Classical Conditioning In Consumer Behavior

Ivan Pavlov's Experiment

Tina S
Tina S
Nov 24, 2009
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Two behavioral theories with great relevance to marketing are classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning.

In every day speech, the word conditioning has come to mean a kind of “knee-jerk” (or automatic) response to a situation built up through repeated exposure.
Classical conditioning is a reflexive or automatic type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus.

According to Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist conditioned learning results when a stimulus that is paired with another stimulus that elicits a known response serves to produce the same response when used alone.

Pavlov referred to this as a conditioned stimulus (CS). Conversely, presentation of the significant stimulus necessarily evokes an innate, often reflexive, response. Pavlov called these the unconditioned stimulus (US) and unconditioned response (UR), respectively. If the CS and the US are repeatedly paired, eventually the two stimuli become associated and the organism begins to produce a behavioral response to the CS. Pavlov called this the conditioned response (CR).

Pavlov’s Experiment:

Pavlov did famous experiments with dogs, ringing a bell and then feeding them. After a while, he could ring the bell and their mouths would salivate.
He demonstrated what he meant by conditioned learning in this studies with dogs. In his experiments, Pavlov sounded a bell and then immediately applied a meat paste to the dogs’ tongue, which caused then to salivate.

Learning (conditioning) occurred when after a sufficient number of repetitions of the bell sound followed almost immediately by food, the bell sound alone caused the dogs to salivate.

The dog associated the bell sound ( the conditioned stimulus) with the meat paste (the unconditioned stimulus) and after a number of pairings, gave the same conditioned response (salivation) to the bell alone as they did to the meat paste. The unconditioned responses to the meat paste become the conditioned response to the bell.


Analogous situation:

An Analogous situation would be one in which the smells of dinner cooking would cause our mouth to water. If we usually listen to the 6 O’clock news while would tend to associate the 6 O’clock news with dinner, so that eventually the sounds of the 6 O’clock news alone might cause our mouth to water, even if dinner was not being prepared and even if we were not hungry.

A consumer behavior context:

In a consumer behavior context, an unconditioned stimulus might consist as a known brand symbol (such as the Neutrogena name) that implies dermatologists endorsement and pure (chemically free) products. Conditioned stimuli might consist of new products bearing the well-known symbol and the products because of the belief that they embody the same attributes with which the Neutrogena name is associated.
Example: Square is the unconditioned stimulus associated with a pharmaceutical brand name, Square brand medicine is the consumer’s conditioned response.


A drive is a strong stimulus that encourages action y the individual can reduce his need. Drivers are internal. They are the reasons behind certain behavior patterns. In marketing, a product purchase is the result of a drive to satisfy some need.


Cues are basically stimuli exist in the individuals’ environment. They are weaker stimuli that direct the individuals’ responses to the drive by determining how, when and where it will occur. They are capable of providing the manner in which consumers respond to motive. Cues could be the products themselves, their advertisements, signs, colors, price, product design, store displays or promotional offers. Cues suggest specific ways to satisfy motives.
Some marketers try to identify cues that have positive associations from some other situation and related them to their marketing mix.

Keywords: Classical Conditioning In Consumer Behavior,Ivan Pavlov,Analogous situation,Pavlov’s Experiment,conditioning stimulus,unconditioning stimulus,salivate,dogs experiment.

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