Consumer Learning Theory

30/05/2020 2 By indiafreenotes

According to Kotler’s Definition, learning involves changes in an individual’s behavior arising out of the experience. Most of the human behavior is learned over time, out of the experience.

Following are the features of consumer learning

  • Consumer learning is a process. A process which continually changes and acquires new knowledge.
  • This knowledge can be obtained from reading, discussing, observing, thinking, etc.
  • Newly acquired knowledge or personal experience, both serve as feedback.

Elements of Consumer Learning

Motivation is the driving force of all important things to be learnt. Motives allow individuals to increase their readiness to respond to learning. It also helps in activating the energy to do so. Thus the degree of involvement usually determines the motivation to search information about a product.

For example, showing advertisements for summer products just before summer season or for winter clothes before winters.

Motives encourage learning and cues stimulate the direction to these motives. 

Cues are not strong as motives, but their influence in which the consumer responds to these motives.

For example, in a market, the styling, packaging, the store display, prices all serve as cues to help consumers to decide on a particular product, but this can happen only if the consumer has the motive to buy. Thus, marketers need to be careful while providing cues, especially to consumers who have expectations driven by motives.

Response signifies how a consumer reacts to the motives or even cues. The response can be shown or hidden, but in either of the cases learning takes place. Often marketers may not succeed in stimulating a purchase but the learning takes place over a period of time and then they may succeed in forming a particular image of the brand or product in the consumer’s mind.

Reinforcement is very important as it increases the probability of a particular response in the future driven by motives and cues.

Consumer Behavioral Learning Theories

There are various theories which are developed to explain the learning theories. The below are the major theories related to consumer behavior.

Classical Conditioning theory refers to learning through repetition. This is referred to as a spontaneous response to particular situation achieved by repetitive exposure. It is such a kind of a behavioral theory which says, when a stimulus is connected to or paired with another stimulus, it serves to produce the same response even when used alone.

For example, if you usually listen news at 9 pm and have dinner too at 9 pm while watching the news then eventually the sound of news at 9pm may make you hungry even though you are not actually hungry or even if the dinner is not ready.

Instrumental Theory is developed by B F SKINNER, an American psychologist, he was the first to develop this model of learning. Instrumental theory suggests that human beings learn by trial and error method and then find out a particular stimulus that can yield best results. Then, this is subsequently formed as a habit

This theory is very important and applies to many common situations in the context of consumer behavior. It suggests that consumers learn by means of trial-and-error method in which some purchase behaviors result in a more favorable outcome.

Consumer memory

Memory is the process of storing and retrieving knowledge.

  • Encoding is what happens when information is interpreted and placed in memory.
  • Storage is the retaining of information in memory.
  • Retrieval is what you do when you locate a stored memory.

Memory Systems

There are three distinct memory systems:

Sensory memory

The briefest memories are formed from sensory stimuli. If the individual finds the sensory experience significant enough to warrant further investigation, it may pass into short-term memory.

Short-term memory

We process selected bits of information and store it for a limited time. We store this information by combining small pieces into larger ones in a process called chunking.

Long-term memory

This is the permanent storage of information, which can be recalled at will. This occurs when we consider the meaning of a stimulus and relate it to other information already in memory.

Marketers attempt to engage our existing memories and experiences in order to get their brand message into our long-term memory. They also make use of repetition and redundancy in advertising in order to present us with many opportunities to commit them to long-term memory.

Types of Behavioral Learning

There are three types of behavioral learning:

  1. Classical Conditioning
  2. Operant Conditioning
  3. Observational Learning

About the Three Types of Behavioral Learning

Both classical and operant conditioning are forms of associative learning; meaning associations are made between events that occur together. Observational learning is learning by observing others. Although rooted in behaviorism, the observational learning theory is considered to be a bridge between behaviorism and cognitive learning theories.

Classical Conditioning: Learning through association  

Operant Conditioning: Learning through consequences

Observational Learning: Learning through observation


Behaviorism is the school of thought that seeks to measure only observable behaviors. Hence, it only examines outward behavior when trying to understand if learning occurred.

Behaviorism stems from the work of John Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Ivan Pavlov. These Behaviorism theorists believe that knowledge exists independently and outside of people. They view the learner as a blank slate who must be provided the experience. Behaviorists believe that learning actually occurs when new behaviors or changes in behaviors are acquired through associations between stimuli and responses. Thus, association leads to a change in behavior.

There are two core theories that stem from Behaviorism;

Classical Conditioning – Ivan Pavlov

Operant Conditioning – B.F. Skinner

As indicted above, observational learning is a bridge between behaviorism and cognitive learning.

The Three Types of Behavioral Learning

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a learning process in which an association is made between two stimuli. With classical conditioning, two stimuli are linked together to produce a new learned response. One stimulus is a neutral and the other evokes a natural response. After learning the association, the neutral stimulus elicits the conditioned response.

The theory of classical conditioning was introduced by Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov conducted his classic experiment involving dogs. In his experiment, he conditioned the dogs to associate the sound of a bell with the presence of food. He paired the smell of food which was the naturally occurring stimulus with the neutral stimulus of a ringing bell. Once an association had been made between the two, the sound of the bell alone could elicit a response. The dogs responded to the sound of the bell by salivating.

In his experiment, the bell was neutral stimulus since the bell itself did not produce the dogs’ salivation. However, by pairing the bell with the stimulus of the smell of the food, which did produce the salivation response, eventually, the bell by itself was able to trigger the salivation response. Thus, the “conditioning” was achieved when the sound of the bell on its own was able to make the dogs salivate in anticipation for the food.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a learning process in which responses are controlled by consequences. The likelihood of a certain response occurring is either increased or decreased due to either a reinforcement or a punishment consequence. A reinforcement helps to increase a behavior, while a punishment helps to decrease a behavior.

The term operant conditioning was coined by a behaviorist B.F. Skinner. Skinner conducted experiments with rats using a device called the Skinner box. The box was a cage set up so the rats could automatically get a food reward if they stepped on a lever. The lever caused food to be released. From these experiments, Skinner observed how reinforcement could lead to increases in behaviors where punishment would result in decreases in behaviors.


Reinforcement is a consequence that increases the likelihood a response will occur. If you are using reinforcement, you are trying to increase a behavior.

There are two types of reinforcement.

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Negative reinforcement

Positive means adding a stimulus, while negative means removing a stimulus. Thus, positive reinforcement is the addition of a good stimulus after a response in order to encourage the response to continue. An example of this would be giving someone praise after a desired behavior is displayed.

In contrast, negative reinforcement is the removal of an undesirable stimulus after a response so that the response will occur more often. An example of this would be fastening your seatbelt in a car so the beeping sound will stop. Since the undesirable stimulus is removed when you fasten your seatbelt, you are encourage to fasten your seatbelt.

Negative reinforcement is often confused with punishment because of its name. However, negative reinforcement involves removing a negative consequence to increase a behavior, while punishment seeks to decrease a behavior.


Punishment is a consequence that decreases the likelihood a response will occur. If you are using punishment, you are trying to decrease a behavior.

There are two types of punishment:

  • Positive punishment
  • Negative punishment

Positive punishment is the addition of an undesirable stimulus after a response so that the response will occur less or stop. An example would be to give someone extra work for misbehaving.

Negative punishment is the removal of a pleasing stimulus after a response so that the response will occur less or stop. An example would be taking away television or video games from a child for misbehaving so he or she will stop misbehaving.

Observational Learning

Observational learning or modeling is a process in which learning occurs through observing the behaviors of others and then imitating those behaviors. Observational learning allows for learning without any direct change to behavior. This is why it is not considered strict behaviorism. It is more of a link between behaviorism and cognitive learning.

Observational learning is associated with the work of Albert Bandura and his social learning theory. The social learning theory suggests that learning occurs through observation and interaction with other people.

Bandura first demonstrated observational learning in his famous “Bobo-doll” experiment. In this experiment, children imitated the actions of adults.   After seeing adults hit a doll, children would assault the Bobo-doll. The experiment showed that children learned the aggressive behavior by observing it.