The behavior Modification Perspective

The emphasis in a behavior modification perspective (BMP) of learning is on a set of intervention techniques designed to influence the behavior of individuals. That is, focus is placed on how environmental events (stimuli, reinforcements, and the like) can be modified to bring about changes in the way people act. In fact, a segment of BMP advocates, containing those who are referred to as behaviorists completely discards the role of internal psychological processes (such as needs, attitudes) and the concept of learning when studying behavioral changes in people. Behaviorists argue that it is sufficient to just consider changes in behavior and the environmental events that appear capable of influencing such behavior rather than also attempting to explain what internal forces within the individual relate these two events together. A less radical view, which is adopted here, proposes retaining explanations of internal processes and blending them with consideration of environmental influences. Therefore, we will view the BMP as having a distinct focus but sharing certain principles such as conditioning and reinforcement with theories of learning that also incorporate internal psychological processes to explain behavior.

Several areas of environmental influence can be considered as within the BMP domain: classical (respondent) conditioning, instrumental (operant) conditioning, modeling, and ecological design. Both classical and instrumental conditioning has already been discussed. The examples given for classical conditioning were sufficient to demonstrate how environmental variables could be used to influence consumers’ behavior. Although examples were also provided for instrumental conditioning it is useful to discuss three additional topics in this area (reinforcement schedules, shaping and discrimination) to show how they can be used to influence behavior change.

Reinforcement Schedules

It is not necessary to reinforce every correct response in order for learning to occur. Different reinforcement schedules however, lead to different patterns of learning. Continuous reinforcement schedules which reward every correct response yield rapid changes in behavior. Conversely, partial reinforcement schedules yield a slower arte, but also result in learning that is more permanent in nature. This may at least partially explain why consumers’ negative attitudes toward brands are usually very difficult to reverse. That is, negative attitudes can be acquired through partial reinforcement because a few unsatisfactory experiences with a brand can occur over a period of time. This can result in consumers being highly resistant to positive information about the brand, especially if the marketer is the source of such information.

In a different vein, partial reinforcement schedules can also represent economical alternatives for marketers. Because many marketing forms of reinforcement (like advertisements, sales) can cost considerable sums of money, finding every learning experience represents an attractive opportunity.


The term shaping refers to influencing a large change in behavior over time by reinforcement successively closer approximations to that behavior. The thinking behind the idea of shaping is described by an ancient proverb: A journey of a thousand miles is started with but a single step. That is, although it might be very difficult to achieve a rather large or complex change in consumer behavior in one step a series of smaller changes leading to the same end point may be much less difficult.

An example of shaping would be to offer consumers special prizes t visit a retail store over several weeks and , while they are there encouraging them to purchase items by using discounts, special sales or rebates. The behavior of traveling to the store is rewarded and purchasing at the store is also reinforced. In this way, it is expected that consumers will adopt the behavior of regularly shopping to the store after the special reinforcements are withdrawn. Many similar examples of shaping exist in the selling and consumers behavior area.


Learning to discriminate between various objects or events is important for consumers because it helps them adapt tot heir environment. Discrimination is learned over time when the same responses to two similar but noticeably different stimuli leads to different consequences (reinforcement). Stimuli which the consumers can use to distinguish between various items in their environment are often termed discriminate stimuli.

Consumers make frequent use of discrimination learning. New or different brands as well as different models within the same producer’s line must be distinguished even though they might differ by only a few features. Products that provide rewarding service must also be distinguished from those that are relatively inferior Of course a great deal of marketing effort encourages such discrimination learning. Here, the goal is to reinforce consumers’ attention to the uniqueness of a brand. In fact brand names logos, and trademark are quite useful discriminative stimuli but unique colors, shapes and packages also have utility. In another quite different and interesting case, patrons of a small retail shop wee personally telephoned and thanked for shopping at the store. Reaction tot his distinctive reinforcement was very favorable – sales increased 27 percent during the test period. This attests to the impact of reinforcement in consumers’ discrimination learning.

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