Definition: A form of behavioral learning in which a stimulus that produces an innate reflex becomes associated with a previously neutral stimulus, which then acquires the power to elicit essentially the same innate reflex produced by another stimulus.

In Other Words...


  • When a stimulus that previously resulted in no reaction is paired with a stimulus that results in an innate reaction.
  • Adding meaning to a stimulus which was previously non-responsive through training with an unconditioned stimulus.
  • Stimuli reinforced with a repeated unconditioned stimulus until the new stimulus provokes the same reaction the unconditioned stimulus did.

Examples of Classical Conditioning


  • The first time you hear the song from an ice cream truck it means nothing to you (NS). However, the thought of ice cream (UCS) makes you crave it (UCR) and when you hear the song from the ice cream truck (now the CS), it makes your mouth water (CR).
  • A soldier in the navy or armed forces may be trained to jump out of bed and snap into action (CR) at the sound of a horn. Before, the horn would have meant nothing (NS) but when paired with impending danger (UCS) the horn (CS) begins to cause the same reaction (CR) in the soldier that danger would have. Even years after, a soldier may hear a horn and sense danger.
  • When you were a child, you could always hear the garage door open when your father came home from work (NS). You ate dinner (UCS) every day very soon after he got home. One evening while at a friend's house, you heard his brother open the garage (CS) and you begin to feel hungry (CR) and ask when dinner will be ready.
  • In school, before Ms. Stratton makes an announcement over the intercom, you can slightly hear the speaker turn on. When Ms. Stratton is talking, teachers make the class quiet down and be respectful. If a student fails to stop talking, the teacher commonly ends up punishing the student for their bad behavior. Now every time you hear the speaker turn on you stop talking and wait for an announcement to come on.
  • Gerry wanted to teach his pet iguana to wait to be commanded to eat his food, in order to do so he would prick the lizards hand and say eat. Eventually when Gerry would tell the lizard to eat, the lizard would associate the word "eat" with the prick, so when it heard the word eat, he ate in fear of the prick.

Applying Classical Conditioning to Real Life


  • Classical Conditioning can be used for taste-aversion learning, a biological innate part of us that tells an organism to avoid food when it is related to illness. Example: cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are given a food with a strange flavor, such a licorice before chemotherapy. They relate feeling sick to the licorice and avoid licorice, rather than healthy foods that build up their immune system.
  • The metal band Rorschach have a song titled "Pavlov's dogs"(the title being an obvious reference to Ivan Pavlov's experiment) whose lyrics also treat about classical conditioning.
  • The Barenaked Ladies reference Pavlolv's dogs in the song Brian Wilson. The singer alludes to salivating when a girl rings a bell.

Pavlov's Dogs Experiment


Pavlov's Dogs Experiement is an example of classical conditioning
Pavlov's Dogs Experiement is an example of classical conditioning

Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment linking the sound of a bell ringing to a dog salivating. Each time the bell rings, the dogs are given food. Here, the food is acting as the unconditioned stimulus that produces salivation (unconditioned response). Pavlov continues to ring the bell, causing the dogs to salivate because they know food follows the noise of the bell. The ringing of bell is serving as the neutral stimulus. Eventually Pavlov stopped giving the dogs food following the bell. Although, when the bell was rung, the dogs still produced saliva, even in the absence of food (the bell then becomes the conditioned stimulus). The salivation is the conditioned response.





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