Ivan Pavlov’ Classical Conditioning: Learning by Association

Classical conditioning was Ivan Pavlov’s most famous and influential work, and it laid much of the groundwork of behavioral psychology. In essence, the idea of classical conditioning is simply learning something by association. Pavlov identified four basic principles:

  1. The Unconditioned Stimulus:  A stimulus is any act, influence, or agent that creates a response. An unconditioned stimulus is when the stimulus automatically triggers some type of response. For example, if pollen makes a person sneeze, then pollen is an unconditioned stimulus.
  2. The Unconditioned Response: This is a response that is automatically triggered as a result of the unconditioned stimulus. In essence, this is a natural, unconscious reaction to whatever the stimulus might be. For example, if pollen makes a person sneeze, the sneeze is the unconditioned response.
  3. The Conditioned Stimulus: When a neutral stimulus (a stimulus that is not related to the response)  becomes associated with an unconditioned stimulus,  thus triggering a conditioned response.
  4. The Conditioned Response: This is a response that was learned from the once-neutral stimulus.

Confused? Don’t be. It’s actually very simple! Imagine if you inched after hearing a loud sound. The sound triggered a natural response, making it an unconditioned stimulus, and the inching was the unconditioned response because it was something that you did unconsciously as a result of the unconditioned stimulus.

Ivan Pavlov’s Dogs

Dr. Ivan Pavlov was able to establish these ideas by observing the irregular secretions of nonanesthetized dogs. Pavlov initially began studying digestion in dogs by measuring the...

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Now, if you repeatedly witnessed a certain movement happen at the same time as, or a little bit before, the loud noise occurred—for example, a person swinging their st to slam it on a table—you might then begin to associate that movement with the loud sound, inching whenever you see a fist move in a similar manner, even if there is no sound. The movement of the st (the conditioned stimulus) became associated with the unconditioned stimulus (the sound), and made you inch (the conditioned response).