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Classical And Instrumental Conditioning Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2249 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The main focus of my research paper will be on classical and instrumental conditioning and how it is used in the marketing world today. Before I go into that I will give you a definition of these terms so you could better understand. I will also touch upon the brief history of both classical and instrumental conditioning because it is important to know who the creators of these ideas were and how it all got started. Then I will get into how marketers use classical and instrumental conditioning in their commercials and advertisements and how it is all around us and how we see it in our everyday lives. I will go into and talk about some of the companies that use these methods and talk about the examples I have seen in my everyday life. Then I will conclude my paper.

Key terms: unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus, conditioned response, neutral stimulus, behavior, consequence, marketing

What is classical and instrumental conditioning? Classical conditioning is defined as a process of behavior modification in which a subject learns to respond in a desired manner such that a neutral stimulus (the conditioned stimulus) is repeatedly presented in association with a stimulus (the unconditioned stimulus) that elicits a natural response (the unconditioned response) until the neutral stimulus alone elicits the same response (now called the conditioned response) (http://science.yourdictionary.com/classical-conditioning). Instrumental conditioning is defined as operant conditioning that pairs a response with reinforcement in discrete trials; reinforcement occurs only after the response is given (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn).

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Classical conditioning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov. Ivan Pavlov discovered this by running an experiment on dogs. He hooked up the dogs to a machine that measured how much the dog salivated. The way Pavlov conducted the experiment was that he will ring a bell (which is the conditioned stimulus) everyday right before he gave the dog meat powder (which is the unconditioned stimulus) and this became a routine so eventually the dog was conditioned and would start to salivate (in this case is both the conditioned and unconditioned response) when he heard the bell before even seeing the food. So this shows that the dog learned to salivate to the sound of the bell. This little experiment was the start of it all. After this the movement and advancement in behaviorism psychology really took full force.

Now that we have a better understanding of what classical and instrumental conditioning is let’s talk about the history of them and where these ideas come from. Edward L. Thorndike is the one responsible for starting research on instrumental conditioning similar to Pavlov he rand experiment on a pet but he used a cat. His experiment consisted of putting the cat in the puzzle box that he had created and he would observe how the cat will react. What he noticed was that if he put in a reward for the cat that it would fortify the relationship between a stimulus and appropriate reaction.

You might be asking yourself how all this applies to consumer behavior and marketing. Classical and operant conditioning is no longer just a topic that we learn in psychology but it is now a strategy used in marketing today’s product. Just like the dog in Pavlov experiment, humans learn the same way. In marketing the unconditioned stimulus is something that will cause a predictable and positive response in a consumer for example the use of a puppy in an advertisement will cause the unconditioned response of a tender feeling inside. By pairing the unconditioned response (puppy) with a neutral stimulus (a product) through repetition (commercial) of the pairing the consumer “learns” to react to the neutral stimulus without the unconditioned stimulus being present. So now every time the consumer sees the product that was paired with the puppy they react to the product (neutral stimuli) the same way they did towards the puppy (unconditioned stimuli) even though they are no longer seeing the puppy. Once this happens the neutral stimulus becomes the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned response is called the conditioned response.

“Perhaps the most famous case of classical conditioning is the repositioning of Marlboro cigarettes. In the 1960s, it used to be a woman’s cigarette, complete with a filter and pink tip (so the lipstick wouldn’t smudge it)! Then the company decided to change its image. It created a fictional cowboy, in a fictional countryside, out in the Wild, Wild West. Of course, it also removed the pink-tip filter. Today, if consumers were asked what type of cigarette Marlboro is, they would invariably say it is a masculine cigarette: and one for the independent, rugged, adventuresome, macho guy (and for women who see themselves that way). This is the power of classical conditioning!” (www.mycbtextbook.com)

As you can see classical conditioned is used in advertisement a lot. Sometimes it could be very obvious and sometimes it could be more subtle. Companies try to pair their product with good feelings all the time such as hunger, happy, calm, sex appeal, humor, pleasure, and the list goes on. An obvious example that I see when I watch TV is the pairing of beer with sex appeal. Usually un beer commercials you see a man holding a beer where the brand is big and obvious and in your face and then you see him talking or getting the hot girl from the bar so every time you see this brand beer you will think that you can get that hot girl in the bar that will be the first thing to pop into your head and it’s a conditioned response you won’t be able to help it just like the dog in Pavlov experiment who salivated to the sound of the bell. A less obvious example is an insurance commercial I see it most in the state farm insurance commercial where they have the soothing music and the picket fence scenery in the background and the man that it talking is just so polite and well put together and talks to calm and relaxed. With all this they evoke a feeling of relaxation, trust, and safe. So you won’t even have to see the commercial to get this feeling every time they mention state farm insurance. Classical conditioning is brilliant to use in marketing because once consumers become conditioned the consumer won’t be able to help their response to a product because this idea is based upon the unconscious mind and we can’t really control that it is just something that our minds and bodies do on their own. We for the most part can’t control our thoughts, and feelings. The only way that you can change that consumers warm, fuzzy feeling they get about that neutral stimuli (product) is if they hear or see something about that product or service that completely changes their mind and feelings towards that product, classical conditioning can also be used to evoke bad and horrible feelings not only good ones.

Classical conditioning is not only used in commercials and advertisements but also in actual stores, malls, restaurants. This is a way to advertise as well. The background music you hear when you walk into a store or any place that is selling a product or service is a way of conditioning. Again we see marketers using these techniques to stimulate our feelings because they know that once feelings are involved consumers become attached.  Gerald Gorn conducted and experiment that proves this.  

“The experiment involved pairing one pen color with pleasant music, and pairing another pen color with unpleasant music. Several pen colors were tested and ranked on a scale of one to seven. Then two pen colors with similar positions were used in the experiment. The music was picked using a ranking scale as well, except instead of picking two pieces with similar positions, the two selections were on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The subjects then were exposed to slides of the one color pen paired with pleasant music, and the other with unpleasant. When given a choice the more subjects chose the pen color associated with the pleasant music. This study has a major impact because it showed that consumer behavior can be influenced rather easily.” (http://teachers.sduhsd.k12.ca.us)

I have found some commercials on YouTube that illustrate marketers using classical conditioning. All these commercials were shown during the 2010 super bowl and usually that’s when commercials get the most exposure this shows how important and how much classical conditioning is used in marketing today’s products.

This is coca colas 2012 commercial in his commercial we see them associating their product with the feeling of joy, happiness, and refreshment along with the upbeat and happy music that adds to it.


This is the Budweiser commercial that was played during the super bowl in 2012. This commercial is more straightforward compared to the last one in the use of the unconditioned stimulus. The feelings associated with this brand are freedom of choice and celebration.


This is a commercial for GoDaddy also shown during the super bowl in 2012. GoDaddy is known for using sexual themes in their advertisements. Even though their product and beautiful women don’t really make a connection but they make it work. Even though it is obvious that they are using sex appeal, and beautiful women to advertise their business consumers still use their service they must be doing something right.


This commercial is for the 2013 Cadillac ATS. In this commercial they try to evoke the feeling that your current car is not good enough and you are not getting the best driving experience. They use the car in the commercial and illustrate its power and performance. They do this by showing clips of world-class drivers in an actual racetrack showing that this car is the best and you need this car in your life.

This is the Victoria’s Secret commercial for the super bowl 2012. This is one of my favorite commercials, because it is so simple but yet the use of the music and of the beautiful model gets your attention. Here again they use sex appeal, and the soft romantic music to evoke feeling.

Instrumental conditioning also known as operant conditioning is not as complex as classical conditioning. This is more of a straightforward method where a consumer’s behavior is either increased or decreased by a reward or punishment. An example in marketing would be if a consumer goes into a store and get a discount that they were not expecting the discount is the reward and the consumer is now more likely to repeat the behavior the behavior being going to the same store. Another example of a punishment is if a consumer goes into a store and gets an item based on the price listed and the goes to purchase the item and its more than what was listed and now the consumer has to pay more now the consumer is disappointed and is not likely to return to that store because her behavior was “punished” by her having to pay more for the item.

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Marketers use this concept all the time, by rewarding the consumer for using their brand “Buy this item and get 20% of your next purchase.” “Come to our grand opening and win a prize.” “Use my credit card and earn bonus points.” And so on we have all heard these before and truly are what can set a part a product/service from its competitors so I would say it’s very effective. There are two types of rewards intrinsic and extrinsic. An intrinsic reward is the reward built into the product itself-consumers learn to buy and use a product because they find the product itself rewarding (http://www.mycbtextbook.com). An example from my own life is my cell phone. I bought and learned how to use my cell phone because it helps me stay connected with the people in my life, keeps me updated and organized. Another example is my blow dryer I bought it and learned how to use it because it makes my hair look just how I want. An extrinsic reward is external to the product; e.g., coupons, sweepstakes, rebates, and loyalty programs.

In conclusion, marketers use both these methods as a way to advertise and promote their products, and services. Some might say it is just another trick and scheme for marketers to get us to buy their products and gain advantage over competitors. I would say well is that not the point of every marketer. As a marketer you constantly have to be finding out new ways and new ideas on how to make your product or service stand out from the competition. The idea of taking a psychology topic and turning it into a marketing strategy to me is brilliant!


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