Special Session Summary New Opportunities in Classical Conditioning Research

Susan Powell Mantel, University of Toledo
John Kim, Oakland University
[ to cite ]:
Susan Powell Mantel and John Kim (1998) ,"Special Session Summary New Opportunities in Classical Conditioning Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 342.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Page 342



Susan Powell Mantel, University of Toledo

John Kim, Oakland University

The goal of this session was to develop a better understanding and to identify new opportunities for research by expanding the current domain of classical conditioning. We accomplished this in several ways. First, our research expanded the focus of classical conditioning both in context and outcomes studied. Specifically, a focus on brand equity was substituted for the traditional advertising context and cognitive responses were studied in addition to affective responses. Second, within the traditional advertising context, we expanded the proposed mechanisms by which classical conditioning appears to work by examining inferential beliefs in addition to affect transfer. Third, we expanded the understanding of the boundary conditions associated with classical conditioning by examining personal and situational variables that potentially moderate the effect.

Classical Conditioning: New Contexts and Outcomes

The first paper in our session (Janiszewski and Osselaer) investigated the effect of classical conditioning on brand equity. This research was based on Rescorla-Wagner’s (1972) model of classical conditioning and suggests that brand equity can be influenced by strengthening the association between the brand name and the quality level of the product. This paper reported on three experiments that build on past research (Janiszewski and Warlop 1993) and broadens the scope of classical conditioning research to include outcomes other than those traditionally studied (i.e., attitudes).

Janiszewski and Osselaer’s paper was complimented by the second paper in the session (Kim, Lim, and Bhargava) which also investigated cognitive outcomes as the conditioned response (CR) measured. Both papers suggested that classical conditioning can influence more than simple affect associated with the brand; it can influence consumers’ inferences about how a brand performs. Both papers extended the current state of classical conditioning research by moving the investigation beyond affective responses and into the cognitive realm.

Classical Conditioning: The Mechanisms of the Process

Kim, Lim, and Bhargava suggested that classical conditioning influences behavior through two mechanisms. In addition to the traditionally studied mechanism of affect trasfer, these authors showed that, under some conditions, subjects used inferential beliefs to draw conclusions based on the associations inferred from the CS/US pairings. By investigating inferential beliefs as an additional mechanism by which classical conditioning can influence behavior, the domain of classical conditioning research can be expanded from the "low-level mechanical process" suggested by Rescorla (1988) to include a more associative learning framework.

Classical Conditioning: Moderators and Mediators

Two of the papers in our session investigated boundary conditions that may help to explain the mixed results reported in earlier classical conditioning studies, and identify the conditions under which classical conditioning does or does not take place. Mantel and Kellaris (third presentation) used a traditional advertising context to investigate the moderating influence of both a personal characteristic (need for cognition) and a situational variable (distraction task) on affect transfer from attitude toward the ad (Aad) to attitude toward the brand (Ab). Kim, Lim, and Bhargava investigated the moderating influence of repetition on both affect transfer and inferential beliefs. All three variables appear to moderate the outcome variables under certain conditions. By identifying potential moderators and the conditions under which they are influential, we can develop a better understanding of classical conditioning.