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Classical Conditioning

Classical Conditioning

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This lesson will examine the principles of classical conditioning & explore Pavlov's study of conditioning and how classical conditioning occurs.

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Tutorial

What's Covered

This tutorial covers learning and behaviorism. You will learn about:

  1. Classical Conditioning
  2. Stimulus and Response Connections

1. Classical Conditioning

Behavioral theory says that people are influenced by their external environments to behave, or to create actions, in certain kinds of ways. One of those ways is classical conditioning.

     Term to Know

     Classical Conditioning

Learning where a subject comes to associate a response to a stimuli to other stimuli that doesn’t usually produce that response.

Simply put, classical conditioning is when someone or something, like a dog, comes to associate a response they have to one stimulus with a completely different stimulus that doesn't usually produce that response.

     Terms to Know

     Stimulus

Something that happens in the external environment; can be conditioned (related to a learned response), unconditioned (not related to a learned response), or neutral (not related to a response).

Response

Something that a subject does because of a stimulus; can be conditioned (learned) or unconditioned (not learned).

The most famous example of this stimulus-response comes from Ivan Pavlov.

People to Know

Ivan Pavlov

Russian physiologist who establishes a foundation for classical conditioning principles.

Pavlov was a Russian physiologist and natural scientist who, in the 1870s, performed his famous dog experiments.

Pavlov's experiments worked with stimulus and response. They occurred in several stages:

1. Pavlov began by giving his dogs dog food. And then he measured how much they salivated. So what he called the unconditioned stimulus (US) was the food, and the unconditioned response (UR) was the salivation.

    Terms to Know

    Unconditioned Stimulus (US)

        Something that occurs in the environment.

    Unconditioned Response (UR)

        Subject's natural reaction to an occurrence.

A dog always salivates in response to food, as do people. If you think about food right now, you can't help but salivate.

2. Next, Pavlov introduced something that normally doesn't create a response, which is called a neutral stimulus.

     Term to Know

     Neutral Stimulus (NS)

         Event that does not create a specific response.

In this case, it was a bell. Pavlov introduced the bell just before the unconditioned stimulus of the food. He rang the bell, and then presented the dog with the food, causing the dog to salivate, because that's the unconditioned response.

3. Pavlov continued to pair this neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus over and over again. Over time, the dog learned to associate the bell with the food. So the dog would start to salivate as a response to hearing the bell alone, and not even seeing the food.

This is what Pavlov referred to as a conditioned stimulus.

      Term to Know

      Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

          Previously neutral stimulus that now has a learned response connected to it.

This experiment changed the bell into a stimulus that created the new conditioned response of salivating.

      Term to Know

      Conditioned Response (CR)

          Learned reaction to a stimulus.

And this is what Pavlov called classical conditioning.

Big Idea

Classical conditioning takes an unconditioned stimulus and an unconditioned response and turns it into a conditioned stimulus and a conditioned response.

Classical conditioning can be used to explain more complex behaviors.

Example You learn to value money through early associations with things that you want. You see that money gets you what you want, so eventually you start to value money in itself.


2. Stimulus and Response Connections

Over time, these conditioned stimuli and response connections become weaker without the unconditioned stimulus being there. If the bell and food were not continually paired, the dog would eventually stop associating the bell with the food and would stop salivating when it heard the bell all by itself. This is what we call extinction.

       Term to Know

       Extinction

         When the relationship between a conditioned stimulus and response becomes weaker; when a subject forgets a response.

In other words, extinction means forgetting the responses. However, spontaneous recovery can sometimes occur after extinction.

       Term to Know

       Spontaneous Recovery

          After a conditioned response has been extinguished, it may show up again later.

This means that a learned response may return, even though it was thought to be extinct. This explains why, after a traumatic event, such as in someone's childhood, there may be a recurrence of feelings later in life, when that person is an adult.

What has also been examined under classical conditioning is the difference between stimulus generalization and stimulus discrimination.

        Terms to Know

        Stimulus Generalization

           When a person responds to a similar stimuli with a learned response.

        Stimulus Discrimination

           When a person learns to respond differently to similar stimuli.

Generalization is when a person responds to a stimulus that's similar to one that they've learned with the same learned response.

ExampleIf you're afraid of a barking dog, something that scared you when you were a child, you might respond with fear to a stuffed dog or a picture of a dog. Even though the stimuli are not the same, they are similar enough to cause the same response.

This is especially common early in life when you don't have as many experiences, and so therefore don't understand the differences between experiences.

In contrast, stimulus discrimination is when a person learns to differentiate between similar stimuli and not to respond to them in the same way.

ExampleFor the person who was afraid of the dog, stimulus discrimination is learning not to be afraid of the picture or the stuffed dog. This means learning to understand that those things are different from each other. This is something that occurs over time, in response to our new experiences.

Classical conditioning can be used in different types of therapies, and is found to actually have successful results. One example is in desensitization therapy,

        Term to Know

        Desensitization

            A type of therapy where a person attempts to learn an unwanted learned emotional response to a stimulus.

This therapy involves a person that's created an unwanted emotional response to some kind of stimuli. This unwanted response is called a conditioned emotional response, or CER.

        Term to Know

        Conditioned Emotional Response (CER)

            Learned emotional reaction; generally how phobias develop.

In desensitization therapy, the therapist will help the client to unlearn this response by gradually exposing the client to the stimulus until the response is no longer present.

Example Imagine you have a snake phobia. You're afraid, and that's your conditioned emotional response to snakes. You want extinction to occur through gradual exposure to snakes. Your desensitization therapy might start by having you look at pictures of snakes. Then, you might progress to seeing somebody holding a snake, then you would be exposed to the snake, and finally you would actually touch it yourself. In this way, you're learning to not be afraid of that snake.


Summary

Classical conditioning, which is associated with the work of Ivan Pavlov, is an important subject within behavioral theory. Classical conditioning features a number of stages, all dependent upon stimulus and response. Classical conditioning can be used to describe complex behaviors and is used in a variety of therapies. Over time, stimulus and response connections change, leading to new kinds of behaviors.

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Ivan Pavlov

    Russian physiologist who establishes a foundation for classical conditioning principles.

  • Classical Conditioning

    Learning where a subject comes to associate a response to a stimuli to other stimuli that doesn’t usually produce that response.

  • Stimulus

    Something that happens in the external environment; can be conditioned (related to a learned response), unconditioned (not related to a learned response), or neutral (not related to a response).

  • Response

    Something that a subject does because of a stimulus; can be conditioned (learned) or unconditioned (not learned).

  • Unconditioned Stimulus (US)

    Something that occurs in the environment.

  • Unconditioned Response (UR)

    Subject's natural reaction to an occurrence.

  • Neutral Stimulus (NS)

    Event that does not create a specific response.

  • Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

    Previously neutral stimulus that now has a learned response connected to it.

  • Conditioned Response (CR)

    Learned reaction to a stimulus.

  • Extinction

    When the relationship between a conditioned stimulus and response becomes weaker; when a subject forgets a response.

  • Spontaneous Recovery

    After a conditioned response has been extinguished, it may show up again later.

  • Stimulus Generalization

    When a person responds to a similar stimuli with a learned response.

  • Stimulus Discrimination

    When a person learns to respond differently to similar stimuli.

  • Desensitization

    A type of therapy where a person attempts to learn an unwanted learned emotional response to a stimulus.

  • Conditioned Emotional Response (CER)

    Learned emotional reaction; generally how phobias develop.