When ever the bell rings in any school in any nationyou are guaranteed to see students and teachers file into the hallway. This automatic response comes from somethingthat has been around for a long time called classical conditioning. Classicalconditioning was discovered and researched by Ivan Pavlov, a Russianphysiologist. His famous experimentwith his dog is known to nearly everyone who has had a middle school or highereducation. He fed his dog in a pattern,every time he fed his dog he rang a bell.Eventually the dog associated the bell with food and would begin tosalivate just on hearing the bell. Thatis the original experiment proving classical conditioning.
What is aconditioned stimulus? “A neutralstimulus that, after repeated pairings with an unconditioned stimulus, becomesassociated with it and elicits a conditioned response.” (World of Psychologypg167) In English it is something thatis used to train someone or something through repetition. Pavlov made use of this in his experiment toshow classical conditioning. Where asan unconditioned stimulus is something that is unlearned but is just respondedto out of instinct. Pavlov’s dog, for examplehad one unconditioned stimulus and one conditioned stimulus. Both the conditioned and unconditionedstimuli were to an unconditioned response, the dog salivating. The unconditioned stimulus was the dog foodthat started the dog salivating. The conditionedstimulus or new stimulus was the bell being rung every time the dog was fed.After awhile the unconditioned stimulus wasn’t even needed, because the dog wasnow conditioned to respond to the bell and salivate whenever he heard thebell. Things like this happened all thetime, for example; when I put on running shoes and running clothes my dog willbecome extremely hyper because she knows we are going outside and she will getto run around.
Probably thestrongest application of classical conditioning is emotions. Human emotions are condition extremelyeasily to things that provoke strong reaction, things such as Adolf Hitler, theIRS, the American Flag and chemistry class because of their associations withour emotions. If something like thatprovoked a strong emotion before in your life when brought up in conversationthe strong emotion that was conditioned comes up also. For example when a person meets someone withthe same name as someone they previously liked, that person automatically likesthe new person, because of association to the previous friend. You become conditioned to associate onething with the other.
When Pavlovdiscovered classical conditioning it was, like most major discoveries, byaccident. Pavlov’s original purpose wasto collect the saliva of dogs to study.Pavlov made a small cut on the inside of the dog’s mouth and attached atube that connected to a container for the collection and measurement ofsaliva. One day he noticed that therewas saliva starting to collect in the container when the dog heard theassistant coming to feed him. The dog hadalready been conditioned to the sound of the footsteps as a conditionedstimulus. And although completely byaccident Pavlov had just proved his classical conditioning theory. He had made a discovery, now was his chance to research it, and hedid so in his lab of his own design.His laboratory was in St. Petersburg, Russia more than a centuryago. He was extremely meticulous aboutnothing getting in and influencing his test subjects at all. “The windows were covered in extra thicksheets of glass; each room had double steel doors which sealed hermeticallywhen closed; and the steel girders which supported the floors were embedded insand. A deep moat filled with strawencircled the building. Thus vibration,noise, temperature extremes, odors, even drafts were eliminated. Nothing could influence the animals exceptthe conditioning stimulus to which they were exposed. (Schultz 1975pp187-188)” (World of Psychology pg166)Pavlov went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1904 for his research in the physiologyof digestion. He was the first Russianto win the Nobel Prize.
What happens ifPavlov just ran the bell and didn’t give the dog any food? Other than being cruel to animals he wouldhave started to disassemble the conditioning of the dog. When the dog can hear the bell ring and notsalivate that is called extinction.Extinction is by definition “The weakening and often eventualdisappearance of a learned response. (In classical conditioning the conditionedresponse is weakened by repeated presentation of the conditioned responsewithout the unconditioned stimulus” (World of Psychology pg168) Meaning thatPavlov’s dogs would stop salivating after a while of only hearing the bell andnot receiving any food. Just becausethe conditioned response leaves the dog it’s not gone forever. Pavlov discovered that if he brought the doghome for a while and let it rest then brought it back to the lab theconditioned response would reappear. Henamed this spontaneous recovery.Although it did come back without actual food to back up ringing thebell the conditioned response disappeared in less time than the before.
The next thingthat Pavlov wondered about classical conditioning is it generalized orspecific? Meaning will the dog salivate to any bell now or just the one in “C”tone? This is calledgeneralization. He discovered that thedog was conditioned to salivate to other tones than the “C” tone but thefarther it got from the “C” the less the dog salivated. To further test generalization Pavlovconducted his experiment another way.He conditioned a dog to salivate to a vibrating device was set offattached to the dog’s thigh. He thenwondered would the dog still salivate if he attached the device to the dogspelvis, then hind paw, then shoulder, then foreleg and finally the frontpaw. He discovered that the farther hegot from the rear thigh, or the original conditioning, the less of a salivatingresponse. Other examples of this arethings such as someone who was attacked by a dog when he or she was young andtherefore grew up hating and fearing all dogs.
On the other sideof generalization there must be discrimination. Pavlov decided he didn’t want his dogs to salivate to any othertones but “C.” This was not very hard all that was need was to cause extinction in any other type of tone. The “C” tone was reinforced by continuouslygiving food after the tone was rung. On the other hand whenever any other tone was sounded it was not reinforced by food. Thus the dog became more conditioned to “C” and the conditioned responses for the other tones becameextinct.
Classicalconditioning has and will continue to be around forever. It is part of human nature and many peopletake advantage of it daily. It can beused to dispel fears or as training for a job, it doesn’t matter what it is for it will just be there.