Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning entails closely associating a neutral stimulus that evokes a reflexive response with the goal that the neutral stimulus alone will eventually evoke the same response.

Classical conditioning is an important concept in the school of psychology known as behaviorism and behavior modification, and it forms the basis for some of the techniques used in behavior therapy.

Classical conditioning was pioneered by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936) in the 1890s in the course of experiments on the digestive systems of dogs, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1904. Noticing that the dogs salivated at the mere sight of the person who fed them, Pavlov formulated a theory about the relationship between stimuli and responses that he believed could be applied to humans as well as to other animals. He called the dogs’ salivation in response to the actual taste and smell of meat an unconditioned response because it occurred through a natural reflex without any prior training. He referred to the meat as an unconditioned stimulus. A normally neutral act, such as the appearance of a lab assistant in a white coat or the ringing of a bell, could become associated with the appearance of food, thus producing salivation as a conditioned response (in response to a conditioned stimulus). Pavlov believed that the conditioned reflex had a physiological basis in the creation of new pathways in the cortex of the brain by the conditioning process. In further research early in the twentieth century, Pavlov found that in order for the conditioned response to be maintained, it had to be paired periodically with the unconditioned stimulus or the learned association would be forgotten through a process known as extinction. However, it could quickly be relearned if necessary.

See also Conditioning ; Conditioned response ; Conditioned stimulus ; Pavlov, Ivan.



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