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TOEFL – Reading – Consumer Purchasing Decisions

Consumer Purchasing Decisions

Social sciences and humanities

1 – According to the author’s description of purchasing in paragraph 1, what can be understood about the process of making a purchase?

A – It was of special interest to Carl Jung
B – It may be more complex than that of other decisions
C – It involves conscious decisions made in five stages
D- It happens more quickly when based on intuition

Consumer Purchasing Decisions

The psychologist Carl Jung posited that people make decisions in two distinct ways: by taking in a great deal of information and over time rationally making a choice, or by making an intuitive decision quickly. However, these categories do not necessarily reflect the full complexity of decision-making, particularly when it comes to purchases. In general, purchasing goods or services involves five steps: problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, and post-purchase behavior. These steps can happen in an instant, and although they are seemingly only affected by taste and available resources, what looks like an intuitive process is actually more intricate and involves many decision points, both conscious and subconscious.

All purchases, from small to large, are affected on the most fundamental level by subconscious motivations—a set of factors that cannot be easily simplified. Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs to explain human motivation, in which necessities such as food and shelter must first be met in order for humans to seek fulfillment of higher order needs, such as acceptance and love. Maslow’s hierarchy is usually shown as a pyramid, with fundamental physiological needs at the base, underpinning needs concerning safety, such as financial security and physical health. After those first two tiers have been satisfied, an individual can focus on needs for love and belonging. The penultimate tier consists of the need for esteem and self-respect. Only once someone has met the four more basic needs can he or she strive for the peak, self-actualization. If this final need is met, the individual has reached his true potential. Where one is on that scale may subtly affect what one will concentrate on in a purchasing decision. For instance, someone who aspires to be accepted by the members of a community will subconsciously start buying clothing that mimics what is worn by that group.

In terms of conscious decisions, psychologists have divided the process into three different styles: the single feature model, the additive feature model, and the elimination of aspects model. The single feature model means that the decision maker focuses on one aspect of a product. Here one might look at cost over all else, since it might be the most important factor to someone who is not quite secure economically. For this person, buying a set of plastic plates is a better decision than investing in fine porcelain dishware. This model works best for simple and quick decisions.

The additive feature model works better for more complex decisions, such as buying a computer. Here one would look at the types of computers and their range of features. A consumer might weigh the mobility of a laptop against the power of a desktop. This is all compounded, of course, by where the consumer is in Maslow’s hierarchy. ◙ (A) If the person has a good job and is using the computer to develop community or find a relationship, that may affect what he is looking for. ◙ (B)

The elimination by aspects model is similar to the additive feature model but works in reverse. ◙ (C) Here the consumer evaluates various choices feature by feature, and when a selection doesn’t have that feature, it is eliminated until only one option is left. ◙ (D)

Clearly, explaining purchasing behavior is a complex endeavor. In fact, beyond the subconscious factors and conscious decision models are mental shortcuts that help consumers reduce the effort in making decisions. Psychologists have identified a number of these shortcuts, or heuristics, which are used frequently and help with difficult choices in particular. For example, the availability heuristic comes into play when a consumer has a previous experience with a product or brand and then makes a decision to either buy that brand or avoid it the next time. Similarly, marketers frequently capitalize on the representative heuristic, in which a consumer presented with two products will often choose the more visually familiar option. This explains why the brandings of many products look similar to one another. And even more easily understood is the price heuristic, in which a product is perceived to be of higher or lower quality based on cost, as was shown in a recent study in which consumers were presented with the exact same wine at two price points, but preferred the taste of the “more expensive” sample.

2 – The word ”posited” in paragraph 1 is closest in meaning to

A- Hypothesized
B – Wrote
C – Discovered
D – Decided

3 – The word ”fulfillment” in paragraph 2 is closest in meaning toA – Satisfaction
B – Adjustment
C – Understanding
D – Reduction
4 – Which of the following best describes the relationship between the five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy according to paragraph 2?

A – They are ordered according to the individual needs of specific people.
B – They must be completed separately, in isolated events.
C – Higher stages cannot be reached until more basic needs are met.
D – Physical needs are set apart from their emotional counterparts.


5 – According to paragraph 2, which of the following is the highest part of Maslow’s hierarchy of need?

A – Admiration
B – realization of potential
C – protection from the elements
D – clothing


6 – The word “aspires” in paragraph 2 is closest in meaning to

A – Needs
B – Asks
C – Realizes
D – Strives


7 – Which of the following sentences most closely expresses the important information in the highlighted sentence in paragraph 3?


A – The most important aspect to be considered by a person with insecure finances is cost.
B – Cost is only one of several important factors to that consumers look at.
C – Economic security is important to consider when looking at cost of a product.
D – For someone whose finances are low, cost might be the most important thing to consider


8 – Why does the author mention “a set of plastic plates”? (Hard)

A – to show it is not as good as porcelain
B – to give an example of a purchase choice
C – to advocate buying it over more expensive dishware
D – to illustrate the impulsiveness of some consumer’s choices
9 – According to paragraph 4, what is the relationship between Maslow’s hierarchy and the additive feature decision model?

A – The additive feature model is best understood by studying the hierarchy.
B – Maslow’s hierarchy is often less helpful for complex decisions.
C – Maslow’s hierarchy helps further determine how a consumer makes a decision.
D – The additive feature model will modify a consumer’s stage in the hierarchy.
10 – The phrase “capitalize on” in paragraph 6 is closest in meaning to

A – Exploit
B – Learn
C – Expect
D – Consider


11 – Look at the four squares [◙] that indicate where the following sentence can be added to the passage.

For instance, if a consumer is suffering from failing eyesight, a large screen cell phone would be important, and he would remove all smaller screen options during the evaluation period.

Where would the sentence best fit?

◙ (A)◙ (B)◙ (C)◙ (D)


12 – Select from the nine phrases below the two phrases that correctly match Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the three phrases that match the conscious decision making styles, and the two phrases that match decision heuristics. TWO of the answer choices will not be used.
This question is worth FOUR points.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – 2 answers

Conscious decision making – 3 answers

Decision heuristics – 2 answers

Answer Choices

A purchase is only made if the buyer can pay in cash.

When a product fails to meet standards it is returned.

A consumer buys a more expensive product hoping to receive higher quality.

A negative experience with a brand influences future purchase decisions.

All possible features are considered carefully.

Physical needs take priority over emotional or intellectual needs.

A product is bought based on only one attribute.

The desire to be included in a social group influences decisions.

A property is considered necessary and products lacking the property are ignored.


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