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Classical Conditioning


Does the mere sight of the golden arches in front of
McDonald’s makes you feel pangs of hunger and think about hamburgers?  If it does, you are displaying an elementary form of learning called classical conditioning.

 Ivan Pavlov:  Russian physiologist (person who studies the workings of the body), never intended to do psychological research, and ultimately discovered classical conditioning through his work on digestion in dogs

  • Won the Nobel Prize for his work on digestion (1904).
  • Remembered for his experiments on basic learning process, not for his experiments on physiology. Classical Conditioning: learning to make a reflex response to a stimulus other than the original, natural stimulus that normally produces the reflex.

Classical Conditioning, learning by association, is the process of learning that associates an unconditioned stimulus that already brings about a particular response (i.e. a reflex) with a new (conditioned) stimulus, so that the new stimulus brings about the same response.


  • Conditioned Response – In classical conditioning, a learned response to a previously neutral stimulus.
  • Unconditioned Stimulus – A stimulus that elicits an unlearned response.
  • Unconditioned Response – An unlearned response.
  • Conditioned Stimulus – A previously neutral stimulus that evokes a conditioned response after repeated pairings with an unconditioned stimulus that had previously evoked that response.
  • Classical Conditioning – A form of learning in which a response to one stimulus can be made to occur to another stimulus by pairing or associating the two stimuli.



Acquisition:  (conditioned response and unconditioned response presented together)

Extinction: (conditioned stimulus by itself): A basic phenomenon of learning that occurs when a previously conditioned response decreases in frequency and eventually disappears.

Spontaneous Recovery:  The reemergence of an extinguished conditioned response after a period of rest and with no further conditioning.

Applied Classical Conditioning:  

Watson and “Little Albert”
(1920) John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner set out to obtain evidence that fear could be conditioned.

Conditioned Taste Aversion:

  • If every time you ate peanuts you had an upset stomach several hours later, you would eventually learn to avoid peanuts, despite the time-lapse between the stimulus of peanuts and response of getting ill.
  • In fact, you might develop a conditioned taste aversion, so that peanuts no longer even tasted good to you.
  • Taste aversion can also occur with a single incident—you get the flu after eating a burrito and so don’t want to eat them again.

Biological Preparedness:

Organisms that ingest unpalatable foods are likely to avoid similar foods in the future, making their survival more likely.

(Steinmetz, Kim, & Thompson, 2003; Cox et al., 2004).

Because of prior experience with meat that had been laced with mild poison, this coyote does not obey its natural instincts and ignores what would otherwise be a tasty meal.

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Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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