Unconditional thinking: what it is and what it implies in psychology

Not all the behaviors we perform are thought out or learned. There is a large repertoire of innate behaviors, which we do in a completely natural and automatic way.

Then we will see what exactly is meant by unconditioned reflex, Differences with conditioned responses, how they can be transformed into conditioned behaviors and examples in the human species.

    What is an unconditioned reflex?

    It is understood by unconditioned reflex a a response that occurs to an unconditioned stimulus, naturally, automatically, and without thought. In other words, this is a response that did not require any prior conditioning or training for it to occur. This type of response is part of the natural abilities, already innately present, that an animal possesses, both human and non-human.

    A very clear example of an unconditional reflex is the act of salivating while looking at a piece of cake. In this particular case, the organism, when it receives the visual stimulus from the cake, initiates physiological processes to be able to facilitate digestion after we have eaten the candy.

    Another example of an unconditioned reflex would be sneezing when a particle or grain of dust is introduced through our nose. Sneezing is not something that can be learned, but it is something that is very present from birth. It is a natural mechanism for expelling wastes and pathogens from the respiratory tract.

    • Other simple examples of unconditioned reflexes are:
    • Screaming or making a gesture of pain when we are bitten by an insect.
    • Jump when you hear a loud noise.
    • Keep your hand away from something hot.
    • Shakes when it’s cold.
    • Kick when the doctor hits the knee with a hammer (knee reflex).

    All of these responses occur from birth or from an early age and without prior training. Every day we perform unconditional reflexes without knowing it, Which is an indicator of the little conscious processing behind them. Many of these responses are physiological, including salivation, nausea, pupil dilation and contraction, and changes in heart rate.

    Differences between unconditioned reflex and conditioned response.

    The main differences between an unconditioned reflex and a conditioned response are:

    • The reflex or unconditioned response is natural and automatic.
    • The unconditioned reflex is innate and does not require prior learning.
    • The conditioned response is learned.

    The conditioned response it only occurs after associating the unconditioned stimulus with the conditioned stimulus.

    Unconditional reflex and classic conditioning

    The concept of the unconditioned reflex, understood as the unconditional response, was studied experimentally by the Soviet physiologist Ivan Pavlov. This Russian scientist was researching the canine digestive system, seeing that his dogs began to salivate every time they were fed. It was a natural reflex, which was not conditioned. The dogs saw food and began to salivate to aid digestion.

    It was then that Pavlov, realizing that it was an unconditional reflex, wondered if he could condition this response, that is to say, make the natural act of salivation appear without being in front of it. dogs eating. Pavlov decided that before he presented the food, he would ring a few bells, to see what was going on.

    In these Pavlov experiments, which are a classic in the history of psychology, food is the unconditional stimulus.. The presence of the unconditioned stimulus is what causes the response to be triggered, naturally and automatically, in the form of a reflection. Pavlov’s dogs involuntarily completely salivated when presented with food. The sound of the bells would be the conditioned stimulus.

    Pavlov he managed to make his dogs salivate when they heard the bell, Which implied that the unconditioned reflex would become a conditioned response. The dogs had associated the sound of the bells with food, after training several attempts.

    But a conditioned response doesn’t last forever. Overtime, if the conditioned stimulus is presented without the unconditioned stimulus, the conditioned response will eventually disappear.

    Pavlov saw that by catching these same dogs, if they were presented with the sound of the bells but not fed afterwards, after a few more attempts, the dogs would stop salivating. That is, they stopped associating the sound of bells with food, causing the phenomenon of extinction.

    However, it must be said that after turning off the response and trying to condition it again, it would be ringing again and presenting food, re-associating this conditioned stimulus with the conditioned stimulus will not take as long as it took. produced in the first. attempts. This phenomenon of reappearance of the conditioned response is called spontaneous recovery., And can occur after a period of rest from a previously taught behavior.

      This process in humans

      As we mentioned earlier, the repertoire of unconditioned reflexes presented by our species is wide. The health sciences have described many reflexes, such as the patellar reflex or the sucking reflex of babies. The latter is a reflex that eventually gets lost as he grows older, but it is an innate and instinctive unconditional response very important to human survival, as it occurs when the maternal nipple is nearby. The baby automatically begins to suckle and feed on breast milk.

      In some cases, human innate reflex behaviors are combined with conditioned stimuli, resulting in conditioned behavior. For example, if a small child accidentally touches a boiling pot, he will withdraw his hand immediately feeling it burn. It’s innate behavior. However, the impression may have been so great that the child has developed trauma, which makes it difficult for them to feel comfortable around a potty, no matter how cold.

      In fact, the appearance of seemingly irrational and exaggerated behaviors is often linked to having had an unpleasant experience in which she was set in motion. a mechanism as innate and instinctive as reflexes to avoid feeling pain or that our bodily integrity is impaired.

      For example, there are people who have a phobia of certain biting arthropods (eg spiders, praying mantises, mosquitoes), and have an extreme fear of these animals because once one of them stung them. It triggered a natural reflex, which is to move away from the source of the pain, but it happened in such an exaggerated way that it crystallized in the form of trauma.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Cherry, K. (2018). “Unconditional response in classical conditioning”. Verywell Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-an-unconditioned-response-2796007.
      • Crain, W. (2005) Development theories: concepts and applications. 5th ed., Pearson Prentice Hall.
      • Goldman, JG (2012) “What Is Classical Conditioning? (And Why Is It Important?) Scientific American. Https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/what-is-classical-conditioning -and-why-does -is imported /.

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