Consumer Thinking in Decision-Making: Applying a Cognitive Framework to Trip Planning

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As magnetic resonance studies (fMRI) evolve, we will learn more about how the brain operates during consumer decision making. Until that time, social science research can assist with understanding consumers’ thought processes, as in the case of this report, which focuses on consumer decision making in connection with travel planning. This paper examines the application of a cognitive framework that is currently used in education to better understand, address, and improve thinking skills, which appears to apply to hospitality consumers’ decision making. Two pilot studies of trip planning, by graduate and undergraduate students, demonstrate the potential usefulness of this cognitive framework. Since so much of the cognitive processing involved in trip planning appears to occur unconsciously, bringing the thinking involved to our conscious awareness may improve the process for consumers. Using the pilot studies and personal experience, this report explains the framework’s use for consumer decision-making and suggests ways that may help us better understand and address the cognition that happens as consumers make complex travel decisions. After an early model developed in 1961 by Albert Upton, the model of eight forms of cognition examined here was formed more recently by David Hyerle. The eight forms of thinking are: (1) Defining in context, (2) Describing attributes, (3) Sequencing, (4) Causal reasoning, (5) Using analogies, (6) Comparing and contrasting, (7) Categorical reasoning, and (8) Spatial reasoning. Some of these forms of cognition appear to apply more strongly than others in trip planning, such as determining the context of the trip, describing and comparing attributes, and considering spatial or location issues. Not expressly included in the framework, but essential to an understanding of trip planning processes is the social context of the trip and those planning to travel. Moreover, since fMRI studies have shown that the brain is parsimonious and attempts to operate as efficiently as possible, any aid to decision making should be well received. A better understanding of these specific forms of thinking may allow those in the hospitality industry opportunities to create specific ways of streamlining and purposefully addressing consumer decision-making thinking processes more strategically. In particular, for example, those in the industry might consider ways to facilitate each of these forms of thinking at different stages of the trip-planning process.

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cognition; thinking; hospitality; decision-making; consumer behavior; travel planning


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