How Consumers Process Information

Learning is a relatively permanent change in thought process or behavior that occurs as a result of reinforced experience. Like perception, learning works off the mental files and at the same time contributes to them. Learning produces our habits and skills. It also contributes to the development of interests, attitudes, beliefs, preferences, prejudices, emotions, and standards of conduct all of which affect our perceptual screens and our eventual purchase decisions.


Theories of Learning


There are numerous theories of learning, but advertisers classify most into two broad categories: cognitive theory and conditioning theory—depending on the level of consumer involvement (high or low) required to make a purchase. Cognitive theory views learning as a mental process of memory, thinking, and the rational application of knowledge to practical problems. This theory may be an accurate description of how we learn from the experience of others, such as our parents, and how we evaluate a complex purchase such as insurance, stocks and bonds, or business products.


Conditioning theory is also called stimulus-response theory as treats learning as a trial-and-error process. Some stimulus (perhaps an ad) triggers the consumer’s need or want, and this in turn creates the drive to respond. If the consumer’s response reduces the drive, then satisfaction occurs, and the response is rewarded or reinforced. And that produces repeat behavior the next time the drive is aroused, demonstrating that learning has taken place. Figure 1 and 2 shows simple diagrams of these two theories.