Classical Conditioning

Classical Conditioning

This is learning by ***ociation.

Cla**ical conditioning occurs when an ***ociation is made between a previously unlearned response and a neutral stimulus. If the two are paired enough times, eventually the neutral stimulus will produce the unlearned response.

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  • Before Conditioning:

Uncondition Stimulus (UCS)  ----- Unconditioned Response (UCR)

Neutral Stimulus (NS) ---- No response

  • During Conditioning:

UCS + NS ----- UCR

  • After Conditioning:

Conditioned Stimulus (CS) ---- Conditioned Response (CR)

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Pavlov's Study on Dogs

Pavlov's procedure can be written as:

  • Before Conditioning:

Food (UCS) ---- Salivation (UCR)

Metronome (NS) ---- No response

  • During Conditioning:

Food (UCS) + Metronome (NS) ---- Salivation (UCR)

  • After Conditioning:

Metronome (CS) ---- Salivation (CR)

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When a dog encounters the stimulus of food, saliva starts to pour from the salivary gland. Pavlov wanted to see if they were reacting to the lab coats of his assistants.


He created a sound proof lab. He used a neutral stimulus (a metronome). The dog was given food immediately after the sound of the metronome.


The dog learned to associate the sound with food. After a while, just the sound of the metronome caused the dog to drool.

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It can be generalised to the target population of dogs as different breeds were used in the experiment. However, it is difficult to generalise the findingsto humans as you can't assume that they have just stimuli-reaction behaviour. Therefore, the generalisability of the findings are limited.


The stugy has good reliability as it was a lab experiment. This means that it is easy to replicate because of the standardised way the dogs heard the metronome and were given food. 

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The study has good internal validity because extraneous variables were controlled. For example, they made sure the dogs couldn't hear the experimenter coming as they were kept in a sound-proof booth. Therefore, the study has good scientific credibility.


The study has bad ethics as a lot of distress was caused to the dogs as they had to have a medical procedure.

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Unconditioned stimulus: any stimulus producing a natural, unlearned response

Conditioned stimulus: a stimulus that has been associated with an unconditioned stimulus so that it now produces the same response

Neutral stimulus: an environmental stimulus that doesn't itself produce a response

Conditioned response: A behaviour that is shown in response to a learned stimulus

Stimulus generalisation: generalistation suggests that the stimulus triggering a reaction doesn't have to be the exact one involved in the process of learning, but that the more similar it is, the more likley it will produce a conditioned response

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Discrimination: Over a period of time, learning only occurs to a specific stimulus

Extinction: Removal (death) of a behaviour. If the conditioned stimulus is continually presented without the pairing, the animal will gradually learn to disassociate the two stimuli. However, this association may not be entirely lost.

Spontaneous recovery: Means that extinction isn't the same as 'unlearning'. While the response may disappear, it hasn't been eradicated. If the two stimuli are paired again, the animal will quickly learn to associate them again.

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Pavlov found dogs produced saliva when they heard a metrinome when he paired the metrinome with the immediate presentation of food. This shows classical conditioning in a lab setting. But, Pavlov used dogs which makes it difficult to generalise the findings to humans as they have different brain structures. Watson and Raynor found Little Albert learned a fear of fluffy things when he was given something fluffy and it was paired with a loud noise. This shows that a fear response can be conditioned in infants.

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Systematic desensitisation is a treatment of phobias based on classical conditioning. Another treatment that of phobias that has developed from classical conditioning is flooding. It can also be used to train animals, by getting the to associate a certain word with an action.

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The theory is based on scientific framework. This is a strength because Watson and Raynor's study measured Little Albert's fear objectively. However, this study can be considered reductionist. This is good as it reduces everything down to association which allows it to be tested and is very measurable. It also isolates all of the variables. But, not all behaviour is a result of two things being paired. For example, you can be scared of things that you have never seen. The theory doesn't take into account observational learning or indirect learning. 

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