Skip to main content

About Michael Allen

Right now, I am a part-time faculty at San Diego State University MICHAEL.ALLEN@MAIL.SDSU.EDU).
Until July 2012, I was a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at a leading institution - the University of Sydney Business School.
I left the university to pursue market research opportunities in the private sector as well as academic positions in the US. I now live in southern California.
I have 15+ years teaching experience – 6 years teaching Marketing at the University of Sydney, 4 years teaching Marketing at Griffith University, and 5 years teaching Social Psychology at Newcastle University. I have a Ph.D. in Consumer Psychology and an M.A. in Consumer/Industrial Research, as well as direct client-based experience (as an employee of a market research firm in the United States). I have a total 71 publications (28 journal articles, 6 book chapters, 37 conference publications), including the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, Appetite, and other journals. My work has been cited a total of 583 times (as of May 2012), according to Google Scholar.
My research interests are interdisciplinary, linking psychology with marketing and health promotion. One of my major research programmes has been the development of a dual-process model of how consumers make decisions and the motivations that drive them (i.e., how the human values that individuals endorse influence their preferences for a product (e.g., Allen, 2000; 2001; 2002; 2006; Allen & Ng, 1999; Allen et al., 2002; Torres, Allen & Perez-Nebra, 2006; Torres & Allen, 2009; Torres & Allen, 2009). In addition to examining how the model explains consumer choice in general, I have been investigating how it explains consumer food/beverage choice and barriers to diet modification (e.g., Allen, 2000; 2009; Allen & Baines, 2002; Allen & Ng, 2003; Allen et al., 2008; Allen et al., 2012; Wilson & Allen, 2007; Allen, under review; Allen, under review).
This model has had a significant impact on the field as evidenced by the large number of journal publications, including top-tier journals with high impact factors, and the fact that the model has been cited in academic works 583 times (as of April 2012) according to Google Scholar. A current count can be viewed here: A brief summary of the model can be found in my CV and at my website:
This model contends that brand image affects consumers’ assessments of the taste of a food or beverage – that, in addition to the physiological effects of an item, consumers subconsciously compare the human values symbolized by a product (e.g., Pepsi symbolising a life of excitement) to their own value priorities and this influences their sensory experience. When there is value-symbol congruency, they experience a better taste and aroma and develop a more favourable attitude toward, and intent to purchase, the product; incongruence has the opposite effect. This is known as the Value-Symbol Congruity model.
Using this model as a theoretical framework, I have been developing and testing advertisements and other interventions that can promote better eating habits. There is a growing concern that the dietary patterns of Western societies need improvement. Despite the nutritional and health benefits of a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in meat, this is not the prevailing dietary pattern (National Nutrition Survey 1995). Heavy meat eaters claim that they eat meat because it tastes better than other foods, such as meat substitutes (Lea and Worsley 2003; Santos and Booth 1996). My research challenges that claim. In one study, we had participants taste test a vegetarian roll or a sausage roll, but we lied to them about what we gave them (Allen et al., 2008). My previous research has shown that the two types of foods have different images/cultural associations (e.g., Allen et al., 2003; Allen et al., 2000; Allen & Baines, 2002), and we knew from a blind taste test that the two foods taste objectively the same. Yet, participants’ taste evaluations depended on what type of food they thought they ate, which had a positive effect if the image of that food was congruent with their self-image and values.
Thus, I have been using the Value-Symbol Congruity model to see what advertising strategy or other techniques may change the diets of heavy meat eaters. For example, another experiment showed that that heavy meat eaters who have incorporated meat into their self-concept (presumably for the need to maintain value-symbol congruity) are immune to health messages about the health risks associated with diets high in meat and low in fruits and vegetables (Allen et al., 2002). In another study, reminding participants about the human values that red meat symbolizes led participants who rejected those values to decrease their consumption of red meat and increase their intake of fruits and vegetables in a follow-up study (Allen & Baines, 2002). In future research, I will test ad strategies that might persuade heavy meat eaters to change their diet by changing the image of fruits and vegetables to encompass values that meat eaters endorse (e.g., power and strength) or challenging heavy meat eaters’ assumptions about what tastes good by using in-store (blind) taste tests (similar to the Pepsi Challenge campaign in the 1980s) or showing them results of studies such as mine.
Taking this concept a step further, I recently (Allen, under review) found that when an individual’s personal human values are congruent with the symbolism or brand image of a food or beverage, the product not only tastes better but the improved sensory experience enhances the person’s mood (and, again, incongruency has the opposite effects). This provides evidence that some people may eat themselves into a good mood. Indeed, right now I am carrying out a preliminary study to test whether value-symbol congruity leads to participants eating more food in a single sitting (and incongruency to less). Of course, overeating could lead to obesity in the long run.
Another series of experiments currently under review shows that the effect of congruity is strongest for consumers who subconsciously believe that the essence of the brand image of a product can bolster (when congruent) or contaminate (when incongruent) their self-concept upon using it (Allen, under review). The concept is slightly complex for a one-sentence summary, but it is similar to another proven phenomenon: most people will refuse to put on a sweater previously worn by a killer, for fear of some type of contamination effect.
I have also investigated the link between food security and the food choices of materialists (Allen, 2009; Allen et al., 2012; Allen & Wilson, 2005). One of those (Allen et al., 2012) showed that materialists favour high-status food groups (red meat, white meat) and reject low-status food groups (fruits, vegetables, cereals). Materialists are also more likely to have suffered food insecurity in childhood (Allen & Wilson, 2005), which seemingly results in adulthood food hording and greater body mass index.
In addition, I enjoy designing studies that can assess the effectiveness of community and local government programs (Allen, 2001; 2002), and assessing trade mark applications by industry (Allen, 2008a; 2008b; 2009).
I am also interested in cross-cultural psychology, such as investigating whether certain cultural values cause economic growth or economic growth causes changes in cultural values (Allen et al., 2007 reprinted in Sage Benchmarks in Psychology series, 2009); if national differences in economic development, human capital, and social capital explain variation in feelings of economic helplessness (Allen et al., 2005); and how my diet choice model (mentioned above) may differ across nations with different cultural values (Torres & Allen, 2009a; 2009b; Torres, Allen & Perez-Nebra, 2006).


Present Faculty Member, San Diego State University


Enter a valid date range.

Enter a valid date range.

Contact Information

Right now, I am a part-time faculty at San Diego State University.


Articles (6)

Books (1)

Contributions to Books (3)