Changing brand attitudes by presenting brands together with affectively valenced stimuli is called evaluative conditioning (EC). A long-standing debate in the literature concerns which psychological process or processes underlie this change in attitudes (the EC effect). Do the changes in brand attitudes require the construction of memory associations between brands and affective stimuli? Or can evaluative responses directly be transferred to brands? Can EC change brand attitudes in an automatic manner, that is, without consumers’ awareness and resistant to conscious control?
I will present an overview of my work in this area. I briefly present previously published work which showed that multiple psychological processes can underlie changes in brand attitudes, and that marketers can control which process is active by paying careful attention to the advertising (conditioning) procedure. I will also show that attitudes can be changed without participants’ awareness, and will discuss why this fundamental question yielded so many conflicting findings in over three decades of research.
Finally, I will present new work in this area investigating whether attitude change through EC is controllable or not by consumers. We develop a process dissociation procedure which demonstrates that both controllable and uncontrollable processes play a role in attitude change through EC. While the controllable process is sensitive to the complexity of the conditioning phase, to task experience, and to the availability of cognitive resources, the automatic uncontrolled component is insensitive to any of these procedural factors as well as to consumers’ motivation to exert control over the attitude acquisition process.