Application of Personality Theories for the Design and Development of Cross-cultural Decision-making Tools

Prue, B., Stern, L., Hurley, P., Catto, G., Young, D., and Pfautz, J.

Presented at the International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE), Las Vegas, NV (July 2015).


The marketing domain requires the application of techniques from an array of disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology, statistics) to understand information’s impact on target market segment behavior in diverse socio-cultural conditions. Marketeers must conduct and evaluate cross-cultural analyses to determine which messages will drive purchasing behavior and what means of dissemination are appropriate to both their target market segment and geographic region. Fundamentally, marketing operations require personnel to be social scientists, regional experts, and persuasive brand advocates and may operate in unfamiliar cultural environments with limited resources (e.g., costs of obtaining cultural and language expertise, cost of media access) and rapid production times (e.g., on the order of hours). These factors all contribute to the difficulties marketeers face with efficiently and effectively transposing themselves into a target market segment’s mental state to understand their motivations and behavioral rationales—two characteristics which must be thoroughly explored to elicit long-term behavior change. As such, marketeers benefit from means to rapidly increase their cultural understanding of particular target market segments and the impact of culture on their cognition and behavior. To support increased cross-cultural competence among marketeers, we identified effective applications of personality psychology in the marketing domain and reviewed these methods to design a persuasive appeal support tool (PAST) based on analysis of the Five Factor Model (FFM) and other personality trait theories.

PAST enables analysis of target market segments (TMSs) with regard to cultural impacts on their decision making based on social science theories of personality across cultures. As there is significant work to support universality of the Big Five structure of personality across many cultures, we began our research with this model to leverage personality theories for improved understanding of decision making by individuals and groups. We focused on informing audience-specific messaging using the FFM’s generalizability across varying cultures, including rural, non-Western societies where the components of the Big Five traits are still applicable in slightly different mappings. Identifying these mappings enables users to relate a culture’s FFM traits to their own, increasing marketeer empathy for, and understanding of, potential decision similarities and differences across a variety of cultural environments. This increased cross-cultural competence enables personnel to better direct messages targeting relevant TMS traits. Studies of the FFM have investigated its use for constructing persuasive appeals in a variety of domains (e.g., public health), and many of these studies have found that certain message structures resonate with different personality factors. Understanding which factors map to which message structures, all while understanding the impact of a TMS’s culture on their cognition and behavior, supports more efficient production of persuasive messages tailored for a target market segment. Marketeers benefit from this means to rapidly increase their cultural understanding of a particular TMS and the impact of its culture on cognition and behavior to support message creation. This paper describes our approach leveraging social science theories of personality and differences in decision making across cultures to design and develop a tool to increase personnel’s cross-cultural competence when developing messages that inform and influence target market segment decision making.

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