Classical Conditioning Theory

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CLASSICAL CONDITIONING THEORY
Classical Conditioning is the type of learning made famous by Pavlov's experiments with dogs. The gist of the experiment is this: Pavlov presented dogs with food, and measured their salivary response (how much they drooled). Then he began ringing a bell just before presenting the food. At first, the dogs did not begin salivating until the food was presented. After a while, however, the dogs began to salivate when the sound of the bell was presented. They learned to associate the sound of the bell with the presentation of the food. As far as their immediate physiological responses were concerned, the sound of the bell became equivalent to the presentation of the food. Classical conditioning is used by trainers for two purposes: To condition (train) autonomic responses, such as the drooling, producing adrenaline, or reducing adrenaline (calming) without using the stimuli that would naturally create such a response; and, to create an association between a stimulus that normally would not have any effect on the animal and a stimulus that would. COMPONENTS OF CLASSICAL CONDITIONING

The easiest place to start is with a little example. Consider a hungry dog who sees a bowl of food. Something like this might happen: Food ---> Salivation
The dog is hungry, the dog sees the food, the dog salivates. This is a natural sequence of events, an unconscious, uncontrolled, and unlearned relationship. See the food, then salivate. Now, because we are humans who have an insatiable curiosity, we experiment. When we present the food to the hungry dog (and before the dog salivates), we ring a bell. Thus, •Bell

with
Food ---> Salivation
We repeat this action (food and bell given simultaneously) at several meals. Every time the dog sees the food, the dog also hears the bell. Ding-dong, Alpo. Now, because we are humans who like to play tricks on our pets, we do another experiment. We ring the bell (Ding-dong), but we don't show any food. What does the dog do? Right, Bell ---> Salivate

The bell elicits the same response the sight of the food gets. Over repeated trials, the dog has learned to associate the bell with the food and now the bell has the power to produce the same response as the food. (And, of course, after you've tricked your dog into drooling and acting even more stupidly than usual, you must give it a special treat.) This is the essence of Classical Conditioning. It really is that simple. You start with two things that are already connected with each other (food and salivation). Then you add a third thing (bell) for several trials. Eventually, this third thing may become so strongly associated that it has the power to produce the old behavior. Now, where do we get the term, "Conditioning" from all this? Let me draw up the diagrams with the official terminology. •Food ---------------------> Salivation

Unconditioned Stimulus ---> Unconditioned Response
"Unconditioned" simply means that the stimulus and the response are naturally connected. They just came that way, hard wired together like a horse and carriage and love and marriage as the song goes. "Unconditioned" means that this connection was already present before we got there and started messing around with the dog or the child or the spouse. "Stimulus" simply means the thing that starts it while "response" means the thing that ends it. A stimulus elicits and a response is elicited. (This is circular reasoning, true, but hang in there.) Another diagram, •Conditioning Stimulus

Bell
with
Food -----------------------> Salivation
Unconditioned Stimulus------> Unconditioned Response
We already know that "Unconditioned" means unlearned, untaught, preexisting, already-present-before-we-got-there. "Conditioning" just means the opposite. It means that we are trying to associate, connect, bond, link something new with the old relationship. And we want this new thing to elicit (rather than be elicited) so it will be a...
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