Currie Journal of Knowledge
Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning
How to cite: McLaughlin, C (2020). Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning. Cascade Journal of Knowledge, volume 1 (1), 5:14.
Abstract: This module introduces the fundamental concept of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning and discusses its uses in the area of consumer behaviour and marketing. Specifically, the module discusses the experiment that began our understanding of classical conditioning before moving to a discussion of its modern-day applications in the field of marketing and consumer behaviour.
Keywords: Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning; Consumer Behaviour; Marketing; Marketing Communications

Learning outcomes:

Transcribed copy of screencast

Hi, everyone. Welcome to my online lecture on Pavlov’s classical conditioning – one of the fundamental topics and theories of learning for consumer behavior. So this is one of the most common ways that marketers teach customers how to think and feel about a certain product or a brand.

So by the end of this module, you should be able to define classical conditioning -what it is. You should also be able to understand the fundamental experiment that led to our understanding of classical conditioning, and you should be able to understand how it relates to marketing communications. You might also start to understand better why you feel the way that you do about certain products or brands or purchases or experiences or ads and understand how you might use classical conditioning to create marketing materials that cause those types of reactions in your own customers.

So, what is classical conditioning? Well, it involves repeatedly pairing two stimuli together in order to train a certain response in the people that see or experience these two paired stimuli. So basically, we’ll talk more in depth about this later. But we, we pair two things together, like our brand, and football, and eventually people have a trained response to our brand that’s similar to their response to football, feelings of excitement, feelings of happiness, etc, etc.

So now, let’s talk a little bit about the background of Pavlov’s classical conditioning. So Pavlov was the one who first wrote about classical conditioning. And basically, his experiment involves a dog. And so this dog, he would ring a bell and then feed his dog. And he would measure the dog’s saliva. And what he found was that by pairing the bell with the food, the dog would normally salivate when he saw the food. However, eventually the dog would start to salivate just after the bell rang, and even before he saw the food because he had been classically conditioned.

So in Pavlov’s classical conditioning, we have the unconditioned stimulus – So the stimulus that naturally causes people to feel a certain way, okay, or to do a certain thing. In this case, the food naturally causes the dog to salivate. And so that is the unconditioned stimulus.
Then you repeatedly pair this unconditioned stimulus with a conditioned one- with something else, in the instance of Pavlov’s dog, with the bell. And it doesn’t normally cause a dog to salivate when he hears a bell, but it had been paired with the food so many times that the dog would hear the bell and start to salivate. The salivation being the response.

Okay, so classical conditioning is a very subconscious form of learning. And so basically, through the process of repetition, we teach our subjects to react to something in a way that they normally would not.

Now advertisers use this all the time. I want to give you an example that I think is particularly awesome and ridiculous at the same time. So I don’t know if you’ve seen these commercials, because they haven’t been on for a very long time. But Cottonelle for a very long time had fluffy kittens in their advertising commercials. Now fluffy kittens very naturally cause a response. And the response is, Oh, cute, soft, happy. I have a very strong positive emotional response to cats in general, but especially these fluffy white cutie pies. And so, my unconditioned stimulus is the kittens that naturally cause this very positive emotional response and thought process in me. And now do you know what happens to me when I walk down the toilet paper aisle? I see Cottonelle and I experience all those emotions. And Cottonelle is my choice because it makes me feel very, very positively when I see it. And that’s all because of this classical conditioning process that we see all the time in marketing communications – all the time.

So that concludes our discussion on Pavlov’s classical conditioning. I hope you enjoyed it and thank you.

Caitlin McLaughlin, Ph.D.

Thompson Rivers University, Canada

Caitlin is a marketing instructor at Thompson Rivers University. She has taught Integrated Marketing Communications, Consumer Behaviour, Introduction to Marketing, Marketing Research, Services Marketing, and Brand Management (among others). Her research focuses on the use of brand communities in marketing.


Pavlov IP (1960) [1927]. Conditional Reflexes. New York: Dover Publications.

Pavlov, I. P. (1897/1902). The work of the digestive glands. London: Griffin


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