Classical Conditioning, Essay Example

Classical conditioning discovery is termed by many as an accident. It was around the 20th century (1849-1936) in Russia, when Ivan Pavlov, a psychologist was researching on a dog’s digestive process. The investigation made him win a Nobel Prize and the role played by saliva in the process of digestion was the question under study. In order to measure how much saliva is produced by dogs Ivan implanted devices on its cheeks through performing surgery on the animal. The experimental method aimed at placing the dog in a harness, give the dog food, and later measure the saliva amount produced (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2011, p. 181). Pavlov noticed something while conducting these studies that the dog begun salivating even before being given the food. He concluded that the mere sight of food or the approach of an experimenter was enough to make the dog produce saliva.  In essence, it is evident that the dog had erudite to correlate certain stimuli or cues with food presentation. To the dog, footsteps were an indication that food will soon appear and thus, the dog had been taught or conditioned, to respond to footsteps the same way he responded to food by salivating.

Interestingly, this learning process discovered by Pavlov enabled him investigate further on which could be conditioned after systematically pairing different stimuli with food to produce the reflexive salivation response. In addition, he introduced a buzzer prior to handing the food to the dog and repeated this severally, while measuring the amount of saliva produced. After a repeated pairing of the buzzer and food, the dog started to slobber on hearing the sound of the buzzer even when food was not being presented. In this instance, the dog was conditioned to correlate buzzer with food presentation. Consequently, the power associated with food was taken by the buzzer and made the dog to salivate (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2011, p. 182).

Classical conditioning undergoes through some processes in order to produce a response that is conditioned. The first process is the pairing of an unconditioned stimulus (US), which causes a natural reflexive response, and response, which evokes an unconditioned response (UR). Unconditioned in this case means that the existing association between the stimulus and response is unlearned. An example of US-UR pairing is that of food and saliva in Pavlov’s experiment. Other examples include being stuck with a pin (US) and flinching away from the pin (UR), knee blow (US) and reflex – knee-jerk (UR), placing of sour food on the tongue (US) and salivation (UR) among other examples. The next process involves the selection of a neutral stimulus (NS). Here, the aim is to go for a stimulus that could not naturally elicit a UR and for Pavlov the buzzer was the NS since it had no power to cause the UR naturally. The last step is pairing of neutral and unconditioned stimulus. In Pavlov’s experiment, the repeated buzzer sound (NS) prior to food presentation (US) made the NS lose neutrality.  Therefore, the dog started salivating the minute the buzzer sounded, that is, without being presented with the food. Moreover, classical conditioning had occurred at this point, since neutrality of the buzzer had been lost.

In an experiment conducted by Watson and Rayner, in the 1900s, and Watson aimed at showing how classical conditioning could be used in a child to condition responses of fear (Watson & Rayner, 1920). The experiment was referred to “Little Albert” because the child under experiment was called Albert and was classically conditioned to fear white rats. The rat in this case was an NS since it did not cause him to fear. Later on, Watson made a loud noise (US) from striking hammer on a piece of metal that made the child frightened and hence, he cried (UR). This was repeated by Watson and as a result, all he did to make the baby cry was show him the rat since it had been paired with the noise (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2011, p. 186).

Accordingly, this learning process is what is termed as classical conditioning and others also call it Pavlovian conditioning. Therefore, classical conditioning is an erudition that occurs as a result of coupling a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus. It is the unconditioned stimulus that causes an unconditioned response, and due to the association, neutrality of the neutral stimulus is lost thereby taking the same power applied to the unconditioned stimulus of responding. In short, this process involves learning to give association to two (unconditioned and neutral) stimuli, and due to the association, the neutral stimulus (NS) become a conditioned stimulus (CS).

Classical conditioning, according to John Watson is able to explain human psychology aspects and encompasses everything from emotional responses to speech. These were classified under the simple patterns of response and stimulus. Watson argued that all differences of individuals were as a result of learning experiences (Watson, 1924, p. 104). As such behaviorism influences classical condition and gives power for the responses to occur. As such is an influence of development of behavior therapy that contributes to the elimination of certain disorders of anxiety through systematic desensitization and flooding techniques. The importance of Pavlov’s work is the ability for all organisms to learn and adapt to situations through automatic and unconscious processes of learning. The associations that present themselves for the conditions to take place are the reason why an individual behaves the way they do (Watson, 1913, p. 160). The influence of classical conditioning today has brought about increases in terms of profits for organizations engaging in business opportunities. Through advertising, business operations have observed increase in the target market and thus, responses of persuasion have enabled customers to buy products. Advertisements in business enterprises are associated to classical conditioning as a learning process because they are repeated several times. This is an avenue to change and persuade the position of consumers and hence, choose the side being advertised. The response here becomes buying, which to the global sector is a widely applied phenomenon. To customers, advertising is a classical conditioning that has been able to bring people together and converge in a way that improves the economy of the country and individuals.

In conclusion, classical conditioning is a learning process developed around the 20th century and to-date, many psychologists, doctors, and even business people use this in changing situations favorable to them. Different experiments show how classical conditioning is applied to current happenings in the world and therefore, they are necessary in teaching others on how to behave. Furthermore, individuals are changed to people they want to be, which becomes a modification to their lifestyle. It is evident that business people apply classical conditioning in the event of wanting to persuade and teach their clients on the importance of owning that commodity. Individuals in the community to bring the nation at peace by applying responses that create positive attitudes. In addition, they should relate the associations to current events in order to become relevant and create subjectivity in psychology and other disciplines.


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Watson, J.B. (1924). Behaviorism. New York: People’s Institute Publishing Company.

Watson, J. B. & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3(1), 1–14.