I was sitting in my General Psychology class and my Professor was talking to us about conditioning. We are in the chapter of our textbook about learning. He told us that one of the most common mistakes students make when exam time rolls around is differentiating between Classical Condition and Operant Conditioning. So I figured what better way to really learn the difference then by writing an article on each. This first article is going to break down classical conditioning.
Like I stated in a previous article, understanding how we learn is very important. Conditioning is the processes of learning associations. Classical Conditioning is a way that we learn to associate stimuli.
Ivan Pavlov is the founder, so you can say, of classical conditioning. Funny thing is, he wasn’t trying to prove classical conditioning He was actually just a scientist, he was fascinated by dog salivation and he wanted to measure how much a dog salivates. It may sound nonsensical to some of us now-a-days, but in Pavlov’s time (1849-1936) it was quite interesting.
Pavlov’s experiments laid the foundation for psychologist John B. Watson’s philosophies and viewpoints. Watson started the movement of behaviorism which is the view that psychology should be an objective science that studies behavior without references to mental processes. Today, most research psychologists agree that psychology should be an objective science but they don’t necessarily believe the second half of that.
Watson believed that the science of psychology should study how organisms respond to stimuli in their environments. He believed that we should study only observable behaviors and not inner thoughts and feelings.
Classical Conditioning is a type of learning in which one learns to link two or more stimuli and anticipate events. Pavlov discovered Stimulus’s and their Responses. Pavlov’s experiment showed the Unconditioned Response (UR), Unconditioned Stimulus (US), Neutral Stimulus (NS), Conditioned Stimulus (CS), and Conditioned Response (CR).
Let’s break down Pavlov’s experiment. Pavlov did a minor surgery on a dog which caused it’s saliva to drip into a test tube instead of into the dogs mouth. The dog was brought food, which is the unconditioned stimulus. The reason that the food is the unconditioned stimulus is because it automatically stimulates something, the dog was never taught to salivate when seeing food however the dog did it anyways. It was automatic; as was the salivation itself which is known as the unconditioned response. Pavlov began to notice that the dog would salivate when it heard the footsteps of the person delivering the food. At first Pavlov was upset because he thought it was ruining his experiment. However he realized that he was on to something. So he began to ring a bell before giving the dog its food (US). The bell was considered a neutral stimulus (NS) because it didn’t produce salivation. However, after continually pairing the bell with the food the bell became a conditioned stimulus (CS). Because the dog began to salivate simply by hearing the bell, making salivation a conditioned response (CR).
Acquisition in classical conditioning is also known as the initial stage. It is when one links a neutral stimulus and unconditioned stimulus so that the neutral stimulus begins triggering the response. In the case of Pavlov’s dog, the dog linked the bell to food, therefore the bell began to trigger salivation. Make sense?
Something that is very important when it comes to classical conditioning is the timing of the unconditioned response and the neutral stimulus. Research shows that if the bell was rung after the food was shown than it probably wouldn’t have caused a conditioned response. Classical conditioning is biologically adaptive; it helps humans or other animals to prepare for good or bad events.
When we see lightning we wince in preparation for thunder. Why? Because every time we see lightning we hear thunder. We condition ourselves to prepare for the thunder.
There is another interesting term called higher-order conditioning (aka second-order conditioning). The definition of which is: a procedure in which the conditioned stimulus in one conditioning experience is paired with a new neutral stimulus, creating a second conditioned stimulus. An example of this is the bell used to produce salivation. Pairing the bell with a light may cause the light to trigger salivation. Higher-order conditioning is not normally as strong as first-stage conditioning. However, it can influence out everyday lives. Let’s say you’ve been bit by a dog, when you see a guard dog you begin to feel fearful because of your previous incident. However, something as little as a dog barking may bring that dog to mind and cause fear.
Classical Conditioning influences our daily lives. It affects how we learn. Not only educationally what we learn, but what we learn as survival skills.