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Describe and evaluate classical conditioning
Classical conditioning looks at how these reflexes come to be triggered by associations with
new stimuli. It was proposed by Pavlov and explains involuntary behaviours. It works on the
principle that we learn by association.
Before conditioning the unconditioned stimulus creates the unconditioned response, for
example food would cause a dog to salivate. During conditioning the unconditioned stimulus
is paired with a neutral stimulus, and these produce the unconditioned response, for example
ringing the bell while giving a dog food will still cause salivation. After conditioning the neutral
stimulus is associated with the response, creating a conditioned stimulus and a conditioned
response. So, when the dog hears the bell it will begin to salivate even if there is no food.
A strength of classical conditioning is that it can explain the acquisition of some aspects of
behaviour. Classical conditioning shows how the environment can determine our behaviour
through stimulus response mechanisms i.e. Little Albert initially showed no fear of rats but
through his experience developed a phobia.
Another strength of the theory is that it has a range of practical applications in the real world.
The principles of classical conditioning are used successfully in behavioural therapies such as
aversion therapy and systematic desensitisation. Such therapies can be used to help cure
phobias and addictions.
However, classical conditioning can only account for the appearance of involuntary reflex
responses in new situations. It can not explain the acquisition of entirely new behaviours. In
contrast, operant conditioning aims to explain why some voluntary behaviours, such as
pressing a lever, are repeated or maintained through reinforcements.
Also, the theory is largely based on studies of nonhuman animals in the lab. This can lead to
problems in generalising from nonhuman animals to humans. Animals may be more driven
by innate factors and therefore may be too different to humans for comparison.
It is difficult to show that a particular adult behaviour was acquired through classical
conditioning. This is because we haven't been able to study the person from birth and
therefore, it is impossible to identify the specific causes or consequences which may have led
to the behaviour.