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Classical Conditioning

Classical Conditioning

By Saul McLeod, updated 2018


Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian conditioning) is learning through association and was discovered by Pavlov365体育登录, a Russian physiologist. In simple terms, two stimuli are linked together to produce a new learned response in a person or animal.

John Watson proposed that the process of classical conditioning (based on Pavlov’s observations365体育登录) was able to explain all aspects of human psychology.

Everything from speech to emotional responses was simply patterns of stimulus and response. Watson denied completely the existence of the mind or consciousness. Watson believed that all individual differences in behavior were due to different experiences of learning. He famously said:

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors” (Watson, 1924, p. 104).

Classical Conditioning Examples

There are three stages of classical conditioning. At each stage the stimuli and responses are given special scientific terms:

Stage 1: Before Conditioning:

In this stage, the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) produces an unconditioned response (UCR) in an organism.

In basic terms, this means that a stimulus in the environment has produced a behavior / response which is unlearned (i.e., unconditioned) and therefore is a natural response which has not been taught. In this respect, no new behavior has been learned yet.

For example, a stomach virus (UCS) would produce a response of nausea (UCR). In another example, a perfume (UCS) could create a response of happiness or desire (UCR).

365体育登录This stage also involves another stimulus which has no effect on a person and is called the neutral stimulus (NS). The NS could be a person, object, place, etc.

365体育登录The neutral stimulus in classical conditioning does not produce a response until it is paired with the unconditioned stimulus.

Stage 2: During Conditioning:

365体育登录During this stage, a stimulus which produces no response (i.e., neutral) is associated with the unconditioned stimulus at which point it now becomes known as the conditioned stimulus (CS).

365体育登录For example, a stomach virus (UCS) might be associated with eating a certain food such as chocolate (CS). Also, perfume (UCS) might be associated with a specific person (CS).

365体育登录For classical conditioning to be effective, the conditioned stimulus should occur before the unconditioned stimulus, rather than after it, or during the same time. Thus, the conditioned stimulus acts as a type of signal or cue for the unconditioned stimulus.

Often during this stage, the UCS must be associated with the CS on a number of occasions, or trials, for learning to take place. However, one trail learning can happen on certain occasions when it is not necessary for an association to be strengthened over time (such as being sick after food poisoning or drinking too much alcohol).

Stage 3: After Conditioning:

Now the conditioned stimulus (CS) has been associated with the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) to create a new conditioned response (CR).

For example, a person (CS) who has been associated with nice perfume (UCS) is now found attractive (CR). Also, chocolate (CS) which was eaten before a person was sick with a virus (UCS) now produces a response of nausea (CR).

Little Albert Experiment (Phobias)

Ivan Pavlov showed that classical conditioning applied to animals.  Did it also apply to humans? In a famous (though ethically dubious) experiment, Watson and Rayner (1920) showed that it did.

365体育登录Little Albert was a 9-month-old infant who was tested on his reactions to various stimuli. He was shown a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey and various masks. Albert described as "on the whole stolid and unemotional" showed no fear of any of these stimuli.

365体育登录However, what did startle him and cause him to be afraid was if a hammer was struck against a steel bar behind his head. The sudden loud noise would cause "little Albert to burst into tears.

Little Albert Classical Conditioning

365体育登录When Little Albert was just over 11 months old, the white rat was presented, and seconds later the hammer was struck against the steel bar.  This was done seven times over the next seven weeks, and each time Little Albert burst into tears. By now little Albert only had to see the rat and he immediately showed every sign of fear. He would cry (whether or not the hammer was hit against the steel bar) and he would attempt to crawl away.

365体育登录In addition, Watson and Rayner found that Albert developed phobias of objects which shared characteristics with the rat; including the family dog, a fur coat, some cotton wool and a Father Christmas mask! This process is known as generalization.

Watson and Rayner had shown that classical conditioning could be used to create a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear, i.e., a fear that is out of proportion to the danger.

365体育登录Over the next few weeks and months, Little Albert was observed and ten days after conditioning his fear of the rat was much less marked. This dying out of a learned response is called extinction.

However, even after a full month, it was still evident, and the association could be renewed by repeating the original procedure a few times.

Classical Conditioning in the Classroom

The implications of classical conditioning in the classroom are less important than those of operant conditioning365体育登录, but there is a still need for teachers to try to make sure that students associate positive emotional experiences with learning.

If a student associates negative emotional experiences with school, then this can obviously have bad results, such as creating a school phobia.

365体育登录 For example, if a student is bullied at school they may learn to associate the school with fear. It could also explain why some students show a particular dislike of certain subjects that continue throughout their academic career. This could happen if a student is humiliated or punished in class by a teacher.

Critical Evaluation

Classical conditioning emphasizes the importance of learning from the environment, and supports nurture over nature. However, it is limiting to describe behavior solely in terms of either nature or nurture, and attempts to do this underestimate the complexity of human behavior. It is more likely that behavior is due to an interaction between nature (biology) and nurture (environment).

A strength of classical conditioning theory is that it is scientific. This is because it's based on empirical evidence carried out by controlled experiments. For example, Pavlov (1902) showed how classical conditioning could be used to make a dog salivate to the sound of a bell.

Classical conditioning is also a reductionist explanation of behavior. This is because a complex behavior is broken down into smaller stimulus-response units of behavior.

Supporters of a reductionist approach say that it is scientific. Breaking complicated behaviors down to small parts means that they can be scientifically tested. However, some would argue that the reductionist view lacks validity365体育登录. Thus, while reductionism is useful, it can lead to incomplete explanations.

A final criticism of classical conditioning theory is that it is deterministic365体育登录. This means that it does not allow for any degree of free will in the individual. Accordingly, a person has no control over the reactions they have learned from classical conditioning, such as a phobia.

365体育登录The deterministic approach also has important implications for psychology as a science. Scientists are interested in discovering laws which can then be used to predict events. However, by creating general laws of behavior, deterministic psychology underestimates the uniqueness of human beings and their freedom to choose their own destiny.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2018, August 21). Classical conditioning365体育登录. Simply Psychology. http://morrisonfoto.com/classical-conditioning.html

APA Style References

Pavlov, I. P. (1897/1902). The work of the digestive glands. London: Griffin.

Watson, J. B. (1913). . Psychological Review, 20, 158–177.

Watson, J. B., & Rayner, R. (1920). . Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3(1), pp. 1–14.

Watson, J. B. (1924). Behaviorism. New York: People's Institute Publishing Company.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2018, August 21). Classical conditioning. Simply Psychology. http://morrisonfoto.com/classical-conditioning.html

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