Puppets on a String
Studying Conscious and Unconscious Processes in Consumer Research
For more than a century, scholars in psychology have debated whether humans are ‘of
two minds,’ that is, whether they have both conscious and unconscious thoughts, and
whether both conscious and unconscious thought processes determine their behavior.
According to Freud’s iceberg model, conscious thought is just the tip of the iceberg,
with most of our thought processes taking place unconsciously. Marketing scholars and
practitioners have embraced the iceberg model with great enthusiasm. They have
incorporated models where people’s drives and motivations are built in layers, with only
the top layer consciously accessible, but the real drivers hidden underneath. According
to one of the most influential contemporary theories, human thinking is governed by
dual systems. System 1, it is argued, is the evolutionarily oldest system, based in parts of
the brain we share with lower animals, operates unconsciously, uncontrollably, with low
effort, has huge capacity, is fast, nonverbal, parallel, and associative. System 2,
conversely, is evolutionarily more recent, resides in our frontal cortex, operates
consciously, controllably, with high effort, has small capacity, is slow, verbal, serial, and
based on rules.
Despite their intuitive appeal, dual system theories have been challenged in recent years. I discuss some of their more problematic aspects and the research I have conducted testing core propositions of the dual system approach. Especially my research on the way brands become more well-liked through advertising and conditioning procedures is highly relevant for the debate, but so is research on people’s risk perceptions and self-control performance. Overall, I have seen support for some of the key predictions of dual process theory, but no support at all for its strong claim that mental processes should clearly belong to one of two systems with highly separable features. I argue that we need to acknowledge that the human mind cannot be neatly divided into two complementary processing systems. Rather, we should recognize that thought processes can be characterized to a greater or lesser extent by some but not all the features of automaticity. Researchers should start recognizing the full complexity of the human mind and embrace research that is more detailed, more precise – and perhaps a bit less grand in its claims.
|Keywords||Consciousness, unconscious thought, dual processes, advertising, conditioning, marketing, consumer behavior|
|JEL||Statistical Decision Theory; Operations Research (jel C44), Marketing (jel M31)|
|Series||ERIM Inaugural Address Series Research in Management|
|Note||Address delivered at the occasion of accepting the appointment as Endowed Professor of Consumer Behavior and Marketing, on behalf of the Erasmus Trustfonds, Erasmus University Rotterdam, at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam on Friday 18 May 2018|
Sweldens, S.T.L.R. (2018, May 18). Puppets on a String. ERIM Inaugural Address Series Research in Management. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1765/106425