From A Teen’s Perspective: Consumer Psychology

 Written by Natasha Matta

Why do we buy what we buy? Consumer psychology looks at how our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and habits influence what goods and services we purchase and how we respond to advertising, packing, and messaging. It explores decision-making, persuasion, and motivation and how those factors translate into whether we buy something or not. 

Consumer psychology can help inform not only business decisions and marketing efforts but also political campaigns, nonprofit organizations, and public policy. Understanding consumer behavior can be used to raise awareness about social issues and get goods and services in front of the people that need them. However, it can also target someone’s unhealthy habits like spending money on something they do not need or hopping on a short-lived trend. Our purchasing decisions are not always rational and can be influenced by anxiety, panic, trends, impulses, or that it simply makes us feel good. This is because making a purchase triggers dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in the brain’s reward center. 

Three teens look at a phone happily

Many of our purchases, such as meals or healthcare, are essential to our wellbeing and survival. So what makes us buy non-essentials? Besides a dopamine rush, new purchases may elevate our social status or outward appearance or be made in a response to a negative emotion like boredom or discontent. We might also buy something if we think it is a “good deal,” such as a limited time offer or buy one, get one deal for an item we never needed or really wanted. 

Teen with airpods in and hands wanting more of her attention


How do brands use consumer psychology? Through market research, the use of focus groups, and user testing, companies can better understand what motivates their customers and how to build loyalty among them. Marketers employ different psychological strategies, such as:

  • Classical conditioning: brands or companies train consumers to associate a product with something, such as satisfaction or joy, through repeated exposure
  • Principle of social proof: people look to others to see how they should behave (e.g. if you think everyone is buying something, you might buy it too)
  • Scarcity mindset: fixation with a lack of something (e.g. suggesting only a certain quantity of a product is left and you need to get it before it runs out)
  • Anchoring bias: the brain relies heavily on the first piece of information we learn to make judgments (e.g. a marketer may say this piece of jewelry costs $5,000 then offer you $500 off, making you think it is a deal when the jewelry is only worth $3,000 in reality)

How can brands do this ethically? Instead of employing manipulation tactics to make sales, companies should aim to educate and persuade their prospective customers and build brand loyalty and name recognition. You are more likely to gain trust and support if your brand is trustworthy, welcoming, and inclusive, right? Brands might also appeal to their consumer’s emotions and empathy or entice them with the novelty of a new product, service, or form of advertising, such as Duolingo’s recent Tik Tok success

Close-up of social media apps

In some cases, I appreciate advertisers using consumer psychology. They can create campaigns that resonate with me and others like myself (Generation Z) and show me products or services that I need. However, I do not want it to feel like companies are just selling to me. I want to understand the brand more holistically: the company’s values, mission, the social causes they believe in and support, and sustainability. Is this an entire company I would want to put my money behind? 

Teen with rainbow suspenders looking at her phone

As consumers, it is important that we understand and recognize manipulation tactics brands can use and try to limit our unnecessary purchases, which helps the planet too! Before you buy, you might want to ask yourself - do I need this new clothing item, or will I stop wearing it immediately once the trend dies? Can I rent or buy this second-hand instead? Am I making this purchase because I am stressed or upset, and is there a healthier outlet for my feelings? Is this an impulse buy or something I’ve wanted for a while? 


 Written by Natasha Matta

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