Consumer psychology in behavioural perspective : an evaluation of the contribution of the experimental analysis of behaviour to consumer research
The purpose of the thesis is to assess the contribution of the experimental analysis of behaviour (EAB), which is closely associated with the work of B. F. Skinner, to the development of consumer psychology, an applied subdiscipline which is currently dominated by cognitive models of choice. Chapter 1 argues that the predominance of the cognitive model impedes the scientific progress of the psychology of consumer behaviour by inhibiting the development of alternative models. A proliferation of competing explanations is advocated for the clash of explanations which Feyerabend argues is a prerequisite of such progress. The EAB is advanced as a vehicle for the erosion of the dominating paradigm: it not only draws attention to the neglected environmental determinants of behaviour but also provides a philosophical standpoint from which to conduct a critique of the prevailing cognitivism. The EAB is described in detail in Chapter 2: its philosophical foundation is examined in terms of th e radical epiphenomenalism upon which its mode of explanation rests, and an account of operant conditioning demonstrates the empirical basis of the paradigm. Skinner's ontological redefinition of behavioural science is outlined through a comparison of classical and operant conditioning. The critical significance of the EAB for consumer psychology is explained in Chapter 3. Attention is drawn to the EAB's emphasis on the critical evaluation of theoretical terms (unobservables); alternative sources of explanation, derived from a behaviourist perspective on choice, are presented; and the more direct route to knowledge provided by a theoretically-based experimental method is discussed. The EAB is itself subjected to criticism in Chapter 4 which examines its limited capacity to explain human behaviour in complex social situations. The verbal control of behaviour, the dualistic function of reinforcement (informational and hedonic), and the disparity between the closed setting of the operant chamber and the relatively open settings ln which purchase and consumption occur, are noted as undermining radical behaviourism's claim to embody a comprehensive explanation of behaviour. Chapter 5 is concerned with the development and evaluation of a model of consumer behaviour derived from the EAB, as reconstructed after the critical examination pursued in Chapter 4. The Behavioural Perspective Model seeks to explain patterns of purchase and consumption by the relative openness of the settings in which they take place, and the patterns of reinforcement which apparently control them. The model's contribution to consumer psychology is discussed ln terms of the relevance of its variables to the outcomes of published behaviour modification experiments concerned with environmental conservation. Chapter 6 summarises the argument and its implications.