Psychology Today

Ivana Hamade

The word classical conditioning discusses to the relationship of a response to its stimulus. Study into classical conditioning started with Ivan Pavlov. Classical conditioning works by constructing up an association between two stimuli, one which makes a certain response, and another which originally does not cause a reply. Pavlov examined classical conditioning on his dogs, when he observed that they would drool even when they just heard his footsteps. Even though at the time he wouldn't be carrying food, it was the suggestion of him coming and him coming and carrying food that caused the salivating. The dog is offered food, so the dog salivates. At this phase, the food is an unconditioned stimulus, which incites the dog to salivate. This is an unconditioned response. When the bell is rung, it causes no reply from the dog. The bell is a neutral stimulus. Meaning it has not been complaint with another stimulus, and as a result causes no response within the dog. The bell is rung, and the dog is presented with some food. This causes the dog to salivate, because he is being presented with some food. The bell is still a natural stimulint, the food still a “UCS” and the salivation a “UCR.” The bell keeps ringing each time food is offered. Finally, even when the food is not there, the dog will still drool to the sound of the bell. The bell has become a conditioned stimulus and the salivation a conditioned response. In the final stage, classical conditioning has been attained. An association between the ringing of the bell and the presentation of the food was made. This was over a century ago Ivan Pavlov made a finding that still rings with both psychological experiments and popular culture.


This theory doesn’t just put on to drooling dogs but has shaped a significant foundation for the development, maintenance and decline of drug-taking behaviors. Addictions are very tough to break as we usually surround ourselves with people, things or situations that trigger the behavior that run to the addiction in the first place. But psychological conditioning can be used to break ruthless habits. Drugs are satisfying in nature and act by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopa-mine in the brain. Under normal circumstances, dopa-mine is involved in maintaining behaviors essential for survival, such as obtaining food. Drugs also act on this system and the brain connections the gratifying high with the drug, inspiring more drug taking. These systems become taken over by the drugs of abuse, producing maladaptive changes that reserve addictive actions.

Strengths of classical conditioning is that it can explain the gaining of some features of behavior. Classical conditioning shows how the atmosphere can control our behavior through stimulus response mechanisms. An example is when Little Albert at the start showed no fear of rats but through his experience developed a fear. Also a strength of the theory is that it has a variety of applied requests in the real world. The values of classical conditioning are used effectively in behavioral therapies such as aversion therapy. For example, like I mentioned in the beginning smokers and alcoholics may undergo aversion therapy to cure their addiction. An association is built up which causes the persons behavior to change as the maladaptive habit becomes linked to an disagreeable response.

Weakness of the theory is that classical conditioning can only account for the presence of Involuntary reflex responses in new situations. It cannot explain the attainment of totally new behaviors. In difference, operant conditioning objects to explain why some voluntary behavior, such as demanding a lever, are frequent or sustained through back-ups. Another weakness is that the theory is mainly based on studies of non-human animals in the lab. This can lead to problems in generalizing from non-human animals to humans. Animals may be more driven by innate factors and therefore may be too different to humans for judgment. It is tough to show that a particular adult behavior was acquired through classical conditioning. This is because we haven’t been able to study the person from birth and therefore, it is impossible to identify the exact causes or penalties which may have led to the behavior.