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Classical Conditioning by Ivan Pavlov

By jjerbs Oct 27, 2010 787 Words
Classical conditioning was first observed by researcher Ivan Pavlov in an experiment on digestion gone wrong. In trying to measure the salivation of dogs, he realized that many of the dogs began salivating before the food was even presented. This debacle would lead to the discovery of the phenomenon know as classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning is a behavioral event that is based off of a series of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli and responses. Before the official conditioning process can even occur, one must have two neutral situations. The first must be an unconditioned stimuli that elicits an unconditioned response. In Pavlov’s case, this was when the dogs salivated when presented with food. The food was the unconditioned stimulus and the action of salivating was the unconditioned, natural response. The second situation is having a neutral stimulus that elicits no response. In Pavlov’s case, the neutral stimulus was a presented tone that brought no response from the dogs Next, the acquisition, or conditioning process, occurs. The previously neutral stimulus is used as the conditioned stimulus in this step. The unconditioned stimulus and the conditioned stimulus must be connected in order to bring about the desired unconditioned response. In many cases, the conditioned stimulus will be presented immediately before the unconditioned stimulus to make this connection. Pavlov presented the tone, then followed with the food, making the dog salivate. After several trials, subjects will pair the new, conditioned stimulus with their original unconditioned response without consciously learning to act that way. In Pavlov’s case, the dogs would salivate upon hearing the sound of the tone without seeing food.

This phenomenon, however, is not permanent. Through the process of extinction, the response to the conditions stimulus weakens over time and eventually disappears. As with the dogs, eventually they did not salivate in response to the tone if the food was never presented. The elimination is never fully complete, though, as spontaneous recovery can occur—the conditioned response will resurface without any reconditioning of the subject. In the example of the dogs, if the conditioned response was thought to be extinct, it is very possible that after a period of time, if the tone would sound, the dogs would salivate in response. Classical conditioning is related to my work experience. I work at Cold Stone Creamery and we recently installed a very loud doorbell that rings every time a customer enters the store. Whenever a customer comes to our store, we invite them in by saying “Hi, welcome to Cold Stone”. It is the standard greeting that all employees use. For our purposes, this makes the customer entering the store the unconditioned stimulus and the greeting the unconditioned response. When we installed the doorbell, my boss let us hear the sound a few times to be able to recognize the noise, especially over the din of many customers. At first hearing the tone, I had no outright response. This made the sound of the doorbell the neutral stimulus.

The first shift that I worked took me through the acquisition process of connecting the sound of the tone, to the customers entering the store, to me greeting the customers with “Hi, welcome to Cold Stone.” In this way, the doorbell became the conditioned stimulus that, when paired with the unconditioned stimulus— the customer entering the store—brought about my unconditioned response—my greeting. Eventually, I began to pair the doorbell tone with my greeting, as it trained me to believe that it alone elicited my response. Thus, my greeting became the conditioned response brought about by the tone, the conditioned stimulus.

I was not fully away of the conditioning that took place until I was at a friend’s house whom I did not realize had the same doorbell. We were watching TV in his living room when a neighbor came over to borrow something, ringing the doorbell to get my friend’s attention. At the sound of the tone, I looked up and said “Hi, welcome to Cold Stone” on the spot, without any conscious reasoning behind the action. I knew that I was not at work; there were no customers present and I was not even in my uniform, but the sound of the doorbell still elicited that same response none-the-less.

The theory of discrimination learning did come into play here. Discrimination learning is when subjects only respond to one stimulus, and not to those that are of similar nature. In my doorbell stimulus situation, I did not react in the same manner when I heard other tones of doorbells, but only to that specific tone.

In closing, classical conditioning does occur in our everyday lives, and many times goes undetected, as portrayed by my personal example.

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