Cognition refers to understanding and learning. The cognitive approach examines information processing and decision making behaviour. It addresses the question of how understanding occurs, and how in turn understanding affects behaviour. The 'cognitive how' of product evaluation and choice is investigated.
In general, a scarcity of scientific research into cognitive aspects of green consumer behaviour has been observed (Thorgesen 1994:154, 156-7, Coddington 1993:98, Smith 1992:2, 4, Petkus 1992:861, Olney and Bryce 1991:693, MacKenzie 1991:75, Cope and Winward 1991:83, 86, Hawes and Murphy 1989:73, O'Riordan 1981:209, 217). As early as the mid-1970s, operational and empirically based measures for assessing green consumer behaviour were called for (Webster 1976:128-9). With regard to socio-demographic and life-style issues, such measures have been provided to some extent. Regarding the cognition of the green consumer, the void has remained unfilled.
In cognitive consumer research, a product is heuristically understood as a bundle of tangible and intangible product attributes: it is viewed as a 'bundle of information cues (e.g. price, package, brand name, etc.) which the consumer selectively attends to and uses in arriving at product evaluations and a purchase decision' (Jacoby 1976b:336; also Johnson and Fornell 1987:214, Friedman and Lessig 1986:338, 340, Levitt 1980:84-5, Levitt 1981:96). This study examined which product attributes were paid attention to by the green consumer, and how this could be explained. A cognitive conceptualization of a product tends to 'begin' where a motivational conceptualization of a product would 'end': in motivational research, a product is conceptualized as the promise of a bundle of value expectations from which the customer derives need and value satisfaction when he buys. As has been indicated, motivational issues relating to green consumer behaviour were basically excluded from this study.
Product attributes may be thought of as 'objectively given'. For instance, a product may be thought of as having a certain colour, brand name, size, weight, image, etc. (Zeithaml 1991:30) and, in line with such an approach, 'environmental friendliness' could be viewed as just another objective quality of a product. However, the way consumers interpret 'objectively given' product characteristics and the way they derive meaning from them is likely to be of a highly subjective nature. All 'objectively given' product characteristics and product qualities are subjectively discovered and experienced or not. Cognitive consumer research tries to understand these subjective processes of discovery. The need for a cognitive understanding of consumer behaviour has long been pointed out: Thorstein Veblen stressed that consumer behaviour should be understood not just in economic and utilitarian terms: 'the ultimate problem in understanding industrial societies is not how goods come to be made but how they take on meaning' (Diggins 1978:100; also Leigh and Gabel 1992:27-8, Campbell 1989:49, Hirschman 1986, Mead 1934). Cognitive research conceptualizes this very process of how meaning is subjectively created by a person. Different branches of cognitive research, such as cognitive psychology and cognitive anthropology, conceptualize this creative process differently: they apply different heuristics to explaining 'meaning'.
In cognitive psychology, cognition is understood as conscious information acquisition, retrieval, and application as well as subconscious processes that underlie information processing. Neisser (1967:4) defined cognition as 'all the processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, stored, recovered, and used.. Information is what is transformed, and the structured pattern of its transformation is what we want to understand.' Similarly, Wagenknecht and Borel (1982:177) defined cognition as 'every process by which a living creature obtains knowledge of some objects or becomes aware of its environment (perception, discovery, recognition, imaging, judging, memorizing, learning, thinking)'. The core question of the cognitive psychological research programme is the following:
As cognitive psychologists, we are interested in a wide domain of inquiry: how people perceive, represent, remember, and use knowledge.. Cognitive psychology deals with how we gain information of the world, how such information is represented and transformed as knowledge, how it is stored and how that knowledge is used to direct our attention to behaviour.
The cognitive psychological heuristic is framed, like any research heuristic, by 'axiomatic beliefs' shared by cognitive psychologists (Gardner 1987:6, Eysenck 1986:5). These beliefs can be understood—in Lakatos's words—as the 'hard core of ideas' that guides the researcher when developing a theory (see above, pp. 78).
A central methodological belief held by the cognitive psychological researcher is that empirical research has to be conducted under controlled laboratory conditions. Related to this, the empirical research tradition
s Knowledge structures:^ «.knowledge content, x ^cognitive operations ^
M^V^PIIMVC ^ciauui 10
schemata v s Knowledge structures:^ «.knowledge content, x ^cognitive operations ^
Values, attitudes / Behavioural
Values, attitudes / Behavioural
M^V^PIIMVC ^ciauui 10
Meaningful behaviour: problem solving, bricolage, choice
Figure 1.2 Explanation of behaviour of cognitive psychology is strongly quantitatively oriented (Eysenck 1986:5). Issues related to it will be assessed in more detail in chapter 3, when the empirical research design of this study is outlined.
The research heuristic of cognitive psychology focuses solely on cognition. Motivation and cognition are treated as 'independent' entities. The model depicted by Figure 1.2 draws on the Fishbein model and suggestions by
Thorgesen (1994:155-9). Feedback loops from behaviour to motivation and cognition, and from cognition to motivation were not included. The cognitive psychological research programme ignores other psychological variables for the explanation of behaviour (Gardner 1987:6, Eysenck 1986:5, Neisser 1967: 45). Interdisciplinary research has been suggested as desirable for cognitive psychology (Medin and Ross 1992:30, Gardner 1987:6-7, Bryce 1985:83), but, as briefly outlined above, interdisciplinary research comes at the price of increased complexity in the phenomenon under investigation. Only in relation to particular research problems can it be decided whether interdisciplinary research should be conducted or not.
In this study, knowledge structure theory was drawn upon as a specific variant of the cognitive psychological paradigm. The concept of knowledge structures forms the theoretical basis for the psychological investigation of green consumer cognition. Knowledge structures reflect more or less consciously accessible knowledge content and the underlying, largely subconscious information processing that has led to the creation of knowledge content. Knowledge content reflects what kind of product attributes a consumer has attended to and what information has been used for the assessment of the environmental friendliness of a product. Chapter 2 outlines the concept of knowledge structures in detail. Through the examination of knowledge content, the ways in which consumers have derived subjectively psychological 'meaning' from the consumption of green products can be studied.
In general, anthropology examines comparatively 'large' units of behaviour, namely variables relating to the phenomenon 'culture'.3 Traditionally, anthropology has studied tribal behaviour. A (stereo-)typical image of the anthropological researcher would be that of an explorer who studies in exotic and far-away places the behaviour of the natives. Although this still constitutes a major area of research within anthropology, anthropological research has turned its attention to the problems of industrialized society. Consumption phenomena like supermarket shopping or TV advertising have been increasingly researched in terms of their cultural significance and relevance. Anthropological consumer research has examined, for instance, the
The cognitive anthropological approach symbolic value of certain products in youth cultures: what is perceived as 'cool' among teenagers, e.g. wearing Reebok trainers or an Adidas shirt; or cultural semiotic aspects of advertising (Gordon and Valentine 1996:36-9). Consumption phenomena can be treated in the same way as traditional anthropological issues, such as tribal behaviour, e.g. the way a certain tribe dresses or uses 'make-up' in order to establish a cultural identity. Despite the potentially high cultural significance of many consumption issues, anthropology has had comparatively little impact on mainstream consumer behaviour research.
Cognitive anthropology approaches research into cognition from a different angle from that of cognitive psychology. While cognitive psychology researches cognition from an information processing perspective, focusing rather narrowly on structured patterns of information usage and transformation, cognitive anthropology conceptualizes cognition as problem solving behaviour, trying to understand how people develop and use knowledge purposefully in their daily life. The cognitive psychological approach can be understood as a 'micro-approach' to cognition, whereas cognitive anthropology would be classified as a 'macro-approach' that examines cognition in a contextrelated way.
An important methodological belief held by the cognitive anthropologist is that empirical research has to be conducted in the context of everyday life. In cognitive anthropology, empirical research is typically conducted through the case study approach.
A landmark study in cognitive anthropology was Claude Lévi-Strauss's study of The Savage Mind (1966), which investigated the thinking, knowledge development and problem solving behaviour of indigenous peoples. Lévi-Strauss investigated how patterns of knowledge structures were developed by different tribes, e.g. how plants were hierarchically ordered into certain categories and sub-categories. In order to understand such patterns of knowledge structures, Lévi-Strauss stressed the purposeful nature of the uses to which knowledge was put in daily problem solving.
In this study, the cognitive anthropological approach was applied to examine how the consumer defined and solved the green shopping problem in daily life. The impact of familiarity and intelligence on green consumer behaviour was assessed. Certain ideas from Lévi-Strauss, such as the concepts of practical thinking and bricolage (explained in chapter 2), were employed to shed light on green consumer cognition.
This study drew upon both cognitive psychology and cognitive anthropology for the analysis of different but related aspects of green consumer thinking: through the cognitive psychological approach, a 'micro level' of cognition, namely the knowledge structures of green consumers, was explored. Through the cognitive anthropological approach, a 'macro level' of cognition, namely problem solving behaviour and learning in the context of daily life was investigated. Particulars of the research heuristics of cognitive psychology and cognitive anthropology are outlined in chapter 2. The two approaches are complementary: how green consumers solve green shopping problems is reflected in the kind of knowledge they hold about green consumption. For understanding green consumer cognition, such an 'interdisciplinary' approach appears highly promising.
Was this article helpful?