Maslow And Freud on Consumer Behaviour

This sample essay on Maslow And Freud provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

It is the differences within people that make life interesting. However, the diversity in human behaviour often causes us to overlook the fact that people are really very much alike. It is these similarities that serve to explain consumer behaviour, and psychologists would suggest that most people tend to experience the same kinds of needs and motives, but simply express these motives in different ways.

(Shiffman & Kanuk 1994:93) Freud and Maslow’s theory of motivation will be discussed as explanations of consumer behaviour. Motivation is the basic concept in all human and consumer behaviour.

It is described as the ‘driving force within individuals that impels them to action,’ (Shiffman & Kanuk 1994:94) this driving force is produced by a state of uncomfortable tension, which exists as a result of an unsatisfied need.

Thus, behaviour is the need to reduce the tension to bring about a more comfortable state. One theory in motivation of human behaviour is based on internal instincts and drives that are mainly innate physiological processes. (Evans, Moutinho & Raaij 1997:21) Sigmund Freud was one of the father figures of the study of personality, and gave us the notion of an unconscious element to our thinking.

Why Is Maslow’s Theory Criticized?

He developed the Psychoanalytic theory, in which the personality consisted of three interacting parts – the id, ego and superego.

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The id, which acts in the unconscious mind, is the infantile part of the personality. It is present from birth, and is dominated by all-impulsive drives. Thirst, hunger, and sex are the physiological needs of the individual in which immediate gratification must be sought – ‘I want it and I want it now! ‘ In an adult, these tensions maybe experienced with the inability to identify the source. (Glassman 1995:192)

Opposing the demands of the id is the superego. This is a conscious drive that restraints or inhibits the impulsive forces of the id. It is the conscience, and represents the moral demands of family and society. Mediating between the demands of the id and the moral requirements of the superego is the ego. The ego is the individual’s conscious control that includes our self-image. Its function is to balance the impulsive demands of the id and the sociocultural constraints of the superego, the way in which it does so, is what determines behaviour.

An important part of Freud’s theory was the notion that the id, ego and superego are in frequent conflict with one another. Because the id’s demand for instant gratification clashes with the superego’s standards of moral behaviour, results in the individual experiencing anxiety. So the ego is left to spend most of the time trying to resolve these conflicts. Thus defending itself using a number of defence mechanisms. (Gross & Mcilveen 1998:569) An alternative to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is offered from a humanistic approach.

In contrast, the humanistic approach is not a theory of personality, but instead looks at individuals as interpreters of themselves. Their behaviour is understood in terms of their own experiences. (Gross & Mcilveen 1998:15) Abraham Maslow was concerned with viewing the person as a whole, and not just single innate responses as Freud had done. Although he was influenced by psychoanalysis, he believed in ‘free will’ and that people had the ability to choose how they behaved, and so were not driven by unconscious forces beyond their control as Freud suggests.

Thus, Maslow became disillusioned with innate influences and therefore rejected the determinism of Freud. (Glassman 1995:247) Again, in contrast to Freud’s theory, Maslow saw a whole constellation of needs that could influence consumer behaviour. This behaviour was motivated by the conscious desire for personal growth; and was not a result of unconscious drives for bodily pleasure as Freud suggested. (Gross & Mcilveen 1998:142) Maslow recognised the complexity of motivation, and sought to describe it in terms of a hierarchy of needs – a ladder of motivation.

Maslow’s theory proposes five basic levels of human needs, which rank in order of importance. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the basic physiological needs such as food, water, air, shelter, clothing and sex. When these needs are unfulfilled, nothing else matters. This level has echoes of Freud’s psychoanalysis; the id would represent these physiological needs. After the first level needs are satisfied, safety and security needs become the driving force behind the individual’s behaviour.

These needs refer to physical safety such as freedom from danger, and psychological safety such as stability, routine and control over one’s life and environment. Health can also be seen as a safety concern. When these needs are being met, one begins to focus on social needs, the need for love, affection and belonging, and assuming these needs are fulfilled, then the individual will go on and experience esteem needs. This level is concerned with egoistic needs that can take either an inward or an outward orientation, or even both. Self-acceptance, esteem and success are all examples of inwardly directed ego needs.

Whereas reputation, status and recognition can all be seen as examples of outwardly directed ego needs. According to Maslow, most people do not satisfy their ego needs sufficiently to ever move to the fifth level of self-actualisation. Maslow believed that few people achieve this level because most are stalled along the way by ‘insurmountable social or environmental barriers. ‘ (Gross & Mcilveen 1998:143) But it remains a goal to strive for and could be one of the most significant motivators of all, the need to fulfil one’s potential – to become everything one is capable of becoming.

The way, in which these needs are expressed, will differ from person to person. In summery, Maslow’s five level hierarchy suggests that higher-order needs become the driving force behind human behaviour as lower-level needs are satisfied. In effect, it is saying that it is dissatisfaction that motivates behaviour. Whereas Freud believes that satisfaction and gratification are the driving force behind motivation. Although both theories are widely thought of, both theories have been widely criticised. Freud was criticised for being deterministic.

He suggested that all behaviour is determined, and that people are driven by unconscious forces beyond their control. (Gross & Mcilveen 1998:14) Therefore neglects the concept of ‘free will’ suggested by Maslow. ‘Free will’ he implied, was just an illusion. (Gross & Mcilveen 1999:46) Maslow was also criticised. Shiffman and Kanuk (1994) said that Maslow’s concepts are too general and the problem with the theory is that it cannot be tested empirically. There is no way to measure precisely how satisfied one need must be before the next higher need becomes operative. p113) He was also criticised for the sample of people he chose. They exhibited the traits he hoped to find; therefore the process was biased. (Glassman 1995:255) Despite these criticisms, both theories have been useful tools for marketers and advertisers in understanding consumer behaviour. For those researchers who apply Freud’s psychoanalytic theory to the study of consumer personality suggest the idea that human behaviour is pleasure seeking, and that the id is the source of energy, drive and motivation.

As this source is unconscious, individuals are unaware of their true reasons for consuming the way they do, and so this concept is used as the basis for motivational research. They tend to focus on consumer purchases and/or consumption situations, treating them as a reflection and an extension of the individual’s own personality. (Shiffman & Kanuk 1994:130) In other words, how we look and what we wear reflects our personality. In advertising terms, Freud provides productive grounds for image making, suggesting that the products purchased will make the individual more popular, interesting or sexually attractive. Rice 1997:247) Although personality may be consistent, consumption behaviour often varies because of psychological, sociocultural, and environmental factors that affect behaviour.

Thus, personality is only one of a combination of factors that influence how a consumer behaves. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory has been very useful in offering an understanding of consumer motivation. It is readily adaptable to marketing strategy, primarily because the goods one consumes often serve to satisfy each level of need. I. e. ne buys houses, food and clothing to satisfy physiological needs, locks and insurance for safety needs, almost all personal care products are bought to satisfy social needs, luxury products such as flash cars and jewellery etc are bought to fulfil ego needs, and college training and banking services are sold as ways to achieve self-fulfilment. (Schiffman & Kanuk 1994:113) Although both theories have proved to be very influential in marketing and advertising, there has been no solid evidence to support either. Whether ones behaviour is innate, or a result of the outside world has proved to be the most contentious dispute in psychology.

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Maslow And Freud on Consumer Behaviour. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Maslow And Freud on Consumer Behaviour
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