Classical Conditioning

By: Brocha Rabinowitz

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936)

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist discovered classical conditioning, which is a behavioral learning theory. Pavlov was studying animal’s digestive systems. He became interested in studying reflexes when he saw that the dogs drooled without a proper stimulus. Although no food was in sight, their saliva still dribbled. It turned out that the dogs were reacting to lab coats. Every time the dogs were served food, the person who served the food was wearing a lab coat. Therefore, the dogs reacted as if food was on its way whenever they saw a lab coat. Pavlov experimented with this theory. He rang a bell every time he served his dogs food. Sure enough the dogs began to associate the bells with food coming and the bells alone stimulated their salivating.

Definition of Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is learning a new behavior through association. There are three stages to classical conditioning.

· Stage 1: Before conditioning- in this stage, the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) produces an unconditioned response (UCR) in an organism. For example food made the dogs salivate.

· Stage 2: During conditioning- during this stage a stimulus, which produces no response, is associated with the unconditioned stimulus at which point it now becomes known as the conditioned stimulus (CS). An example of this would be the bell ringing while bringing out food to the dogs.

· Stage 3: After conditioning- now the conditioned stimulus (CS) has been associated with the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) to create a new conditioned response (CR). For example the bell ringing (without the food), now makes the dogs salivate.

Implications for Teaching and Learning

  1. Avoid negative emotions. Anticipate situations where negative emotions might be learned through classical conditioning. Make the classroom a happy place.

  2. Link learning with positive emotions. Arrange repeated pairing of positive feelings with certain kinds of learning.

  3. Teach students that poor performance on one assignment or test does not mean that the student is a poor performer.

  4. Help students cope with classically conditioned anxiety. Help students learn to relax when facing anxiety provoking situations.

Teaching Strategies

Classical conditioning can be associated with all different types of teaching strategies. A teacher can use classical conditioning to get her students excited about learning. Therefore it can apply to anything in the classroom. For example, teachers may show students the clip from The Office illustrating the concept of classical conditioning. And then ask students to identify the core components of classical conditioning (e.g., unconditioned stimulus) in the clip. This exercise forces students to think critically about the concept of classical conditioning while showing that the concept has transcended the classroom. Also by making the classroom a friendly and happy place, they'll associate the classroom with positivity. A teacher can encourage students to get involved in the learning (active learning) and to get creative with the material. When they do well the teacher can give them compliments and make the feel good, this way the students will want to be creative and they'll want to be active learners because they associate these things with positive feelings.

Classical Conditioning in High School

Personal Experiences

Whenever I sit down to do school work, I physically feel hungry even if I had just eaten. It started when I would sit down to write a report or study and I'd get really bored so I would run to the kitchen and eat while I worked to keep me interested! Now it's almost impossible for me to concentrate on school work without munching something. I usually go for gum to avoid unnecessary calories. On the days that I do school work I could go through at least 5 packs of gum!