As previously mentioned, every Wednesday and Friday, I'll be introducing a piece of psychological jargon or term and defining it, what I hope to be, plain terms and simple language.
Today's term is: Classical Conditioning
No, this does not refer to a new brand of hair products produced by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Instead, this goes back to our friend Pavlov and his salivating dogs.
Pavlovian conditioning (a form of classical conditioning) is learning by association.
To understand the terminology let’s explore in plain terms what’s going on.
1. Pavlov rings a bell
2. The dogs associate the bell with the food
3. The dogs salivate in response
But actually, we missed a couple of steps it’s more like:
1. Pavlov starts by ringing a bell every time food is presented.
2. (The dogs start to associate the bell with the food)
3. Pavlov rings a bell
4. The dogs have associated the bell with the food
5. The dogs salivate in response even before the food arrives
Here we have learning by association, the dogs are learning to associate the bell with the food. And that is in essence what classical conditioning is all about.
A few technical terms would be useful here to put the experiment in context:
NS (neutral stimulus)
US (unconditioned stimulus)
CS (conditioned stimulus)
UR (unconditioned response)
CR (conditioned response)
Stimulus and response:
1. The NS or neutral stimulus is the bell because in the beginning of the experiment it is neutral or does not elicit a response
2. The US or unconditioned stimulus is the food itself. To understand this think about it for a moment, the dogs are not conditioned to respond to the food, they dog's naturally gobble it up without any interference.
3. So if the bell was previously the NS, then after conditioning the dogs to respond to the bell it becomes the CS or conditioned stimulus. In other words, the dogs response has become conditional on the CS.
4. Of course the other two terms speak for themselves, the dogs either respond or they do not. If they respond to the CS then this is the CR, if they don’t then they have UR to the NS. Or rather if they don’t respond to the bell then the bell is still neutral.
An example that might ring true for some:
Imagine you’re walking down a path, and you see a sign informing walkers that a dog resides in one of the houses and you need to shut the gate.
For some reason, a cold sweat appears on your forehead, and you immediately pick up the pace.
One possible reason might be due to classical conditioning, in this case, the CS or sign warning people to shut the gate may have associations with a similar sign you used to walk past as a child on the way to school. But, behind that sign, you recall a ferocious dog with a mean set of sharp canines and a hideous blood-curdling bark.
In this case, the CS of the sign is linked to the dog barking and thus you now show a CR or conditioned response to the sign.
In the next post, we'll explore one of the most notorious experiments in the history of psychology that sought to provide empirical evidence for classical conditioning. This would involve a child named 'Little' Albert.