Distinguish between the instrumental learning and the classical learning approaches. Which of the two is more complete and why? Under what marketing situations would you seek to apply each and why

Instrumental learning (also known as operant conditioning) and classical learning (or classical conditioning) are distinct psychological theories explaining how behaviors are acquired and modified through different mechanisms.

Instrumental Learning (Operant Conditioning):

  • Definition: Instrumental learning involves learning through consequences. It focuses on how behaviors are modified by their consequences. Behaviors that are rewarded tend to be repeated, while behaviors that lead to negative outcomes are less likely to recur.
  • Example: A company offering loyalty points for every purchase made encourages customers to repeat their buying behavior to accumulate more points.

Classical Learning (Classical Conditioning):

  • Definition: Classical conditioning is based on association. It pairs a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus to evoke a response. Over time, the neutral stimulus alone elicits the same response as the unconditioned stimulus.
  • Example: A soda company consistently associates its brand with feelings of joy and celebration in its advertisements, aiming to link these positive emotions with their product.


Both approaches offer valuable insights into how behaviors are acquired and modified, but neither is more complete than the other. They address different aspects of learning: instrumental learning focuses on consequences shaping behaviors, while classical conditioning emphasizes the association between stimuli and responses.

Application in Marketing:

  • Instrumental Learning: Marketers can apply instrumental learning by offering rewards, discounts, or incentives for specific behaviors (like purchases, referrals, or engagement). For example, loyalty programs, discounts for repeat purchases, or referral rewards capitalize on the principle of rewarding desired behavior.
  • Classical Learning: Classical conditioning can be utilized in marketing by associating a brand with certain emotions, values, or experiences. Advertisements often create emotional connections between products and positive feelings or experiences, aiming to evoke these associations whenever consumers encounter the brand.

The choice between these approaches depends on the marketing objective and the desired consumer response. Instrumental learning is more focused on shaping specific behaviors, while classical conditioning aims to create emotional or associative links between a brand and desired responses. Marketers often use a combination of both strategies to influence consumer behavior effectively.

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