Throughout life we are subjected to countless stimuli, and our responses to those stimuli shape and affect our lives and those surrounding us. This example of real life classical conditioning is one that took a negative affect on a close friend of mine. My senior year in high school my friend formed a new group of people he associated with. This was not a problem until drugs entered the equation, and soon after he began to associate drug use with fun, and enjoyment whereas before just hanging out with his new friends provided his fun and enjoyment. This conditioning occurred because he was too ignorant to realize that it was his friends and not the drugs that provided the good times.
This example is one of classical conditioning, because it involves the association of two stimuli, drugs and friends, one of which had no previous effect one him (the drugs). Eventually through classical conditioning drugs triggered a response of enjoyment. This differs from operant conditioning because his behavior with the associated stimulus (drugs) was not strengthened or diminished from reinforcement or punishment.
The critical elements in my example include: the unconditioned stimulus, the conditioned stimulus, the unconditioned response, and the conditioned response. The unconditioned stimulus is the group of friends he hung out with. These friends of his naturally and automatically triggered a response in him, and that response was enjoyment and happiness. The unconditioned response was his reaction from his friends, and this reaction was one of happiness and enjoyment. The conditioned stimulus was the drugs he started using. He began to associate this stimulus, which was neutral when introduced, with the enjoyment he had when with his friends. The conditioned response was the same as the unconditioned response, happiness, and enjoyment. However, the conditioned response was in response to the drugs and not his friends. So, eventually in his mind drug use meant a good time, when in reality it was slowly killing him.
Using the example of my friend there are several ways to change his response to his continued drug use. One such option would be to distance my friend from his other friends, and then in time hopefully the use of drugs would become extinct, because he wouldn’t associate drugs with enjoyment and realize how bad they are. One problem with this is the possibility of spontaneous recovery or relapse; this especially has a much greater chance with a drug user because you have to factor in the addiction problem. Another possibility to change his conditioning involves the concept of generalization. Many associate drug use with risk taking, if he could find some risky yet healthy behavior such as sky diving or mountain climbing, those new risks could take the place of the drugs. This is a somewhat similar method as when hardcore heroin addicts are placed on methadone to satisfy the cravings. However due to discrimination he might find these new risks to dissimilar to the old and not have the same controlled response of pleasure and enjoyment. A final possibility that could work would be to introduce a new controlled stimulus in a structured environment, such as therapy. This new stimulus could be anything from electric shock applied when a craving for drugs occur or pictures or stories from drug addicts that will leave a negative image in his head whenever he thinks of using drugs. The idea behind this would be to replace the feelings of pleasure associated with drug use to feelings of discomfort and disgust whenever he thinks of drugs. Through one or perhaps all three techniques my friends drug use will stop, I guess I will have to wait and find out.