Classical Conditioning

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Classical Conditioning Introduction

Classical conditioning (also Pavlovian conditioning) is a form of associative learning. 

Associative learning is a type of learning principle based on the assumption that ideas and experiences reinforce one another and can be linked to enhance the learning process.

In more detail, we are pre-conditioned to unconditionally respond in certain ways to stimuli. For example a sudden noise (an unconditional stimulus) makes us flinch (the unconditional response). If a movement is made at the same time as, or just before the noise, such as moving hands to clap loudly (conditional stimulus), then the person will learn to flinch when the movement is made without the noise necessarily being there (the conditional response).

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Pavlov's Dog

Pavlov was studying digestive process in dogs when he discovered that the dogs salivated before they received their food. In fact, after repeated pairing of the lab attendant and the food, the dogs started to salivate at the sight of the lab assistants. Pavlov coined this phenomena “psychic secretions." He noted that dogs were not only responding to a biological need, but also a need developed by learning.  Pavlov spent the rest of life researching why this associate learning occurred, which is now called classical conditioning.

To experiment on classical conditioning, Pavlov utilized a tuning fork and meat powder. He hit the tuning fork and followed the sound with the meat powder. Pavlov presented the sound with the meat powder at the exact same time increments. In the beginning, the dog salivated only to the meat powder, but after this was repeated, salivated at the sound of the tuning fork. Even when Pavlov took away the meat powder, the dog continued to salivate at the sound of the tuning fork.

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Watson's Baby Albert

John B. Watson was interested in how classical conditioning could be applied to humans.

In 1921, Watson and his research assistant Rosalie Rayner experimented on a 11-month-old infant named Albert. The goal was to condition Albert to fear a white rat by paring the white rat with a loud bang (UCS).

Initially, Albert showed no fear of rats, but once the rat was repeatedly paired with the loud noise (UCS), Albert developed a fear of rats. The noise (UCS) induced fear (UCR).

After pairings between the loud noise (UCS) and the rat (CS), Albert started to fear the rat. Watson’s experiment suggested that classical conditioning could cause some phobias.

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