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Consumer behaviour analysis is the use of behaviour principles, usually gained experimentally, to interpret human economic consumption. It stands academically at the intersection of economic psychology on one hand, and marketing science – the study of the behaviour of consumers and marketers, especially as they interact – on the other. Whilst behaviour principles are central to its theoreticaland empirical research programme, its quest to interpret naturally occurring consumer behaviours such as purchasing, saving, gambling, brand choice, the adoption of innovations, and the consumption of services raises philosophical and methodological issues that go beyond the academic discipline known as the ‘experimental analysis of behaviour’ or ‘behaviour analysis’. Moreover, since the usualapproach of consumer researchers and marketing scientists to explain and predict consumer behaviour is still overwhelmingly cognitive in scope and procedure, it goes beyond the current interests of most academic marketing. It is, nevertheless, of vital concern to both marketing and behaviour analysis.1 Were consumer behaviour analysis a mature research programme, it would be possible to present here analmost definitive account of its nature and scope. That it is enjoying its inaugural phase has two implications: first, for the selection of reviewed literature and, second, for the scope of this essay. As far as the selection of literature reviewed is concerned, a rather wide range of publications must be included simply because the scope of consumer behaviour analysis is not yet fixed:diversity of materials and viewpoints is an essential element in the intellectual adventure and what will prove central and what merely useful has yet to be established. The implication for this foundational essay is that it consists largely of points and arguments aimed at encouraging the working together of members of disparate scientific communities rather than a state-of-the-art account of how theyhave done so. Some of those points and arguments have already been made to some degree in the reviewed literature because they are essential at this stage in the development of consumer behaviour analysis. They need not be rehearsed here. The aim of this essay is also to describe the implications of consumer behaviour analysis for both marketing science and behaviour analysis and to suggest how theinteraction of these communities can benefit both.
The behavioural basis of consumer choice
The intellectual concern that has inspired this research programme over the course of some 20 years is the role of behaviour analysis – which explains behaviour in terms of the consequences it produces, the rewards and punishments that are contingent upon it – in marketing and consumer research. At asuperficial level, the issue is easily resolved: behaviourism, we are told, has been so effectively superseded by cognitive science as to be passé, an outmoded approach to social inquiry that no longer deserves consideration (cf. Baars, 1986; Gardner, 1985; Mandler, 1985). Indeed, the notion that all human behaviour might be reduced to simple stimulus–response (S–R) formulations, or even to the‘three-term contingency’ of radical behaviourism which is the very realm of purpose and intention according to Skinner (1974), hardly rings true to social scientists of the 21st century.2 It is scarcely relevant either to the behavioural psychology of the new millennium. In any case, consumer behaviour analysis is not an attempt to reassert the importance of behavioural psychology to the exclusion ofcognitive or other perspectives on consumer choice. The philosophy of science that has underlain this programme, which may be summed up in Feyerabend’s (1975) phrase ‘the active interplay of competing theories’, precludes any outright assertion of one theory over another. Any advocacy of behaviour analysis derives from the need to make its voice heard among other voices rather than from an...
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