Buying cars to candy bars: Psychologists have your number

What you buy, why you buy it, what you order off a menu are influenced by psychologists. Photo: MishMash

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2013 - Psychology permeates, pervades and improves your life in ways you never consider. From the moment you enter a grocery store, an auto dealer or a restaurant, psychologists have mapped out your choices according to the Society for Consumer Psychology.

Psychologists work with industry, advertising, media, packaging design, food chemists, menu planners, and auto manufacturers, making every product and retail atmosphere you visit or purchase the purview of psychologists.

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When you enter a grocery store, what stimulates your food choice, even the colors on the packaging, the environment you shop in, all targeted to the characteristics of the consumer in a given market, the decision process a consumer uses to purchase a product and a buyer’s response; all are calculated and pre-determined before you park your car.

Those small patches of rough flooring that slow down your grocery cart speed may look quaint and homey. They are actually a means to get you to review the products on the shelf the retailer wishes to move. The colors on the cookie package were determined by psychologists, as is the serving size.

Psychologists have determined there are five stages of the consumer buying process: need, search for information, alternatives, choice and actual purchase. Among the internal consumer considerations are personality, motivation, psychographics (interests, lifestyles, attitudes, opinions), knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and feelings.

A lot of thought went into selling the BMW or the peanut brittle you bought.

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Menu psychology is an interesting area. Psychologists have determined female names that depict older, kinder females are more attractive to food consumers, hence the names Mrs. Fields Cookies, Mrs. Smith’s Pies and Granny’s Griddle Vegan Peanut Brittle.

Menu psychology is a fast growing field as restaurateurs try to stay alive in an ongoing poor economy. Menu colors, font size, product names, menu page applications, trends, advertising, menu subliminal messages are all carefeully consider. Psychologists advise depicting straightforward items such as orange juice and toast as “Fresh squeezed Florida orange juice and light, fluffy, fresh bread toasted just right.”

Placing the most expensive item on the menu at the top of the page, with less expensive continuing down the page makes a consumer feel the prices are moderate and reasonable. Using enhanced descriptions of menu items that create the greatest profit margin while using less descriptive language on less profitable items draws consumer attention to the higher profit items.

Using newspaper readership information where readers are naturally drawn to the upper right, restaurateurs place their most profitable menu items at upper right on the menu using dotted lines and boxes around items to make them stand out. The more space around the boxed item, the more attractive to the consumer.

Pricing is in a smaller font on many menus and if you notice, dollar signs are absent. So are zeroes; there is just a dot or a dash. Color matters on the menu. Red and blue stimulate appetite, while gray and purple stimulate satiation. You won’t see gray and purple on menus.

Descriptive sensory invigorating language can enhance a food item. “Crammed with flavor, slow cooked, savory mix, filled with joyful memories of Grandma’s home cooking,” etc.: all create an experience, not merely a plate of food.

These are a few examples of psychology in everyday life. Believe this: from toothpaste to tableclothes, the list goes on.



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