Perceptual Styles

How Personality Affects Perception: Key Traits

Personality traits are stable, consistent characteristics of a person that are detectable in their actions, attitudes, and feelings.

It’s five minutes to three o’clock in the afternoon, and everyone at work is gathered in the conference room. You quickly scan the room, only to realize that your friend is not there. Concerned, you fire off a text message to your friend, “Where are you?! The meeting starts soon and the boss has already given you two strikes for being late!” Despite any concerns or goodwill, your friend does little to assuage you, “Sorry, running a little behind. I’ll be there soon.”  

We all have a friend like that. The one who is perpetually late to something. It’s as if they run on a clock that is timed to another universe, one that runs a few minutes behind. Whether or not they have an excuse for their tardiness—traffic, a long line, or my personal favorite…lost track of time—your friend’s temporal delays might actually relate to certain personality traits. A psychologist could call your friend the polychronic type: a personality trait where one prefers to multi-task. In fact, research has linked polychronicity to absence and lateness in the workplace (Conte and Jacobs, 2003). 

Personality traits are stable, consistent characteristics of a person that are detectable in their actions, attitudes, and feelings. Unfortunately, knowledge of your friend’s personality trait might not do much in terms of helping them stay on time. Traits are relatively stable, remember. 

In advertising, the stability of a trait is an advantage. 

From an advertising perspective, knowledge of a consumer’s personality can profile their behavior and allow the advertiser to target them accordingly. Since the traits are stable, advertisers can count on the consumer to engage in patterned behavior. There are hundreds of different personality traits, and each one can affect an ad campaign in unique ways: from the design of the creative, down to the message it sends. Let’s get personal and find out how these five personality traits affect consumer perceptions of advertising. 

Personality Traits of Consumers

  • Need For Consistency (NFC) is a personality trait that indicates the degree to which someone prefers consistency over contradiction. Demographically, the Need For Consistency is relatively more common in older people than younger (Brown et. al., 2005). The origins of this trait come from psychologist Leon Festinger. Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe how contradictory stimuli can create internal conflict and thus motivate people to resolve the inconsistency (1957). For some, this could involve avoiding the dissonant information all together, which would be bad news for an ad campaign. However, dissonance theory turns out to be not so black and white, as some people are more comfortable with inconsistencies, while others are not. For example, someone who scores high in NFC would be uncomfortable with uncertainty, and prefer consensus and consonance. Someone who scores low on this trait would prefer change and impromptu action (Guadagno et. al., 2001).

    How does this play out in practice? Let’s say that you are surveying a group of consumers with the hopes of having them complete two surveys: a brief 5 question demographic survey about their online spending habits, and then a longer 25 question psychographic survey about their online spending habits. How might you ensure that the consumers with high trait NFC complete both surveys? First, you’ll want to space out the requests so that they aren’t given immediately back to back. If you want to keep a foot in the door, give the consumer some time to relax in between requests (Burger, 1999). For the high NFC consumers, priming them with a reminder of their helpfulness between each survey can increase the likelihood of completing the second task (Guadagno, 2001). Once reminded that the completion of the first task was an indicator of their willingness to help, the high NFC consumer would be driven to keep consistent with their helpful personality characteristic and continue to help. This tactic might have the opposite effect for low NFC consumers, who prefer inconsistency in action. 

  • Curiosity is a personality trait that indicates the degree to which someone explores, investigates, and even searches for novel information. There are two kinds of curiosity: epistemic and perceptual (Berlyne, 1954). Perceptual curiosity is a drive that comes from arousal via complex patterns of sensory stimulation. If we recall our prior post on attention and perceptual selection, an advertisement that’s too busy with feature complexity—color, luminescence, and spacing—can be aesthetically unpalatable. Instead, design complexity—specific forms, patterns, and organizations of objects—sustain visual attention. Perceptual curiosity design involves finding a balance between feature and design complexity. The bottom line is simple: if an ad cannot sustain attention, it probably cannot bolster perceptual curiosity.

    Then there’s epistemic curiosity. If perceptual curiosity is the sensory type, then epistemic curiosity is the thinking type—aroused by concepts and ideas. Recall Apple’s famous video ad campaign “Think Different” which featured famous thought leaders—like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, & Muhammah Ali—who were dubbed “the different ones.” The ad elicits epistemic curiosity on the part of the viewer by inviting them to ponder about how these intellectual mavens changed the world. All by thinking differently. If Apple’s continued market dominance is any indicator of the powers of epistemic curiosty, then your next campaign might think differently by targeting the more curious types. 

  • Cautiousness is a personality trait that indicates the degree to which someone avoids failure, even at the expense of achieving success (Moss, 1961). People high in Cautiousness are not your proverbial risk takers. They don’t want to be surprised, or have to pull out the details from a narrative. When advertising to a Cautious consumer, always present the facts clearly and show how your product/solution fits into the bigger picture. For example, healthcare ads that target consumers with high trait Cautiousness might focus on prevention, full transparency, and present data up front in the advertisement. Many pro-vaccine advertisements focus on the current statistics of the disease and how the vaccine fits in the bigger picture of restoring global health. However, this is a double-edged sword. If the high trait Cautiousness consumer sees the vaccine as a potential threat (i.e. it’s still experimental, the data is insufficient longitudinally) then the same ad could be viewed as conflicting or dangerous, instead of a solution. While it’s easy to paint a picture that high Cautiousness people are likely pro-vaccine, it’s simply not true. When it comes to these sensitive, polarizing topics, interpretation is in the eyes of the beholder. For those who are pro-vaccine, the failure is the disease. For those who are anti-, the failure is the vaccine. 

  • Appreciation For Creativity (AFC) is a personality trait that indicates the degree to which someone values the transformation of information into new combinations. If Curiosity is the pursuit of the novel, then creativity is the realization of the pursuit, and the execution of the Aha moment (i.e., Eureka) as it were. Creative products are measured by their originality and usefulness (Guilford, 1950). On one end, people with high trait AFC value the people and products of the creative process, whereas those with low trait AFC would prefer more traditional methods.

    Take food for example. Food is the essence of human creativity. We all value certain dishes that come from our heritage. As a Filipino, I love pork sisig (pronounced: sē·siɡ). Sisig is a dish prepared from the meat of a pig—snout, cheek, and ears—as well as chicken liver. Today, you’ll find the meat in the dish grilled, fried, and accompanied by egg and even mayo. However, the traditional Kapampángan recipe—which dates back to the 17th century—was boiled and consisted of the ears and tail (Siuálâ Ding Meángûbié, 2016). I enjoy the dish either way, and appreciate the creativity of the modern versions that introduce new flavors and textures. However, someone with more traditional values—especially those who come from the region that created the dish—might not care for the newer versions.

    A person’s AFC is an important psychological factor because it frames the product and the delivery of the advertisement. Without the ability to track the end consumer’s AFC, an advertiser could get their wires crossed and serve an ad for fusion food to someone who prefers a more traditional dish. It would be a wasted ad that could even end up hurting the brand perception for that consumer. Appreciation For Creativity goes well beyond food, and plays into consumer preferences for fashion, health habits, transportation, and even technology. For example, someone with low trait AFC might flip through the channels on the TV nightly without much direction—someone with average trait AFC might occasionally go to a play—and someone with high AFC might see every major theatrical performance that comes to town (Richards et. al., 1998). 

  • Storied Susceptibility (SS) is a personality trait that indicates the degree to which someone engages with the narrative arc. In other words, they are more likely to believe something when it is told in story format. People with high trait SS are drawn to emotion laden stories that follow the traditional arc: scene setting, the rise towards the peak, and the fall into the ending. The emotions of the story often connect with the consumer’s values, which triggers a deep immersion in the ad. It doesn’t always have to be puppies or a heartthrob story: it’s the exposition, climax, and resolution that create a cohesive framework for the message of the ad to reach the high SS viewer. Story-telling is a very common practice in modern advertising.

    Turn on the TV for a half hour and you’ll be served an ad that tells a short story about the product. For example, the “Is Pepsi Ok?” video ad shows a customer at a diner that orders a coke. The server says, “Is Pepsi Ok?”, only to have famous actor Steve Carell stand up from the booth behind them and begin a long monologue on why Pepsi is better than ok. Carell parades around the scene, engaging with many of the diner’s patrons and coaching them on how to say “Ok” with Hollywood level charm. This marks the end of the exposition. The climax comes next. When the patrons fail to say “OK” with the proper tone and cadence, rappers Lil John and Cardi B enter the scene. Each says a nuanced and catchy version of their signature catchphrases “OK.” The story-ad resolves itself with a touch of light humor, as Carell attempts impersonations of each rapper’s catchphrase with an uncomfortable, but comedic delivery. But this formula doesn’t work for everyone. People with low SS are more analytical. They don’t want the frill or fluff, just give them the facts and information and they will make up their own mind. In terms of video content, they might prefer John Belushi’s line in the 1978 SNL skit at The Olympia Restaurant, “No Coke, Pepsi.” 

Discover Your Audience’s Psychological Trait Profile

These five psychological traits—and hundreds of others—are now available for advertisers to use in creating their consumer profiles on our latest AI powered ad platform. Use Perceivable Thresholds to test your creatives and find out how they stack up against the consumer’s psychographic targets.


Berlyne, D. E. (1954). A theory of human curiosity. British Journal of Psychology, 45, 180–191.

Brown, S. L., Asher, T., & Cialdini, R. B. (2005). Evidence of a positive relationship between age and preference for consistency. Journal of Research in Personality, 39, 517–533.

Burger J. M. (1999). The foot-in-the-door compliance procedure: a multiple-process analysis and review. Personality and social psychology review : an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc, 3(4), 303–325.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press.

Guadagno, R. E., Asher, T., Demaine, L. J., & Cialdini, R. B. (2001). When Saying Yes Leads to Saying No: Preference for Consistency and the Reverse Foot-in-the-Door Effect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 859–867.

Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist, 5, 444−454.

Jeffrey M. Conte & Rick R. Jacobs. (2003). Validity Evidence Linking Polychronicity and Big Five Personality Dimensions to Absence, Lateness, and Supervisory Performance Ratings, Human Performance, 16:2, 107-129. 

Meángûbié, S. (2016). History of SÍSIG: How Angeles City Kept Reinventing a Traditional Kapampángan Delicacy. 

Moss, H. (1961). The influence of personality and situational cautiousness on conceptual behavior. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63(3), 629–635.

Richards, R., Kinney, D. K., Benet, M., & Merzel, A. P. (1988). Assessing everyday creativity: Characteristics of the Lifetime Creativity Scales and validation with three large samples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(3), 476–485.

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