Classical Conditioning



Behaviourism is an example of a learning approach in Psychology.

It emphasises the role of the environment and experience of learning behaviours.

Behaviourism describes only observable behaviour and uses methods such as laboratory experiments to gain control of variables and look for cause and effect relationships.

One example of this is Classical Conditioning.

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Key Study: Pavlov's Dogs

Classical conditioning is learning by association and was discovered by Ivan Pavlov in 1927. He found that if a new stimulus was paired many times with an existing stimulus-response, an association was made between the two stimuli.

Pavlov found that dogs could be trained to salivate to the sound of a ringing bell. There are three keys steps in Pavlov's study:

Before Conditioning:

  • A UCS (the food) leads to an UCR (salivation), a NS (ringing bell) produces no response.

During Conditioning:

  • Pairing a NS with an UCS will create an association with the UCR.

After Conditioning:

  • After regular pairing, the NS will become a CS and will lead to its own CR.
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  • Most research is done in laboratories and is therefore reliable due to high level of control possible.
  • Classical conditioning has been used in developing treatments for mental illness such as systematic desensitisation to treat phobias, which has been found to be very effective.


  • Classical conditioning ignores the role of biology in behaviour. Instead it suggests everything stems from stimulus-response learning.
  • Classical conditioning does not account for the role of cognition/thought in behaviour as this is not observable.
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