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Ivan Pavlov and Classical Conditioning

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    Ivan Pavlov and Classical Conditioning “Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin. ” Said Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist whose discoveries paved the way for an objective science of behavior. For his original work in this field of research, Pavlov was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1904. By then he had turned to studying the laws on the formation of conditioned reflexes, a topic on which he worked until his death in 1936.

    He was not always a man of science however; in fact his father worked as a village priest and prepared Pavlov for a religious career. It was his Behaviorism in psychology is based on the assumption that learning occurs through interactions with the environment. Two other assumptions of this theory are that the environment shapes behavior and that taking internal mental states such as thoughts, feelings and emotions into consideration is useless in explaining behavior. One of the best-known aspects of behavioral learning theory is classical conditioning.

    Discovered by Ivan Pavlov, classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs through associations between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus. It’s important to note that classical conditioning involves placing a neutral signal before a naturally occurring reflex. In Pavlov’s classic experiment with dogs, the neutral signal was the sound of a tone and the naturally occurring reflex was salivating in response to food. By associating the neutral stimulus with the environmental stimulus, the sound of the tone alone could produce the salivation response.

    In order to understand more about how classical conditioning works, it is important to be familiar with the basic principles of the process. The unconditioned stimulus is one that unconditionally, naturally, and automatically triggers a response. For example, when you smell one of your favorite foods, you may immediately feel very hungry. In this example, the smell of the food is the unconditioned stimulus. The unconditioned response is the unlearned response that occurs naturally in response to the unconditioned stimulus.

    In my previous example, the feeling of hunger in response to the smell of food is the unconditioned response. The conditioned stimulus is a previously neutral stimulus that, after becoming associated with the unconditioned stimulus, eventually comes to trigger a conditioned response. In my earlier example, suppose that when you smelled your favorite food, you also heard the sound of a whistle. While the whistle is unrelated to the smell of the food, if the sound of the whistle was paired multiple times with the smell, the sound would eventually trigger the conditioned response.

    In this case, the sound of the whistle is the conditioned stimulus. Now, the conditioned response is the learned response to the previously neutral stimulus: the feeling of hunger when you heard the sound of the whistle. Classical conditioning is often confused with another theory of behavior know as operant conditioning. One of the simplest ways to remember the differences between the two is to focus on whether the behavior is involuntary or voluntary.

    Classical conditioning involves making an association between an involuntary response and a stimulus, while operant conditioning is about making an association between a voluntary behavior and a consequence. In operant conditioning, the learner is also rewarded with incentives, while classical conditioning involves no such enticements. Also remember that classical conditioning is passive on the part of the learner, while operant conditioning requires the learner to actively participate and perform some type of action in order to be rewarded or punished.

    Teachers, parents, psychologists, animal trainers and many others utilize both classical and operant conditioning for a variety of purposes. For example, in a study conducted by Carl Gustavson, John Garcia, Walter Hankins, and Kenneth Rusiniak in 1974, coyotes were classically conditioned to avoid preying on sheep using taste aversion. The meat of domestic sheep was injected with a drug known to cause nausea. Upon feeding on the sheep meat, the coyotes grew ill, and with experience, learned to avoid herds of sheep.

    In a classroom setting ,however, a teacher might utilize operant conditioning by offering tokens as rewards for good behavior. Students can then turn in these tokens to receive some type of reward such as treat or extra play time. Now, obviously people in the real world are far more complex than Pavlov’s dogs or Gustavson’s coyotes, but the basic principle still remains the same. By creating a positive classroom or work environment with rewards for desired behavior, teachers and employers have found classical conditioning techniques to be of great use in reducing anxiety and stress.

    By combining anxiety-provoking situations with pleasant experiences and surroundings and subtle rewards, people learn to stay relaxed and calm. Conclusively, it was Pavlov’s curiosity and determination to understand the origin of facts that drove his research to new bounds, which became the “building blocks” for Psychology as we know it today. Making an association between an involuntary response and a stimulus is crucial to learning, examples of classical conditioning surround us in “in today’s society”.

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