Psychology Study Material: Classical Conditioning and Basic Terminology in Classical Conditioning

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Classical Conditioning

Why Are Children Scared of Darkness?

  • Why some children jump with joy at the sight of a bear and some start screaming in fright? Why does one coming from abroad start feeling happy at the very sight of his parents՚ home? Why does one start feeling bad at the thought of going to a dentist?
  • The answers to all these questions can be found in the classical conditioning approach

Classical Conditioning: The History

  • Ivan Pavlov 1849 - 1936: Russian physiologist and pioneer of classical conditioning.
  • In the later years of the 19th century studied the basic process of digestion and won Nobel Prize for that in 1904.
  • The focal point was the salivation reflex in dogs.
  • It was already known that the dogs would salivate if food powder were led into their mouths, as it was a ‘reflex’ .
  • The dogs salivated every time the food powder was presented.
  • He observed that after some time, the dogs at times salivated just before food was put into their mouths. They also salivated at the sight of the food, and even at the sight of the lab assistant who brought food for them.
  • This is where the concept of classical conditioning emerged. Classical Conditioning: The Theory
  • Is a type of learning in which a previously neutral stimulus starts eliciting a response that was originally attached to a natural stimulus, because the neutral stimulus has been closely associated with the other stimulus.

Basic Terminology in Classical Conditioning

Basic Terminology in Classical Conditioning


An automatic, unlearned response resulting from a specific stimulus.

Un-Conditioned Stimulus (UCS)

A stimulus that elicits a response reflexively and reliably.

Un-Conditioned Response (UCR)

A natural, reflexive, reliable, response of the UCS.

Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

A primarily neutral stimulus which, when paired with the UCS, starts evoking a response (different from its natural response) and the same as UCR.

Conditioned Response (CR)

After conditioning, the CS begins to elicit a new, learned response. i.e.. CR.

Pavlovian Classical Conditioning

The following diagram explains the classical conditioning model:

  • Extensions of the Main Classical Conditioning Model
  • There are a number of other variations and extensions of this model, which will be discussed in detail in the section on learning.

Here, we will just name them:

  • Extinction
  • Spontaneous recovery
  • Stimulus generalization
  • Stimulus discrimination

Applications of Classical Conditioning in Everyday Life

  • Negative emotional responses: fears, phobias … fear of lizards, dark places, school phobia
  • Positive emotional responses: Feelings of relaxation, and happiness … thinking of going on a holiday
  • Advertising: Associating model with the product
  • Psychotherapy: Systematic desensitization, aversive therapy

Operant Conditioning

  • Why do teachers give stars on children՚s workbooks?
  • Why do parents clap happily when their child utters the first words that nobody else can decipher?
  • Why do manufacturers of products announce prize schemes for the consumers of their products?

The answers to all these questions can be found in the “Operant Conditioning” approach.

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