Classical Conditioning and the Pupil Dilation Response

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Learning refers to the process whereby experience produces a fairly lasting and adaptive change in behaviour (Passer et al., 2009). Classical conditioning is the process of learning by association which signals the approaching arrival of a significant event. It involves pairing a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus (US) that will elicit an unconditioned response (UR). With repeated pairings, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) that evokes a conditioned response (CR) similar to the original UR (Passer et al., 2009). In the case of the pupil dilation experiment, initially, the bell is a neutral stimulus because it does not elicit dilation of the pupil. The complete dark room on the other hand, will result in our pupil dilating, a reflexive reaction. Since pupils naturally dilate and constrict according to the amount of light intensity and that no prior learning is required, the darkness in the room is the US that leads to the UR of pupil dilation in the dark. Next, a learning trial is formed each time the bell and darkness are paired. After 20 to 30 learning trials (repeated pairings), the bell has become a CS that elicits the CR of pupil dilation while the lights are on. Therefore, the bell is the CS, the darkness in the room is the US and pupil dilation will be both the UR as well as the CR. To be more specific, pupil dilation in the dark is the UR while pupil dilation with the lights on is the CR. This illustrates a forward trace pairing classical conditioning where the CS appears before the UCS during the learning trial. Another classical conditioning experiment that can be performed at home requires a record of the classical music, “Canon in D” and a favourite computer game, which for me is “Diner Dash”. The steps of the experiment I carried out are as follows. Firstly, I listened to “Canon in D” for about 30 seconds then started playing “Diner Dash”, with the music still playing. After playing the game for about 5 minutes, a...
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