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Consumer Behaviour Learning And Memory Notes

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Learning refers to a relatively permanent change in behaviour which comes with experience. This experience does not have to affect the learner directly; we can learn vicariously by observing events that affect others. We also learn even when we are not trying to do so.

For example, consumer can recognise many brand names and jingles even for products that they do not use themselves. This casual, unintentional acquisition of knowledge is known as incidental learning.

Learning is an on-going process. Our knowledge about the world is constantly being revised as we are exposed to new stimuli and receive feedback that allows us to modify behaviour in other, similar situations. The concept of learning covers a lot of ground ranging from a consumers simple association between a stimulus, such as a product logo and a response to a complex series of cognitive activities.

Behavioural Learning Theories

Behavioural learning theories assume that learning takes place as a result of responses to external events. Psychologists who subscribe to this viewpoint do not focus on internal though processes. Instead, they approach the mind as a black box and emphasise the observable aspects of behaviour. The observable aspects consist of things that go into the box (the stimuli) and things that come out of the box (the responses).

This vies is represented by two major approaches to learning; classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning. People's experiences are shaped by the feedback they receive as they go through life. Similarly, consumers respond to brand names, scents, jingles and other marketing stimuli based on the learning connections that they have formed over time.

Classical conditioning o

Classical conditioning occurs when a stimulus that elicits a response is paired with another stimulus that initially does not elicit a response on its own. Over time this second stimulus causes a similar response because it is associated with the first stimulus (Pavlov's dogs).


Conditioning will not occur, or will take longer if the conditioned stimulus is only occasionally presented with the unconditioned stimulus. One result of this lack of association may be extinction which occurs when the effects of prior conditioning are reduced and finally disappear.



Stimulus generalisation refers to the tendency of stimuli similar to a conditioned stimulus to evoke similar, conditioned responses. Stimulus discrimination occurs when a stimulus similar to a conditioned stimulus is not followed by an unconditioned stimulus. In these situations reactions are weakened and will soon disappear. Part of the learning process involves making a response to some stimuli but not to other, similar stimuli.

Operant conditioning o

Operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning, occurs as the individual learns to perform behaviours that produce positive outcomes and to avoid those that yield negative outcomes. This learning process is most closely associated with psychologist Skinner.


While responses in classical conditioning are involuntary and fairly simple, those in instrumental conditioning are made deliberately to obtain a goal and may be more complex. The desired behaviour may be learned over a period of time as intermediate actions are rewarded in a process called shaping.


Also, classical conditioning involves the close pairing of two stimuli. Instrumental learning occurs as a result of a reward received following the desired behaviour and takes place over a period in which a variety of other behaviours are attempted and abandoned because they are not reinforced.


Operant conditioning occurs in one of three ways. When the environment provides positive reinforcement in the form of a reward, the response is strengthened and appropriate behaviour is learned. Negative reinforcement also strengthens responses so that appropriate behaviour is learned. In contrast to situations where we learn to do certain things in order to avoid unpleasantness, punishment occurs when a response is followed by unpleasant events. We learn not to repeat these behaviours.


Reactions from a person's environment to behaviour can either be positive or negative and these outcomes or anticipated outcomes can be applied or removed. That is, under conditions of both positive reinforcement and punishment, the person receives a reaction after doing something. In contrast negative reinforcement occurs when a negative outcome is avoided; the removal of something negative is pleasurable and hence is rewarding. Finally, when a positive outcome is no longer received, extinction is likely to occur and the learned stimulus response connection will not be maintained. Thus positive and negative reinforcement strengthen the future linkage between a response and an outcome because of the pleasant experience. This tie is weakened under conditions of both punishment and extinction because of the unpleasant experience.


An important factor in operant conditioning is the set of rules by which appropriate reinforcements are given for behaviour. The issue of what is the most effective reinforcement schedule to use is important to marketers,

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