Operant conditioning studies how consequences influence behavior. Three-term contingency is one of the essential ideas in operant theory, that determines which responses are reinforced (rewarded or punished) in the context of what situations or discriminative stimuli. According to Engel et al, operant conditioning is a type of learning in which the results of a response impact the probability that behavior will be performed again1. Edward Thorndike, John Watson, and B. F. Skinner are the leading theorist in developing operant conditioning theory2.
Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are distinguished from each other by the difference in the order. While Pavlov followed the stimulus-response principle, Skinner followed the response-stimulus rule. It is proposed that, in the language of operant conditioning, behavior depends on its consequences3. In order words, the behaviors are learned if they are followed by the reinforcement, as the reason for the initial happening does not matter which means that behaviors are influenced and controlled by their consequences4.
Operant conditioning claimed that if a behavior is reinforced, it is more likely to happen in the future than the non-reinforced one. The reinforcement happens after the behavior and be able to alter the probability of recurrences. Contiguity, probability (frequency), and reinforcement are three determinants that affect conditioning. Contiguity refers to the simultaneousness which means the object is exposed to the stimulus and simply respond. Frequency is about how often that stimuli and reflex take place. Reinforcement is a means to strengthen the conditioning.
This assumption leads to the belief among behaviorists that behaviors are controlled by external factors in the environment, not by internal forces. In the marketing context, sales promotions are used as external factors to encourage purchase, or to add extra value to products and services. However, consumers may exploit of the promotion and walk away, or they may think that promotion is a kind of reward that they deserve when they choose a brand. Promotions are used to increase purchase frequency, and the ideal action is to build up the relationship with the customers that they continue to purchase the brand in the post-promotion period5.