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Classical Conditioning and the Consumer Culture


What kinds of influences affect the way people behave and act? There are several internal and external factors that can alter an individual’s behavior. People’s actions ultimately reflect their surroundings, their physical and mental wellbeing, and can be swayed by the opinions of others, as well as many more specific socio-economic factors. The role of human reflexes and the subconscious can oftentimes be forgotten or downplayed in this discussion. A person’s disposition largely affects their judgment and values. In the growing global economy, more and more companies compete with each other in securing new customers and sales. When the competition is quickly becoming equal in terms of product quality and accessibility, advertisers and marketing experts start finding other approaches towards promoting their businesses. Manipulation, psychological tactics, and tactics that help to make the customer more familiar with the brand are all effectively utilized to give companies an advantage over others. This paper will attempt to explore the effectiveness of classical conditioning in marketing. The essay will touch on the use of classical conditioning in advertising and its effect on consumer behavior. Companies in the capitalist environment often attempt to use conditioning by creating positive associations with their brands in an attempt to boost sales. Classical conditioning is questionably effective in creating a correlation between products and positive experiences to facilitate the purchase of commodities.

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What is Classical Conditioning?

Classical Conditioning often called Pavlovian conditioning is a procedure aimed at altering one’s response to specific stimuli. First performed by Ivan Pavlov in 1897, the process has been the subject of both controversy and further research over the years. Pavlov has proved the possibility of forming instinctive associations between a potent stimulus and a neutral stimulus. By forming a mental connection between the two, a potent reaction to a neutral stimulus may be achieved (McLeod, 2018). Classical conditioning facilitates learning through making associations and can be used to affect the behaviors of animals as well as humans. Normally, a stimulus is produced by the environment and occurs naturally in response to a certain kind of behavior, however, the classical conditioning process creates a new response pattern for the person, replacing the established reaction (McLeod, 2018). This process can be used in a variety of situations, including behavioral therapy, conditioned response to drugs, or experiencing emotions (McLeod, 2018). The procedure may produce both negative and positive outcomes, based on the level of control and the intent behind the conditioning.

How Classical Conditioning is Used by Advertisers

In advertising, Classical conditioning has been used to create associations between specific brands and consumer behavior. Research has shown that the use of music in classical conditioning can affect the choice behavior of customers (Stuart et al., 1987). These findings imply that advertisements can use music or other visual, auditory, or palpable stimuli to facilitate positive responses from the customers (Stuart et al., 1987). The use of stimulus can build familiarity between the customers and the company, leading to improved sales and overall quality of interaction between an individual and a brand. Experiments have shown the effectiveness of classical conditioning at creating brand-specific attitudes and behaviors. It is crucial to note, however, that most of the results were achieved in lab conditions. The authors are unsure whether the results can be effectively replicated in a true scenario (Stuart et al., 1987). The main difficulty in using the method comes from the fact that the marketer needs to strictly adhere to the principles of classical conditioning. A failure to follow the steps of the process does not manage to create the desired effect. Furthermore, some sources argue that the results of published studies are dubious and cannot be indicative of the effect classical conditioning has on the consumer (Pornpitakpan, 2012). A critical review of the classical conditioning in regards to consumer behavior argues that the approach is not effective. The author states that most of the effects attributed to classical conditioning can be explained by other factors such as the exposure effect and the pseudo-conditioned responses (Pornpitakpan, 2012). Overall, the impact of classical conditioning on customers is under contention, as the amount of research on the topic leads much to be desired.


In conclusion, classical conditioning is one of the approaches used to alter the human response to a stimulus. Conditioning is used to facilitate a required reaction to a particular event by repeated exposure. It can be noted that classical conditioning can be used to encourage certain types of consumer responses. The introduction of music or other kinds of stimuli can alter an individual choice behavior and lead to more favorable outcomes for the company. Research has shown that the method is effective in laboratory conditions and is replicable in a controlled environment. In the real-life context, however, the research does not seem to support the same conclusions. The implementation of the classical conditioning method is too complicated for full integration into practice. Many of the effects that were attributed to the use of Classical conditioning can be explained by other phenomena.


McLeod, S. A. (2018). Classical conditioning. Simply Psychology. Web.

Stuart, E. W., Shimp, T. A., & Engle, R. W. (1987). Classical Conditioning of Consumer Attitudes: Four Experiments in an Advertising Context. Journal of Consumer Research, 14(3), 334. Web.

Pornpitakpan, C. (2012). A critical review of classical conditioning effects on consumer behavior. Australasian Marketing Journal (AMJ), 20(4), 282–296. Web.

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