Classical Conditioning

Topics: Classical conditioning, Behaviorism, Operant conditioning Pages: 10 (3226 words) Published: January 18, 2011
“Evaluate the role of Classical Conditioning
In modern consumer behaviour”
Learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour which comes from experience. “Learning occurs when new behaviours or changes in behaviours are acquired as the result of an individual’s response to stimuli.” ( There are three types of behavioural learning theories. These include contiguity, classical or respondent conditioning and operant conditioning. “In classical conditioning, a secondary stimulus is paired with a primary stimulus that already elicits a particular purpose. As a result of this pairing, an association is formed. Eventually, the secondary stimulus will elicit the same reaction as the primary stimulus” (Assael, H. 1987; 63) So, classical conditioning is simply learning by association. The term “classical” suggests that classical conditioning was the first type of learning to be discovered and studied by theorists. Many theorists used animals and rats to experiment with learning behaviours. However, there is much evidence to suggest that classical conditioning can also be used by marketers on consumers. As a result of this type of conditioning consumers can recall a certain product when alerted by a certain stimulus. Consequently, marketers can associate their products/services with positive role models, songs/jingles, colours etc. and in general create a positive image of their product in the consumer’s mind.

The three basic concepts which originate from classical conditioning are extinction, stimulus generalisation and stimulus discrimination. These three concepts are important to the strategic application of consumer behaviour (Schiffman, G, L. and Kanuk, L, L. 2004: 212) For the purpose of this essay classical conditioning will be discussed and its effects in modern consumer behaviour will be evaluated.

Firstly, to understand the theory of classical conditioning in modern consumer behaviour lets look at Pavlov’s experiment. Pavlov rang a bell everytime he fed a dog meatpaste. The dog eventually linked the bell to the meatpaste and after a while without seeing the meatpaste the dog salivated everytime he heard the bell.





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Therefore the meatpaste is the UCS[i] and the dog on seeing the meatpaste salivates. This is the UCR[ii]. Over time the neutral stimulus (i.e. the bell) will become the CS[iii] as the dog now sees the association between the bell and the meatpaste and the dogs CR[iv] will be to salivate once he hears the bell just as he did when he saw the meatpaste. In order to condition the dog the CS needs to occur before the US so that it predicts the US.

As already mentioned Classical Conditioning in marketing consists of three main issues-Extinction, Stimulus Generalisation and Stimulus Discrimination. Extinction occurs if the CS is only occasionally presented with the US and thus conditioning will take longer or not happen at all. This issue can be seen in the association between Gillette and David Beckham. If David Beckham was not used in the commercials for a period of time consumers would forget the association between them but once he is reintroduced to the commercials the link will be re-established. Stimulus Generalisation arises if stimuli to CS result in the same CR. This clarifies why “me too” products work so well in the marketplace. Marketers attempt to confuse consumers by making the packaging of their products so similar and placing them alongside that of their competitors e.g. Kellogs Cornflakes versus Dunnes Stores Cornflakes (Schiffman, G, L. and Kanuk L, L. 2004: 214) Stimulus Discrimination exists if one has the ability to select a specific stimulus from among similar stimuli because of perceived differences (Schiffman, G, L. and Kanuk L, L. 2004: 219). An example of a discriminative stimulus is a point of purchase display of chocolate bars....
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