7.2 The Psychological Environment


Environmental Influences on Consumers
1. Cognitive Maps of Retail Locations
Cognitive Map: a mental map of one's physical environment.

Mackay and Olshavsky (1975) aimed to explore the use of cognitive maps in understanding consumer behaviour.

The 78 participants were shoppers from 8 busy supermarkets in Bloomington. They were the principal grocery shoppers for their households and had a car. The store they were in was their main one, and they knew the other 7 stores. They were paid $5 to participate in a lab study.

They were asked to rate the 8 supermarkets in the order of their preference, and then draw a map of their departure point and the location of the 8 supermarkets. Another map was also created using multi-dimensional scaling. Cognitive maps help to understand what features are important to the participant.

Cognitive maps correlate better with preferences and real behaviour than actual maps. Further, maps created with multi-dimensional scaling are better for understanding shopper preferences, and frequencies, than hand-drawn maps.


  • They conducted their experiment in a lab, hence it was easier to control extraneous variables such as noise levels.
  • Application to real life: Mackay and Olshavsky conclude that cognitive maps help to understand consumer behaviour. A technique has been discovered as a result of this study, and this technique can be implemented in future studies.

2. Crowding in Retail Environments
Machliet et al. (2000) said that an increase in perceived crowding can decrease customer satisfaction.
He said that crowding produces stress which will increase negative emotions, and non-crowded environments will produce positive emotions.

Perceived crowding leads to stress and dissatisfaction, and this relationship is affected by expectations.
Individual differences in tolerance to perceived crowding is a factor. The store type (whether it's a discount store, or upmarket) will be a factor as well.
To investigate this, 3 studies were conducted.

Study 1: 1,722 University students from both undergraduate and postgraduate marketing courses were given a survey to complete after their next shopping trip. It included questions on their perception of crowding, satisfaction, and outcome of the trip. They were asked emotion measurement, crowding tolerance questions, and basic demographic questions.
Results of study 1: An increase in perceived crowding was associated with a decrease in positive emotions.

Study 2: A replica of study 1, but with a more diverse adult sample.
Results of study 2: confirmed the results of study 1.

Study 3: It was a lab experiment where a photographer created 4 short films of shoppers in a store with varying human density and spatial density.
231 participants were told to read a passage describing the bookstore as a discount store or an upmarket store, and stated that the participant was searching for an important book. They then watched one of four 55-second videos and imagined themselves shopping for this book in this store. They then responded to a series of questions as in the previous studies.

Results of study 3: The relationship between perceived crowding and shopping satisfaction varied by store type. Further, the researchers identified a ceiling effect: at a point at which the environment gets so crowded that satisfaction levels are inevitably affected.


  • Out of the 3 experiments, the first 2 were field experiments so there is high ecological validity. However, it's harder to control extraneous variables.
  • The 3rd study was a lab experiment, so there is high ecological control over the environment, but low ecological validity.
  • Machliet found similar results across the 3 studies and this strengthens conclusions and applications to real life.
  • Application to real-life: Shops should focus on creating a feeling of space (perceived less crowding) rather than filling the space with as much merchandise as possible.

3. Shopper Movement Patterns
Gil et al. (2009) examined patterns of shopper movement and behaviour in a supermarket. A space syntax study was conducted where they interviewed and tracked the movements of over 480 shoppers in order to create shopper profiles. It was a non-experimental study. The researchers were particularly interested in whether store layout has an impact on shopper behaviours, specifically movement patterns, shopping duration, and interaction with products.

Shoppers were asked to take part and were given a coloured tag which allowed them to be identified on the CCTV system so that their movements could be followed. When they were leaving they were interviewed on the following: the frequency of their shopping trips, the purpose of their trip, their use of a shopping list, satisfaction with their shopping, and the amount of money spent as well.


  • Shopper behaviour is strongly affected by the product location (obviously) and grocery areas are more popular than aisles with baby products, etc.
  • 5 spatial behaviour patterns were also identified: the specialist, native, tourist, explorer, and raider.
  • Four patterns of movement were identified: short trip, 'round trip', 'central trip', and the 'wave trip'.


  • Gil et al.'s study was conducted in a real consumer environment, so ecological validity is high, but the level of control over extraneous variables is low.
  • Application to real life: Gil et al. have identified shopper types, so future studies can explore them in greater detail.

General Evaluations:
2 of the studies were conducted in the USA and the 3rd in the UK. We need to consider numerous social, cultural, and economic factors before generalising results.

Menu Design Psychology
1. Eye-movement patterns, framing, menu mistakes
Pavesic's article (2005) said that the menu is the most important marketing tool of a restaurant.
Common mistakes in menu design:

  1. not considering the menu design
  2. poor use of space
  3. making prices too obvious so customers select their order based on prices
  4. not matching the menu design with the decor

Seaberg in 1971 introduced menu psychology and said it's important to highlight certain items to grab the customers' attention.

Pavesic reported that a person spends 109 seconds reading a menu on average. Menus should be short, and attractive as it reduces ordering times, the range of stock required, and potential wastage. It increases the turnover in the restaurant.
A menu item can be made to stand out with boxes, images, and different fonts and colours.
The menu item made to stand out should have the highest profit margin and must be easy to prepare.

2. Primacy, Recency, and menu-item position
Dayan and Bar-Hillel (2011) predict that the items placed at the beginning and the end of a list are more likely to be remembered than the items in the middle.

Study 1: 240 Hebrew University students were randomly allocated to 4 conditions. Each condition had different menu designs which differed only in terms of order of item presentation within each category. The menus had 4 appetisers, 10 entrées (main courses), 6 soft drinks, and 8 desserts. The names of the items and their description were copied from an Israeli pizza chain. No prices were displayed.

The 4 menus presented the items in different orders within each category:

  • baseline - arbitrarily ordered
  • mirror - the complete reverse of the baseline
  • inside-out baseline - reversed the baseline order within the top and bottom half of each category separately, therefore turning middle items into top/bottom items and vice versa.
  • Inside-out mirror - as inside-out baseline but reversing the mirror version.

Each participant had been given a version of the menu and asked to choose an item from each category.

Results of Study 1

  • Participants were significantly more likely to select items at the extremes, than the items in the middle.
  • The advantage of being listed at the beginning and end was 56% which was significant to p less than 0.001.
  • No primacy-recency effect was found.
  • 50.5% of the choices were from items in the top half of their category and 49.5% from the bottom.

Study 2: The authors accepted the criticism that although the results of study 1 were convincing, the choices made by participants were hypothetical ones. Hence, they conducted another study in a small coffee shop in the centre of Tel Aviv. The coffee shop had 60 items on the menu in 3 categories: coffee, soft drinks, and desserts.
Only 2 menu versions were included: baseline and inside-out baseline. The staff recorded the orders made.

Results of Study 2

  • The mean advantage of being listed at the extremes was 55%, and the results confirmed the findings of study 1.
  • There was an even larger gain when an item was moved from the exact middle to the extreme end (55%) than when moved from the near middle to the near end (51%).

The results confirmed that items placed at the extremes are more likely to get ordered.


  • Dayan & Bar-Hillel conducted a lab and field experiment, which produced similar results, hence this strengthens the findings.
  • The researchers collected quantitative data (how many of each item/item position were ordered) which allows data to be easily analysed, and clear comparisons to be drawn.
  • Applications to real-life: the findings can be incorporated into a restaurant menu by placing the highest profit items, or overstocked items at the extremes. Further, the authors also suggest that people's choices towards healthier options can be manipulated.

3. Sensory Perception & Food Name
Wansink et al (2005) conducted a 6-week experiment in a cafeteria in an American university.

Sample: There was a total of 140 participants. 87% were university staff, 9% were graduate students, and 5% were visitors. No differences were found in terms of age, gender, or education in terms of who bought which menu items. As there were no significant differences between age

Procedure: The food labels of 6 items were changed to much more descriptive labels, including geography, nostalgia, and sensory words.
For example:

  • 'Red Beans with rice' became 'Traditional Cajun Red Beans with Rice'
  • 'Seafood Filet' became 'Succulent Italian Seafood Filet'
  • 'Grilled Chicken' became 'Tender Grilled Chicken'
  • 'Chicken Parmesan' became 'Homestyle Chicken Parmesan'
  • 'Chocolate Pudding' became 'Satin Chocolate Pudding'
  • 'Zucchini Cookies' became 'Grandma's Zucchini Cookies'

On two days each week, two items were presented with their regular labels and two were presented with their descriptive labels (the other 2 were not offered). These were rotated until all items had been offered in all conditions.
Each person selecting one of the six target items was asked to complete a questionnaire. Questions related to sensory perceptions were asked on 9-point Likert scales. They were asked to estimate calories as well.


  • Descriptive labels led to food being described as more appealing, and calorific, and encouraged diners to give more positive feedback, compared to regular labelled food.
  • Descriptive names increased post-consumption sensory ratings and calorie estimations compared to regular labelled food.

Conclusion: The way that food is labelled is important for decision-making.
Suggestions for future research include looking at how descriptive labels would interact with poor-quality or average-quality food, and whether labelling encourages people to eat more of the food.


  • The study was a field experiment, so there is high ecological validity but not high control over extraneous variables.
  • Wansink's research collected quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative from the rating scales and calorie estimates. Qualitative from additional comments.

General Evaluations:

  • Situational factors are important in understanding consumer behaviour; e.g. where you place an item on the menu, and the words you use to describe the item.
  • One research was conducted in the USA, and the other in Israel; this gives a broader representation.

Personal Space
1. Theories of Personal Space: Overload, Arousal, and Behaviour Constraint
Katz first identified the concept of personal space in 1937.
Somner (1969) defined personal space as 'an area with invisible boundaries, surrounding a person's body, into which intruders may not come'.

Felipe and Somner (1966) investigated the effects of the invasion of personal space in a university library where a confederate would sit very close or at varying distances from a target person.
The closer they sat, the faster the person went away. They also turned away or built barriers out of books.

There are 3 explanations for the responses to the invasion of our personal space:

  1. Overload ➔ We maintain our personal space in order to reduce the amount of information that needs to be dealt with.
    If people are in our personal space, we would need to process the information related to their features. This is an overload of information to process. The lack of control over information processing can lead to stress.
  2. Arousal ➔ When our personal space is invaded, we experience a heightened sense of arousal. Our response to the arousal depends on the interpretation we put on the invasion of personal space. Invasion of personal space can be interpreted positively or negatively.
  3. Behaviour Constraint ➔ Personal space invasion may cause us to feel as if our freedom on how to behave is taken away from us. When individuals are a part of crowds, aggression is often increased and helping behaviour is decreased. Hence, stress may be experienced by the lack of personal space.

2. Space at Restaurant Tables
Robson et al. (2011) studied the importance of personal space by looking at the users' perceptions of comfort in a restaurant by conducting a web survey with over 1000 American participants.

The 1st part of the survey asked people about themselves
The 2nd part of the survey asked participants to respond to a scenario, and their reactions were measured.
They had to react to one of 3 images of tables-for-two placed at a distance of 6, 12, or 24 inches away from each other.
3 dining scenarios were given: business, friend, or romantic.

Participants were randomly allocated to 1 of 9 possible scenarios and they responded to a questionnaire which had 32 statements that measured their emotional and behavioural responses to the specific distances.


  • Close table spacing (6-inch) made people feel less private, less positive, and more dissatisfied. They also reported being more concerned with disturbing others or being overheard.
  • Stress scores were significantly higher in the tightly-spaced table condition.
  • Respondents strongly objected to the tightly spaced tables, particularly in a 'romantic' context.


  • The context is a key factor in consumer preference for table spacing. Gender is also important as women reported that they would be much less comfortable in tightly spaced environments than men.
  • There are complex implications as tightly spaced tables mean that people eat and leave more quickly. However, customers may be less likely to return to the restaurant if they felt uncomfortable which would in turn impact restaurants that rely on repeat customs.


  • Applications to real life: Restaurants with tightly spaced table settings would be suitable for restaurants and cafés at tourist destinations as they don't rely on repeat customs. However, restaurants relying on repeat cusotm should refrain from such a setting as it would cause people to become uncomfortable.
  • Since the experimental conditions were imagined scenarios rather than real-life experiences, the study has low ecological validity.
  • The experimental design was of the independent measures design (where participants were allocated to only one condition of the study), this means that there could be individual differences affecting the results of the study.

3. Defending your place in a queue
Milgram et al. (1986) investigated queue defence in different NYC locations.

Queues had an average of 6 members. A confederate calmly approached between the third and fourth and said in a neutral tone 'excuse me; I would like to get in here'. The confederate would simple would join the queue without waiting for a response, If someone explicitly asked them to leave the queue, they would. Otherwise, the confederate stayed for 1 minute before leaving. 5 students were intruders, and 1 was the observer.

Researchers used buffers who passively stayed in line behind the naive queuers. The intruder would cut in front of the buffer and the buffer would be passive. Having buffers allowed the researchers to see whether the responsibility for objecting would be displaced.

2 Independent Variables:
i) no of. intruders: 1 or 2
ii) no. of buffers: 0, 1, or 2.
There were 6 experimental conditions in total.


  • Queuers behind the intruder were more likely to object than those in front.
  • Physical action (for ex. tapping on the shoulder) against the intruder happened in 10% of queues.
  • Verbal objections occurred in 21.7% of queues.
  • Disapproving expressions such as tentative comments and non-verbal objections (ex. dirty looks) were given in 14.7% of queues

Milgram et al. concluded that the 'queue' is a social system with shared beliefs governing the behaviour of participants. Individuals no longer act according to individual wishes, but by reference to a common social representation.


  • Milgram conducted a field experiment which means that there is a high level of ecological validity rather than other studies.
  • Participants had no clue that they were in an experiment, hence they are less likely to show demand characteristics and social desirability bias.
  • There are the ethical issue of consent, deception, and potential distress. However, Milgram notes that every effort was taken to minimise potential distress. For example, the intruder left the queue as soon as they were challenged.

General Evaluations:

  • All 3 researches looked at the effects of various situational variables on consumer behaviour. The effects of crowding, and personal space invasion were found.
  • Both Robson's and Milgram's study were conducted in the USA, so results may lack generalisability to other cultures. Further, if there are cultural differences, then the results are unlikely to be replicated as the reliability is low.