of arousal potential.


The elicitation of the motivational dimensions can be done in two subsequent pilot surveys constituting depth interviews and other non-attributive methods. In the depth interview method no particular forms and orders of motives should be elicited with the help of probing questions, incomplete sentences and the Kelly grid method. Such elicited motives constitute a listing of the relevant needs or motives applicable to a specific situation. In non-attributive method the researcher has to start with a listing of these possible motives and request the consumer to indicate the ones he considers salient.


Motivation-need theories are reviewed, their implications to consumer behavior investigated, and the various findings and concepts integrated in formulating a model of choice prediction.

In our opinion, motivational models are highly relevant for the generic choice process, while multi-attribute attitude models are relevant for the specific choice process. A motivational model for the generic choice is proposed, with the notion that consumer behavior in its various ramifications (i.e., from the consumer, economist, social marketer, etc., perspectives) can be better understood from the analysis of generic choices.


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W. Fred van Raaij, Tilburg University
Kassaye Wandwossen, Tilburg University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05 | 1978

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Featured papers

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R4. Human Brands and Their Consumers: How Consumers Reform Brand Understandings Following Critical Incidents

Kimberley Mosher Preiksaitis, Siena College

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“It’s Not You, It’s Me”: How Corporate Social Responsibility Decreases Customer Citizenship Behavior

Sofia Batista Ferraz, EAESP-FGV
Andres Rodriguez Veloso, University of São Paulo, Brazil
Diogo Hildebrand, Baruch College, USA

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A1. Trusting and Acting on Chance Online

Shivaun Anderberg, University of Sydney, Australia
Ellen Garbarino, University of Sydney, Australia

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