Classical Conditioning

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 5 January 2017

Classical Conditioning

Different authors have different perspectives on classical conditioning, yet they agree on one aspect which is common, that it is a natural sequence of events; an unconscious, uncontrolled, and unlearned relationship. Comer (2004) defines classical conditioning as a process of learning by temporal association in which two events that repeatedly occur close together in time become fused in a person’s mind and produce the same response. Conditioned stimulus or CS, comes to signal the occurrence of a second stimulus, the unconditioned stimulus or US. A stimulus is a factor that causes a response in an organism. The US is usually a biologically significant stimulus such as food or pain that elicits a response from the start; this is called the unconditioned response or UR. The CS usually produces no particular response at first, but after conditioning it elicits the conditioned response or CR. In this essay the writer is going to focus on Pavlov`s theory of classical conditioning showing its educational implications to a secondary school teacher.

According to Biehler and Snowman (1986) conditioning is usually done by pairing the two stimuli, as in Pavlov’s classic experiments. Pavlov presented dogs with a ringing bell followed by food. The food elicited salivation (UR), and after repeated bell-food pairings the bell also caused the dogs to salivate. In this experiment, the unconditioned stimulus is the dog food as it produces an unconditioned response, saliva. The conditioned stimulus is the ringing bell and it produces a conditioned response of the dogs producing saliva.

Huitt and Hummel (1997 objects that it was originally thought that the process underlying classical conditioning was one where the conditioned stimulus becomes associated with, and eventually elicits, the unconditioned response. But many observations do not support this hypothesis. For example, Skinner(1950) argues that the conditioned response is often quite different to the unconditioned response. He suggests that the CS comes to signal or predict the US. In the case of the salivating dogs in Pavlov’s experiment, the bell tone signalled and predicted the arrival of the dog food, thus resulting in the dog to begin salivating.

Shettleworth (2010), summarised classical conditioning into three steps. In the first step, he says Ivan Pavlov, before conditioning gave a hungry dog a bowl of food. The dog is hungry, the dog sees the food and the dog salivates. During conditioning Pavlov presented the hungry dog with food and simultaneously rang a bell, and the dog salivated. This action (food and bell ringing) was done at several meals. Every time the dog sees the food, the dog also hears the bell.According to him , Pavlov was trying to associate, connect, bond or link something new with the old relationship. He wanted this new thing (the bell) to elicit the same response.

In the final step , Pavlov rang only the bell at mealtime, but he did not show any food. The dog salivated. The bell elicited the same response as the sight of the food gets. Over repeated trials, the dog has learned to associate the bell with the food. The bell has the power to produce the same response as the food. In other words, the dog has been conditioned to salivate when hearing the bell.

Carlson (2010) bought the idea but he however used specific terms. According to him, a neutral stimulus (NS) is a stimulus to which the organism does not respond in any noticeable way , is identified. In the case of Pavlov’s dog, the bell was originally a neutral stimulus that did not elicit a salivation response. The neutral stimulus is presented just before another stimulus, one that does lead to a response. This second stimulus is called an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), and the response to it is called an unconditioned response (UCR), because the organism responds to the stimulus unconditionally, without having had to learn to do so.

For Pavlov’s dog, meat powder was an unconditioned stimulus to which the dog responded with the unconditioned response of salivation. After being paired with an unconditioned stimulus, the previously neutral stimulus now elicits a response, so it is no longer “neutral.” The NS has become a conditioned stimulus (CS) to which the organism has learned a conditioned response (CR).In Pavlov’s experiment, the bell, after being paired with the meat (the unconditioned stimulus) became a conditioned stimulus that led to the conditioned response of salivation.

According to the two authors, Pavlov theorized that the dogs had learned from experience in the lab to expect food following the appearance of certain signals. While these signal stimuli do not naturally produce salivation, the dogs came to associate them with food, and thus responded to them with salivation. Consequently, Pavlov determined that there must be two kinds of reflexes. Unconditioned reflexes are inborn and automatic, require no learning, and are generally the same for all members of a species. Salivating when food enters the mouth, jumping at the sound of a loud noise, and the dilation of your pupils in low light are examples of unconditioned reflexes. Conditioned reflexes, on the other hand, are acquired through experience or learning and may vary a great deal among individual members of a species. A dog salivating at the sound of footsteps, or you feeling pain in your teeth when you smell dental disinfectant, is conditioned reflexes.

Unconditioned reflexes are formed by an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) producing an unconditioned response(UCR). In Pavlov’s studies, the UCS was food and the UCR was salivation. Conditioned reflexes consist of a conditioned stimulus (CS), such as the footsteps, producing a conditioned response (CR), salivation. One will notice that the response in both of these examples is salivation, but when the salivation results from hearing footsteps, it is conditioning that produced it.The question Pavlov wanted to answer was this: Since conditioned reflexes are not inborn, exactly how are they acquired? Huitt and Hummel (1998) objects that he proposed that if a particular stimulus in the dog’s environment was often present when the dog was fed, this stimulus would become associated in the dog’s brain with food; it would signal the approaching food.

Prior to being paired with the food, the environmental stimulus did not produce any important response. In other words, to the dogs, it was a neutral stimulus (NS). When the dogs first arrived at the lab, the assistant’s footsteps might have produced a response of curiosity (Pavlov called it the “What is it?” response), but hearing the footsteps certainly would not have caused the dogs to salivate. The footsteps, then, were a neutrals stimulus. However, over time, as the dogs heard the same footsteps just prior to being fed every day, they would begin to associate the sound with food. Eventually, according to the theory, the footsteps alone would cause the dogs to salivate.

Pavlov`s theory of classical conditioning can be used in the educational setup for example to a secondary school teacher. Teaching is the arrangement of contingencies of reinforcement which expedite learning Gallistel and Gibbon (2002). For effective teaching in Secondary schools, teacher should arranged effective contingencies of reinforcement for example for self-learning of a student, teacher should reinforce student behaviour through variety of incentives such as prize, medal, smile, praise, affectionate patting on the back or by giving higher marks.

Conditioning makes entire group learn and complete change in behaviour due to reinforcement Schacter(2009).It breaks undesired and unsocial behaviour too. For example, putting questions or telling lie to teachers will make teachers annoyed in such circumstances students learn to keep mum in the class. Asking questions, active participation in class discussion will make the teacher feel happy – interaction will increase and teaching learning process becomes more effective.

Reinforcement is given in different form, for the progress of knowledge and in the feedback form. When response is correct positive reinforcement is given. For example, a student who stands first in the class in the month of January is rewarded in the month of December. To overcome this Programme instruction is used. In this subject, matter is broken down into steps. Organizing in logical sequence helps in learning. Each step is built upon the preceding step. Progress is seen in the process of learning. Immediate reinforcement is given at each step.

Fear, love, and hatred towards specific subjects are created through conditioning. Comer(2004).For example a Maths teacher in Secondary school with his or her defective method of teaching and improper behaviour in the classroom may be disliked by learners. The Learners develop hatred towards Maths due to teacher’s behaviour. The good method and kind treatment a teacher can bring desirable impacts upon the learners. The learners may like the boring subject because of teacher’s role. In teaching Audio Video Aids role is very vital .When a teacher want to teach a cat. He or she shows the picture of the cat along with the spellings. When teacher shows picture at the same time he or she spell out the spellings, after a while when only picture is shown and the Learners spell the word cat.

Pavlov`s classical conditioning theory can be used for developing good habits and elimination of bad ones and various kinds of phobias can be controlled through it Comer (2004). Students will be conditioned in a positive manner students will learn the expectations of their teachers. Students will learn the expectations of their school.

However it can be noted from the above that the Pavlovian theory is condition- response oriented. It does not take into consideration that some secondary school pupils are intrinsically motivated. They can always observe school rules and study hard because they prioritise education. Classical conditioning cannot be effectively used on such pupils since their response to education will be acceptable.

The use of incentives for example prizes to better performing students as a conditioned stimulus is also mostly applicable to schools which have a stable finance. Most rural schools are striving to make ends meet in terms of day to day school business and may not afford some of the ‘conditioned stimuli’ for pupils so that a conditioned response could be achieved.

Gustafson, Sweeney & Garcia (1976) further objects that classical conditioning creates a ‘work for reward’ impression to pupils in which pupils will always expect an incentive after performing well in academic activities. According to him Gustafson, C.R., Kelly, D.J, Sweeney, M., & Garcia, J. (1976) when pupils are not given the rewards they always expect, then they are demotivated and their esteem and confidence is negatively affected.

In nutshell, classical conditioning, also known as the Pavlovian theory is a process of learning by temporal association in which two events that repeatedly occur close together in time become fused in a person’s mind and produce the same response. Conditioning is usually done by pairing the two stimuli, as in Pavlov’s classic experiments. It helps a secondary school teacher discover student`s capabilities by their reaction to the stimulus, for example rewards, prizes, promotions and recommendations. It also helps pupils to always aim for higher both academically and in sports, Hence the inclusion of classical conditioning in secondary schools is quite relevant.


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