The Meaning of Consumer Behavior
DOI link for The Meaning of Consumer Behavior
The Meaning of Consumer Behavior book
While, as Steiner points out, anything may be said, the aim of interpretation must be to produce statements that can be evaluated by reference to one or other reality system that is acceptable as having meaning and relevance to that which is deciphered and translated. The heart of radical behaviorism’s interpretive stance is its unique location of the meaning of an act in the learning history of whoever performs it. Objective accounts of the environmental contingencies that apparently control behavior are frequently criticized on the grounds that they omit mention of the “subjective” appearance of settings and situations to the experimental participants themselves. But the investigation of this individual reaction is, to the behaviorist, a question of observing and accounting for a person’s behavior within the situation, including that person’s verbal accounts of what is going on. This can be achieved only by reference to the individual’s environmental histories (Skinner, 1974, p. 77), for the meaning of an operant response is to be found in what has preceded it rather than in the current setting. It is not found in the discriminative stimuli of the present setting, nor is it found in the responses that take place there or in their outcomes. Rather, it can be located only in the history of exposure to similar contingencies in the past “in which similar settings have played a part” (p. 90). It consists in “aspects of the contingencies which have brought behavior under the control of the current situation” (p. 91). Meaning is defi ned, therefore, not in terms of the form or topography of a response, but in terms of its function, which is determined by the individual’s learning history. The meaning of a response is found in the past contingencies that control the topography
of current behavior and that empower current antecedent (discriminative) stimuli (p. 91). Topographies of behavior may resemble one another closely, but the meanings of the behaviors may differ because similar topographies can arise from different learning histories. Two customers may buy ties from the same assistant in the same store on the same day, but the meaning of doing so is quite different when the tie is bought as a present from when it is bought for personal use. The meanings do not depend on the reinforcer (say, an expensive formal tie bought as a present compared with a cheaper plain tie bought for everyday use). Rather, it lies in the past contingencies which make behavior in the current setting more probable if discriminative stimuli signal that this behavior will produce the reinforcement in question. In deciphering the meaning of verbal behavior, it is the “overall function of the behavior [that] is crucial” (p. 92). The essence of verbal interaction is that the listener is “disposed to respond” to a situation with which he or she is not directly in touch; he or she is in touch with it only via the mediation of the speaker, whose verbal response enables the listener to respond. Take a customer who is looking for a present for a relative’s birthday, who cannot afford to pay more than £x. The sales assistant consults price lists and announces what the product in question will cost. Having heard the announcement, the listener is able to make the purchase. The elements of the “three-term contingency” are split between two people:
Setting (SD) → RS [→ S A]
where SD is a discriminative stimulus, RS the response of the speaker, RL the response of the listener, SA an aversive consequence, and SR a reinforcer.