Consumer Psychologists: What are they and how to become one

What drives consumer decision making? It’s not all about our conscious minds — far from it. The processes are sometimes so complex that it takes a psychologist to understand them. Consumer psychologists study the psychology behind consumerism. The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that the specialty draws from social, cognitive, and developmental psychology.
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The Society for Consumer Psychology, Division 23 of the APA, lists the following among the concerns of consumer psychologists:
  • Decision processes
  • Attitude formation and change
  • Cultural differences
Consumer psychologists can use a wide variety of techniques including focus groups, in-depth interviews, and surveys. They may even find themselves tracking people’s eye movements as they look at stimuli. Consumer psychologists may work for consulting firms, businesses, or governmental agencies. Their work can help several audiences: not just businesses, but the consumers themselves. It can even help shape public policy, as the APA reminds us (https://www.apa.org/about/division/div23). Those looking for a friendly introduction to the psychology of consumer behavior may peruse Psychology Today articles (http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/consumer-behavior). Those looking to become consumer psychologists will need graduate degrees!

Consumer Psychologist Education and Training

A student may pursue consumer psychology at the master’s or doctoral level. Consumer psychology may be offered as a concentration within an industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology program, but there are other paths into the career. The APA has grouped psychologists who focus on marketing research with those who do organizational consultation or systems design and placed them into the “applied psychology, other psychology subfields” category. Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment. An APA survey showed that doctoral level practitioners had degrees in a variety of specialties, including clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and experimental psychology as well as I/O. The APA notes that consumer psychologists need knowledge of many aspects of human behavior including culture and values and information processing. Training should develop the ability to analyze human behavior, take complex issues and create testable alternatives, and apply statistics, analyze data, and write reports. The Society of Consumer Psychology notes that a good way to identify graduate programs that are a good fit is to read journals in the field and look at information about the authors and their affiliations (https://myscp.org/). One can get a sense of current research by reading the Journal of Consumer Psychology or The Journal of Consumer Research (an interdisciplinary journal). However, there are a number of other publications that include relevant research, including journals of social psychology and cognitive psychology. PhD programs are competitive and tend to give a lot of consideration to GRE scores as well as undergraduate academics and research.

Credentialing for Consumer Psychologists

Consumer psychologists may or may not hold state licensing; they should visit their own state licensing board. Some consumer psychologists may be eligible for board certification through the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP). This avenue is only open to those who meet the general certification requirements of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP); candidates must hold a doctoral degree and state licensing. Depending on years of postdoctoral practice, a candidate for certification will need to demonstrate competency in two or three relevant practice areas (https://abpp.org/). Psychologists who have been in the field fifteen or more years have more leeway when it comes to the practice samples they submit. Click here for specific guidelines.

Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed a mean salary of $102,570 for industrial/organizational psychologists in 2012 and a mean salary of $86,380 for psychologists whose practices lay outside the clinical, counseling, school, or I/O arenas. The APA noted in 2010 that doctoral level psychologists who fell into the “applied, other” category had widely varying salaries — with a mean of $121,000 but a standard deviation of $77,121 (http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/09-salaries/).