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The uses for classical conditioning today

Many of you might be wondering what is behaviorism. Behaviorism is branch of psychology which was introduced after the Freud and the psychoanalysts who concentrated on the power of the mind to inflict sickness in terms of mental illness. The psychoanalysts were brought in what was known as the first wave of psychology and the Behaviorists became the second wave of psychology. In behaviorism, the theorists believed that all our experiences were based on what we learned from our environment.

Ivan Pavlov
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The behaviorists believed that since behavior was leaned meaning coming from the environment or the world around us good behavior could be learned and replacing bad behavior with good behavior could be learned as well. Forms of behaviorism are still in practice today.

Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov was perhaps the most famous behaviorist. His famous experiment using classical conditioning to condition dogs is part of any introductory psychology course. The concept he demonstrated was how a trigger or environmental stimulus will produce a natural response to the environment. There is no place for thoughts, feelings, or emotions in this theory; we take our cues from the environment and react. As a theory it does fall short but it was one of the most famous contributions to psychology as witnessed by the paragraph I written above.

For those of you who are confused with the psychological jargon a look at his famous experiment will make it easier to understand.

Pavlov’s salivating dogs

Simply put, Pavlov experimented with dogs. He wanted to demonstrate that dogs could learn to salivate for food by the introduction of a conditioned stimulus. He would ring a bell as a neutral signal every time the dogs were to receive food. The tone or bell was neutral because it really didn’t have anything at all to do with food. The experiment worked and when the dogs heard the bell they began to salivate in anticipation of food.

The Unconditioned Stimulus

An unconditioned stimulus is anything that would happen naturally. For example reading small print (unconditioned stimulus) might cause someone to squint.

The Unconditioned Response

The unconditioned response is something that would happen naturally. In the example of reading small print the unconditioned response is squinting.

The Conditioned Stimulus

The conditioned response is the learned response to an environmental cue. In the case of Pavlov dogs the tone or bell was the conditioned stimulus; something that was added to entice the dogs to response.

The Conditioned Response

The conditioned response is a learned response to an environmental cue. Pavlov’s dogs learned to salivate when they heard the tone or bell. They salivated because they had learned to associate this neutral stimulus with food.

How classical conditioning works in the real world.

Phobias are a great example of classical conditioning. People often learn to be afraid of something because they see others afraid of the object or situation. For example, a child growing up with a parent who is afraid of dogs becomes afraid of dogs as well.

Aversions to food demonstrate classical conditioning

In this example a person will eat something and perhaps get sick or dislike the taste of that food and now associates the food with sickness or having a bad taste resulting in refusing to eat the food again.

Dog trainers will use classical conditioning to train the animals. Teachers use classical conditioning in the classroom. Behavior modifications programs such as weight loss programs, drug clinics and anger management courses will apply the principles of classical conditioning among other tools of the trade.


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