Behavioral Learning Theory


Studies about sales promotions are considered as one type of consumer behavioral research which emphasizes on the detection of the regular users of promotions[1].                            

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The perceived risk theory, the economic theory, attribution theory, and psychographics           are utilized in theory-based studies to identify the underlying cognitive interpretation behind the usage frequency of sales promotions. The behavioral learning hypothesis is used to clarify buying behavior, the association between various sorts of sales promotions and brand loyalty.


Behaviorism is a scientific term applied in multiple areas – psychology, biology, and philosophy. The behaviorists interpret learning is a relatively everlasting modification in behavior achieved through experience or practice; therefore, learning is the aftereffect of the applications of the results[2].                                                                                    

Behaviorism provides an understandable interpretation of learning process, and hence, a systematic approach to comprehend behavior. Behaviorism claims that human beings follow the principle of “stimulus-response” which means humans, like other animals, are biological organisms, naturally able of adapting to the changing environment in which they live[3].


Stimuli, responses, and reinforcements are three primary factors in behaviorism. The stimulus is a thing/event that triggers the response. The reinforcement is the bridge between the stimuli and the conditional response; therefore, when reinforcement is removed, the connection between the stimuli and the conditioned response will be broken and disappear[4].           


Contiguity Theory

This theory derived from the research of Guthrie proposing that if the association between stimulus and response is established in time and/or space will likely to be correlated[5].


This theory proposes that:


?           Conditioning is established only when the subject actively reacts.


?           Because learning needs the conditioning of particular developments, guideline must present tasks in details.


?           Being exposed to numerous degree of fluctuations in stimulation is desirable so as to create generalized response.


?           The last response will be associated with the stimulus in the learning process; therefore, it should be proper.


Guthrie argued that, in contiguity hypothesis, reinforcements such as rewards or penalties have little influence on learning as they happen after the connection between stimulus and response is established. As sales promotions are considered as a means to reward their customers, contiguity theory will not be further deliberated[6].

Classical Conditioning


Classical conditioning is also known as Pavlovian conditioning which was discovered accidentally during the 1890s by a Russian physiologist – Ivan Pavlov. He examined the salivation of his dog when it was being fed, and he realized that his dog would begin to salivate whenever he walked into the room, even when he was not bringing them food. Ivan Pavlov was the first type of learning of behaviorist tradition, and his theory had a profound impact on the understanding of human behavior[7].


Classical conditioning is the learning process in which a natural stimulus that brought a specific reflexive response is associated with a new conditioned stimulus with a purpose that the new stimulus also triggers the same reflex[8].                             

The model of the theory generally consists of stimulus and response. The unconditioned stimulus originally triggers a natural reflex called unconditioned response. The neutral stimulus is a new one that does not elicit a response. The new stimulus is constantly paired with the unconditioned stimulus until a strong association is established, and the new stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that ultimately brings about a conditioned response.                                          

Operant Conditioning


Operant conditioning studies how consequences influence behavior. Three-term contingency is one of the essential ideas in operant theory, that determines which responses are reinforced (rewarded or punished) in the context of what situations or discriminative stimuli. According to Engel et al, operant conditioning is a type of learning in which the results of a response impact the probability that behavior will be performed again[9]. Edward Thorndike, John Watson, and B. F. Skinner are the leading theorist in developing operant conditioning theory[10].


Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are distinguished from each other by the difference in the order. While Pavlov followed the stimulus-response principle, Skinner followed the response-stimulus rule. It is proposed that, in the language of operant conditioning, behavior depends on its consequences[11].  In order words, the behaviors are learned if they are followed by the reinforcement, as the reason for the initial happening does not matter which means that behaviors are influenced and controlled by their consequences[12].                                 

Operant conditioning claimed that if a behavior is reinforced, it is more likely to happen in the future than the non-reinforced one. The reinforcement happens after the behavior and be able to alter the probability of recurrences. Contiguity, probability (frequency), and reinforcement are three determinants that affect conditioning. Contiguity refers to the simultaneousness which means the object is exposed to the stimulus and simply respond. Frequency is about how often that stimuli and reflex take place. Reinforcement is a means to strengthen the conditioning.


This assumption leads to the belief among behaviorists that behaviors are controlled by external factors in the environment, not by internal forces. In the marketing context, sales promotions are used as external factors to encourage purchase, or to add extra value to products and services. However, consumers may exploit of the promotion and walk away, or they may think that promotion is a kind of reward that they deserve when they choose a brand. Promotions are used to increase purchase frequency, and the ideal is to build up the relationship with the customers that they continue to purchase the brand in the post-promotion period[13].     


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