Week 4.2 Selective Perception, Learning, and Attitudes


Marketers are interested in understanding consumers’ behaviour in order to successfully deliver their marketing efforts. Many concepts are considered in explaining behavior including motivation, personality, perception, learning, values, beliefs, attitudes, and lifestyles. 

Let us get started with the definitions of motivation and personality:

Motivation is the energizing force that causes behaviour that satisfies a need.

Personality refers to a person's consistent behaviours or responses to recurring situations.


Line of various consumers at a store check-out
Girl posing to take a selfie

There are many personality types identified including: 

  • Extraversion

  • Compliance

  • Dominance

  • Assertiveness

  • Aggression




Marketers are interested in purchase decisions made by specific personality types. Research suggests that compliant people prefer known brand names and use more mouthwash and toilet soaps whereas aggressive types use razors not electric shavers and apply more cologne and aftershave lotions. Analysis by experts suggests that residents of different countries have a national character where they share a set of common characteristics. For instance, Canadians are cautious about purchasing without examining the item first.  These personality characteristics are often revealed in a person's self-concept.

Self-concept is the way people see themselves and the way they believe others see them. 

People have an actual self-concept and an ideal self-concept. The actual self refers to how people actually see themselves. The ideal self describes how people would like to see themselves.

We are paying attention to self-concept because these two self "images" are reflected in the products/services a person buys. The brands you identify with are closely related to your self-concepts including your purchases of automobiles, appliances, furnishings, leisure products, clothing, etc. 


People have different interpretations of things around them. For example, one person sees a Cadillac as a mark of achievement; another sees it as ostentatious. This is related to the concept of perception. 

Perception is the process by which an individual selects, organizes, and interprets information to create a meaningful picture of the world.

Because the average consumer operates in a complex environment, the human brain attempts to organize and interpret information through a filtering process called selective perception which includes four stages. 


Four Stages of Selective Perception. The four stages of selective perception include Selective Exposure, Selective Attention, Selective Comprehension, and Selective Retention.

Selective Exposure 

Person watching television

Consumers are not exposed to all information or messages in the marketplace. In other words, there is selective exposure. For example, you may watch CTV, but not CBC television. As a result, you are not exposed to the broadcasting of CBC network. Because of selective exposure, it is important for marketers to determine where consumers are most likely to be exposed to information.







Selective Attention

Person reading tag "100% Organic"

When there is selective attention, consumers will pay attention only to messages that are consistent with their attitudes and beliefs and will ignore those that are inconsistent. For example, if you are interested in environmental protection, you will pay more attention to green marketing activities and green brands. You will tend to ignore the ads from companies who are known to be green washing. Green washing refers to marketing activities that make the brand look environmentally sensitive but in reality the necessary practices to protect the environment are not in place.





Selective Comprehension

Selective comprehension involves interpreting information so that it is consistent with one's attitudes and belief.

Man operating snowblower

Example: Toro introduced a new snow blower that was small and lightweight. Toro named the product Toro Snow Pup. The product’s performance was fine, however sales were significantly lower than what was projected. The reason is due to selective comprehension. Consumers perceived it as a toy; they did not expect it to do any serious snow removal. Realizing the issue of selective comprehension, Toro re-named the product Snow Master. There was a sharp increase in sales as a result.


Woman shopping

Selective Retention

Selective retention means that consumers generally do not remember all the information they see, read, or hear, even minutes after exposure to it. 





Stop and Think Question: How do marketers deal with the problem of selective retention? 


Woman reading brochure 

A good response to selective retention would be to give consumers product brochures to take home. We see this approach especially applied by furniture and automobile retailers.

Concept Check Question:

The problem with the Toro Snow Pup was an example of selective


Man bungee jumping

Perception as a concept expands beyond selective perception. Sometimes we receive messages without a direct intention. This is related to subliminal perception.

Subliminal perception refers to the idea that you see or hear messages without being aware of them. For example, there could be subliminal perception influences embedded in music. For example, after listening you might feel the need to smoke a cigarette or drink an energy drink. The ability to encode messages into music or movies could be used in marketing by inserting subliminal messages geared to make consumers spend. However, evidence suggests that such messages have limited effects on behavior. 

Perception is also related to risk in purchases.  Perceived risk represents the anxieties felt because the consumer cannot anticipate the outcomes of a purchase but believes there may be negative consequences.


  • Size of the financial burden (Can I afford $200 for those skis?)

  • Risk of physical harm (Is bungee jumping safe?)

  • Performance of the product (Will the hair colouring work?)

  • Psychosocial (What will my friends say if I wear that sweater?)





Critical Thinking Activity: What are some strategies that marketers would utilize to reduce the consumer's perceived risk? 

There are some strategic practices in marketing that would be helpful in reducing perceived risk in order to encourage purchases. Here are some examples: 

  • Obtaining seals of approval: the Good Housekeeping Seal for Fresh Step Crystals cat litter
  • Securing endorsements from influential people: athletes promoting milk consumption
  • Providing free trials of the product: sample packages of Mary Kay's Velocity fragrance
  • Giving extensive usage instructions: Clairol haircolouring
  • Providing warranties and guarantees: Kia Motors' 5-year, 100,000-kilometre warranty


Consumers learn about reliable sources to use for collecting information when they are searching about different brands. Consumers also learn about the criteria they should apply when assessing value from different brands. That is why learning is an interest of marketers. Learning refers to those behaviours that result from two sources: 

  1. repeated experience, and
  2. thinking. 

The first one is related to behavioural learning. The second one is related to cognitive learning. 

Behavioural Learning is the process of developing automatic responses to a situation built up through repeated exposure to it. There are four variables in behavioural learning:

  • drive: moves an individual to action.
  • cue: a stimulus or symbol perceived by consumers.
  • response: the action taken by a consumer to satisfy the drive.
  • reinforcement: the reward.
Girl eating a hamburger

Example: Hunger could be considered a drive. An example of a cue related to hunger would be an advertisement of McDonald's posted online. Response would be that the consumer takes action and buys a hamburger. It tastes great and that is the reward or reinforcement.


Tylenol Complete and Tylenol Nighttime

An application of behavioural learning theory in marketing would be stimulus generalization. Using the same brand name for different products could be considered as an application of this concept, such as Tylenol Complete and Tylenol Nighttime. 




Advil caplets

Cognitive Learning involves making connections between two or more ideas, or simply observing the outcomes of others' behaviours and adjusting your own accordingly. It is related to common sense. Consumers learn through thinking, reasoning, and relating. 

Example:  "Advil is a headache remedy" links a brand (Advil) and an idea (headache remedy) by showing that someone using the brand finds relief. Consumers learn about Advil by connecting the headache to the use of Advil to get the relief.



Dispensing shampoo into hand

Learning leads to routine problem solving which is habit formation. We observe a close link between habits and brand loyalty.

Brand Loyalty is a favourable attitude toward and consistent purchase of a single brand over time. 

Brand loyalty results from positive previous actions. Consumers repeatedly purchase the products from the brands with which they have had a great experience. Consumers also reduce risk and save time by consistently purchasing the same brands. For example, most people purchase the same brand of shampoo repeatedly due to brand loyalty.




Concept Check Question:

When your instructor suggests that you use your "common sense" to complete a new assignment that you have never seen before, this person is suggesting that you draw from


Values, Beliefs, and Attitudes

Man looks at price tag on bicycle in shop

We turn our attention to values, beliefs, and attitudes as they are related to purchase decisions by consumers. Values are personally (or socially) preferable modes of conduct (or states of existence) that are enduring.

Values are ideas that people hold to be important or believe to be good, such as:

  • humanitarianism;
  • material well-being; and
  • personal values, such as thriftiness and ambition. 

Beliefs are a consumer's subjective perception of how well a product or brand performs on different attributes. Beliefs are based on personal experience, advertising, and discussions with other people.

An attitude is a "learned predisposition to respond to an object in a consistently favourable or unfavourable way." Our values and beliefs are important factors shaping our attitudes.




Critical Thinking Activity: Think about an example that links personal values to beliefs and attitudes. Click reveal after you give it a thought.

Woman looks at paper and listens to salesperson at a car dealership

Take thriftiness as one of Linda’s personal values. When she is evaluating cars, she pays close attention to fuel economy as an important product attribute. If she believes that a specific car has this attribute, it is likely that she would have a favourable attitude toward it.

Marketers often apply three approaches in trying to change consumer attitudes.

Circle divided into 3 parts, explained by caption.
Changing Customer Attitudes. Three approaches to changing customer attitudes include change beliefs about attributes, change perceived importance of attributes, and adding new attributes to the product.

1. Changing beliefs about the extent to which a brand has certain attributes. 

  • Example: Most consumers believe that aspirin causes upset stomach. Bayer Corporation promoted the gentleness of its Extra Strength Aspirin.

2. Changing the perceived importance of attributes. 

  • Example: How important is freshness in the case of Pepsi-Cola? Pepsi made freshness an important product attribute when it stamped freshness dates on its cans. 

3. Adding new attributes to the product. 

  • Example: Colgate included a new antibacterial ingredient in its Colgate Total toothpaste. It worked wonders. Colgate replaced Crest as the market leader for the first time

Consumer behavior is also related to the lifestyles of consumers. For that reason, marketers are interested in understanding the lifestyles of consumers. The analysis of consumer lifestyles is called psychographics.

Lifestyle is a mode of living that is identified by how people spend their time and resources, what they consider important, and what they think of themselves and the world around them. Marketers try to identify the links between lifestyles and consumer behaviour.

Concept Check Question:

A consumer's subjective perception of how well a product or brand performs different attributes is based on