47 Psychographic Characteristics

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, the student will be able to:

  1. Define audience-centered, audience analysis, and demographic characteristics;
  2. List and explain the various demographic characteristics used to analyze an audience;
  3. Define the meanings of attitudes, beliefs, values, and needs;
  4. Diagram Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and explain its usefulness to public speaking;
  5. Describe contextual factors that should be considered when preparing a speech;
  6. Describe typical barriers to listening in public speaking situations;
  7. Explain ways an individual can improve his/her listening when in an audience; and
  8. Apply what he/she knows about listening to improve personal preparation of a speech.

Psychographic Characteristics

Whereas demographic characteristics describe the “facts” about the people in your audience and are focused on the external, psychographic characteristics explain the inner qualities. Although there are many ways to think about this topic, here the ones relevant to a speech will be explored: beliefs, attitudes, needs, and values.



Daryl Bem (1970) defined beliefs as “statements we hold to be true.” Notice this definition does not say the beliefs are true, only that we hold them to be true and as such they determine how we respond to the world around us. Stereotypes are a kind of belief: we believe all the people in a certain group are “like that” or share a trait. Beliefs are not confined to the religious realm, either. We have beliefs about many aspects of the world.

Beliefs, according to Bem, come essentially from our experience and from sources we trust. Therefore, beliefs are hard to change—not impossible, just difficult. Beliefs are hard to change because of:

  • stability—the longer we hold them, the more stable or entrenched they are;
  • centrality—they are in the middle of our identity, self-concept, or “who we are”;
  • saliency—we think about them a great deal; and
  • strength—we have a great deal of intellectual or experiential support for the belief or we engage in activities that strengthen the beliefs.

Beliefs can have varying levels of stability, centrality, salience, and strength. An educator’s beliefs about the educational process and importance of education would be strong (support from everyday experience and reading sources of information), central (how he makes his living and defines his work), salient (he spends every day thinking about it), and stable (especially if he has been an educator a long time). Beliefs can be changed, and we will examine how in Chapter 13 under persuasion, but it is not a quick process.


The next psychographic characteristic, attitude, is sometimes a direct effect of belief. Attitude is defined as a stable positive or negative response to a person, idea, object, or policy. How do you respond when you hear the name of a certain singer, movie star, political leader, sports team, or law in your state? Your response will be either positive or negative, or maybe neutral if you are not familiar with the object of the attitude. Where did that attitude come from? Psychologists and communication scholars study attitude formation and change probably as much as any other subject, and have found that attitude comes from experiences, peer groups, beliefs, rewards, and punishments.

Do not confuse attitude with “mood.” Attitudes are stable; if you respond negatively to Brussels sprouts today, you probably will a week from now. That does not mean they are unchangeable, only that, like beliefs, they change slowly and in response to certain experiences, information, or strategies. As with beliefs, we will examine how to change attitudes in the chapter on persuasion. Changing attitudes is a primary task of public speakers because attitudes are the most determining factor in what people actually do. In other words, attitudes lead to actions, and interestingly, actions leads to and strengthen attitudes. Think back to the TedTalk video by Dr. Amy Cuddy that you watched in Chapter 1.

We may hold a belief that regular daily exercise is a healthy activity, but that does not mean we will have a positive attitude toward it. There may be other attitudes that compete with the belief, such as “I do not like to sweat,” or “I don’t like exercising alone.” Also, we may not act upon a belief because we do not feel there is a direct, immediate benefit from it or we may not believe we have time right now in college. If we have a positive attitude toward exercise, we will more likely engage in it than if we only believe it is generally healthy.


As you can see, attitude and belief are somewhat complex “constructs,” but fortunately the next two are more straightforward. (A construct is “a tool used in psychology to facilitate understanding of human behavior; a label for a cluster of related but co-varying behaviors” [Rogelberg, 2007].) Values are goals we strive for and what we consider important and desirable. However, values are not just basic wants. A person may want a vintage sports car from the 1960s, and may value it because of the amount of money it costs, but the vintage sports car is not a value; it represents a value of either

  • nostalgia (the person’s parents owned one in the 1960s and it reminds him of good times),
  • display (the person wants to show it off and get “oohs” and “ahs”),
  • materialism (the person believes the adage that the one who dies with the most toys wins),
  • aesthetics and beauty (the person admires the look of the car and enjoys maintaining the sleek appearance),
  • prestige (the person has earned enough money to enjoy and show off this kind of vehicle), or
  • physical pleasure (the driver likes the feel of driving a sports car on the open road).

Therefore we can engage in the same behavior but for different values; one person may participate in a river cleanup because she values the future of the planet; another may value the appearance of the community in which she lives; another just because friends are involved and she values relationships. A few years ago political pundits coined the term “values voters,” usually referring to social conservatives, but this is a misnomer because almost everyone votes and otherwise acts upon his or her values—what is important to the individual.


The fourth psychographic characteristic is needs, which are important deficiencies that we are motivated to fulfill. You may already be familiar with the well-known diagram known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. It is commonly discussed in the fields of management, psychology, and health professions. A version of it is shown in Figure 2.1. (More recent versions show it with 8 levels.) It is one way to think about needs. In trying to understand human motivation, Maslow theorized that as our needs represented at the base of the pyramid are fulfilled, we move up the hierarchy to fulfill other types of need (McLeod, 2014).

According to Maslow’s theory, our most basic physiological or survival needs must be met before we move to the second level, which is safety and security. When our needs for safety and security are met, we move up to relationship or connection needs, often called “love and belongingness.” The fourth level up is esteem needs, which could be thought of as achievement, accomplishment, or self-confidence. The highest level, self-actualization, is achieved by those who are satisfied and secure enough in the lower four that they can make sacrifices for others. Self-actualized persons are usually thought of as altruistic or charitable. Maslow also believed that studying motivation was best done by understanding psychologically healthy individuals.


In another course you might go into more depth about Maslow’s philosophy and theory, but the key point to remember here is that your audience members are experiencing both “felt” and “real” needs. They may not even be aware of their needs; in a persuasive speech one of your tasks is to show the audience that needs exist that they might not know about. For example, gasoline sold in most of the U.S. has ethanol, a plant-based product, added to it, usually about 10%. Is this beneficial or detrimental for the planet, the engine of the car, or consumers’ wallets? Your audience may not even be aware of the ethanol, its benefits, and the problems it can cause.

A “felt” need is another way to think about strong “wants” that the person believes will fulfill or satisfy them even if the item is not necessary for survival. For example, one humorous depiction of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (seen on Facebook) has the words “wifi” scribbled at the bottom of the pyramid. Another meme has “coffee” scribbled at the bottom of the hierarchy. As great as wifi and coffee are, they are not crucial to human survival, either individually or collectively, but we do want them so strongly that they operate like needs.

So, how do these psychographic characteristics operate in preparing a speech? They are most applicable to a persuasive speech, but they do apply to other types of speeches as well. What are your audience’s informational needs? What beliefs or attitudes do they have that could influence your choice of topic, sources, or examples? How can you make them interested in the speech by appealing to their values? The classroom speeches you give will allow you a place to practice audience analysis based on demographic and psychographic characteristics, and that practice will aid you in future presentations in the work place and community.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Exploring Communication in the Real World Copyright © 2020 by Chris Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book