ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (11): 2414-2423.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02414

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Influence of associative learning on consumer behavior: From the perspective of product search experience

HUANG Jianping1(), XU Jingxian1, WAN Xiaoang2   

  1. 1Department of Psychology, Soochow University, Suzhou 215123, China
    2Department of Psychology, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
  • Received:2022-02-06 Online:2022-11-15 Published:2022-09-07
  • Contact: HUANG Jianping


Previous research has shown that consumers can generate daily expectations based on long-term associations that they form over time, which can guide their searches for certain products. Notably, in their actual search process, consumers may encounter experiences that meet or violate their expectations. Therefore, in light of this phenomenon, this article explore the mechanism of associative learning based on different product search experiences influences consuming behaviors in the following three aspects: First, we determine whether consumers generate expectations concerning expectation violation based on the associative learning that is generated by product search experiences and whether such expectations have an impact on subsequent product searches and relevant psychophysiological activities. Second, we examine the effects of product search experiences that violate or meet expectations on the associative learning of task-irrelevant information while focusing on whether prior short-term associative learning can establish expectations that guide subsequent product searches. Finally, we also study the influence of associative learning due to product search experiences on consumer preference and connect this influence with the brain reward system.

When consumers’ expectations are constantly violated in the product search process, is it possible for them to generate expectations concerning expectation violation? Can associative learning be carried out by associating certain attributes of products with expectation violation? Instead of addressing these questions, many previous studies have focused on how individuals respond to a stimulus that violates expectations, proposing the violated expectation model, which indicates that individuals experience processes such as accommodation and assimilation when expectation violation occurs. The former entails that individuals adjust their own expectations to match the result of an expectation violation. In contrast, the latter involves individuals’ active behaviour to prevent expectation violation from occurring; the selection of this is thus done to avoid this circumstance. However, we propose a novel type of expectation in this study: individuals will build new expectations through violations of their original expectations on the basis of the latter to engage in subsequent product search tasks.

In addition, there is no empirical research to support whether consumers will change their initial search strategies based on product characteristics (colour expectations) when faced with products that violate their original expectations. Therefore, this study focuses on consumers’ experience when their original expectations are violated, specifically, when searching for food products, to determine whether such experience and product attributes (flavour labels) will create new associations through associative learning and whether such experience can subsequently influence the individual attentional processing of products. We intend to demonstrate that prior experience-based associative learning is able to influence current visual search through an intertrial paradigm. We expected that our participants might learn the relationship between flavour labels and colour expectation violation experience once trials violated their colour expectation, which could lead participants to tend to stop employing colour expectations to guide their search for target flavour. Accordingly, the search advantage of the colour-flavour congruency target over the colour-flavour incongruency target would no longer exist, eventually bringing about a reduction in or even disappearance of the colour-flavour inconsistency effect.

Consumers’ product search experience can also determine their attitude towards products. In this study, we therefore argue that the interaction between the facilitation of consumers’ preferences by their own search experience and the change in their preferences by associative learning based on attentional processing determines consumers’ final attitudes towards products. Consequently, this study explores the impact of product search experiences that violate expectations on subsequent consumer behaviours via the dimensions of attention, learning, and preference to reveal how consumers change their behaviours and neurophysiological activities in different product search experiences. Although consumers’ choices and preferences have a far-reaching significance that shapes a product, the present research demonstrates that how consumers interact with a product also changes the consumers themselves.

Key words: expectations, product search, associative learning, preference, neural mechanism

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