Classical conditioning and its most important experiences

the classic packaging (O Pavlovian Conditioning) is one of the introductory topics studied in the Psychology degree and one of the basic principles of learning.

Therefore, all psychologists and teachers be aware of their importance in associative learning or in the formation of pathologies such as phobias. Few people do not know Ivan Pavlov and his experiences with dogs. For those who don’t know him yet, we explain his theory in detail below.

Classic conditioning, explained

One of the most important features of this type of learning is that it involves automatic responses or reflexes, not voluntary behaviors (Unlike operant or instrumental conditioning). The creation of a connection between a new stimulus and an existing reflex has therefore been called “classical conditioning”. it is a type of learning according to which an originally neutral stimulus, which does not elicit a responseIt becomes possible to provoke it thanks to the associative connection of this stimulus with the stimulus which normally provokes this response.

Classical conditioning laid the foundation for him behaviorism, One of the most important schools of psychology, and was born as a result of studies Pavlov, a Russian psychologist who was interested in the physiology of digestion, in particular the salivary reflexes in dogs.

Pavlov’s famous dog experiment: the conditioned reflex

Pavlov’s research is one of the foundations of behavioral science. In his initial research, Pavlov observed that after putting food in the mouth of the dog he was investigating, he began to secrete saliva from certain glands. Pavlov called this phenomenon a “salivation reflex”.

Performing the experiment several times, he observed that his presence (that of Pavlov himself) caused the dog to start secreting saliva without having food in mind. because he had learned that when Pavlov came to the laboratory, he would receive food. Then, to be able to know if he was right, he put a separator between the dog and the food, that way the dog could not visualize him. The researcher introduced the food through a sluice and recorded the animal’s salivation.

Later, Pavlov began to apply different stimuli (auditory and visual) which were then neutral, just before the food was served to the goiter. Their results indicate that after several applications, the animal associates stimuli (now conditioned) with food. Pavlov called the salivation that occurred after this association “conditioned reflex”.

Below you can watch this video which explains Pavlov’s experiences.

Classical conditioning theory: general concepts

Classical conditioning is also referred to as the stimulus-response or association learning (RE) model. The results of his research won Pavlov the Nobel Prize in 1904.

In the process, he devised the classic conditioning scheme based on his observations:

  • the Unconditional stimulation (IS) it is a stimulus that automatically triggers a response from the body.

  • the Unconditional response (RI) it is the response that automatically occurs in the body when an unconditioned stimulus is present. For Pavlov, this would be the amount of saliva the dog secreted when food was presented to him.

  • the Neutral stimulation it is a stimulus which, when present in the environment, elicits no response in the body.

  • When a neutral stimulus has been temporarily associated with an unconditioned stimulus, it becomes Conditioned stimulus (EC), As it is capable by itself of eliciting a response similar to that elicited by the unconditioned stimulus.

  • the Conditional response (CR) it is the response that appears upon presentation of only the conditioned stimulus. For Pavlov, this would be the amount of saliva that dogs secrete when presented only with an auditory or visual stimulus.

  • usually RC is lower than RI and has higher latencyIn other words, it takes longer to occur once the stimulus is present.

Watson’s contributions to behaviorism

Fascinated by Pavlov’s discoveries, John watson proposed that the classical conditioning process could also explain learning in humans. As a classic behaviorist, he believed that emotions were also learned by conditioned associationAnd in fact, he believed that the differences in behavior between humans were caused by the different experiences that each person had.

The Little Albert Experiment (by John Watson)

To do this, he carried out the “experiment with little Albert”, an 11 month old baby, with his collaborator Rosalie Rayner, at Johns Hopkins University (USA), as intended to find out if it is possible to condition an animal when it is associated with a loud noise (hammer blow on a metal table) which causes a fear reaction.

The association of the hammer blow on the metal table (EI) and the presence of a white rat (EC) which was previously a neutral stimulus, ended up eliciting an emotional fear response (CR) in the mere presence of the rat, Thus demonstrating that fear could be learned through classical conditioning. This is the most common mechanism for acquiring phobias. It goes without saying that this experiment could not be carried out today, because it transcends the borders of scientific ethics.

You can read more about little Albert’s experience by entering this article:

  • “The 10 most disturbing psychological experiences in history”

In 1913 Watson published an article titled Psychology as the Behaviorist Sees It, and proposed to analyze psychology from the analysis of observable behavior instead of the analysis of consciousness, Perspective in effect until then. To this end, he proposed the elimination of introspection as a valid method for psychology, replacing it with objective observation and experimentation.

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