Pavlov- Classical Conditioning (1849-1936)

Pavlov- Classical Conditioning (1849 – 1936)

Classical conditioning is a term used to describe learning which has been acquired through experience. One of the best-known examples of classical conditioning can be found with the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov and his experiments on dogs.

In these experiments, Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring. In order to do this he first showed them food, the sight of which caused them to salivate.

Later Pavlov would ring a bell every time he would bring the food out, until eventually, he could get the dogs to salivate just by ringing the bell and without giving the dogs any food.

In this simple but ingenious experiment, Pavlov showed how a reflex (salivation, a natural bodily response) could become conditioned (modified) to an external stimulus (the bell) thereby creating a conditioned reflex/response.

Components Involved In Classical Conditioning

We can gain a better understanding of classical conditioning by looking at the various components involved in his experiment.

  • The unconditioned stimulus.(UCS).
  • The conditioned stimulus.(CS).
  • The unconditioned reflex/response.(UCR).
  • The conditioned reflex/response. (CR).

So let’s look at each of these classical conditioning components in more detail now

Note: In its strictest definition classical conditioning is described as a previously neutral stimulus which causes a reflex (stimulus means something which causes a physical response).

The Unconditioned Stimulus (food): (UCS) An unconditioned stimulus is anything, which can evoke a response without prior learning or conditioning.

For example, when a dog eats some food it causes his mouth to salivate. Therefore the food is an unconditioned stimulus, because it causes a reflex response (salivation) automatically and without the dog having to learn how to salivate.

Unconditioned Stimulus – This causes an automatic reflex response.

Conditioned Stimulus (bell): (CS) The conditioned stimulus is created by learning, and therefore does not create a response without prior conditioning.

For example, when Pavlov rang a bell and caused the dogs to salivate, this was a conditioned stimulus because the dogs learnt to associate the bell with food. If they had not learnt to associate the bell with food, they would not have salivated when the bell was rung.

Conditioned Stimulus – You need to learn first before it creates a response. It is an acquired power to change something.

Unconditioned Reflex/Response (salivation): (UCR) An unconditioned reflex is anything that happens automatically without you having to think about it, such as your mouth salivating when you eat. Unconditioned Reflex – Reflex that happens automatically and you did not have to learn how to do it.

Conditioned Reflex (salivation in response to bell): (CR) A conditioned reflex is a response which you have learnt to associate with something.

For example, the dogs salivated when Pavlov rang a bell, when previously (without conditioning) the bell would not cause the dogs to salivate.

Conditioned Reflex – A reflex that can be evoked in response to a conditioned stimulus (a previously neutral stimulus).

Basic concepts in classical conditioning:

There are several principles that are associated with classical conditioning, some of these are:.

  • Extinction: a conditioned response will disappear over time when the conditioned stimulus is no longer presented.
  • Spontaneous recovery: sometimes there is the weak appearance of a previously extinguished response.
  • Stimulus generalization: this is when individuals respond in this same way to experience stimuli. For example, all fuzzy animals scaring a young child instead of just a fuzzy cat.
  • Stimulus discrimination: organisms can learn to discriminate between various stimuli.
  • Higher order conditioning: this is when a neutral stimulus can cause the conditioned response sense if it had been associated with the conditioned stimulus.

Types of classical conditioning

Forward conditioning: Learning is fastest in forward conditioning.

During forward conditioning the onset of the conditioned stimulus (CS) precedes the onset of the unconditioned stimulus (US).

Two common forms of forward conditioning are delay and trace conditioning

Delay conditioning: In delay, conditioning the conditioned stimulus (CS) is presented and is overlapped by the presentation of the unconditioned stimulus (US).

Trace conditioning: During trace conditioning, the conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (US) do not overlap.

Instead, the conditioned stimulus (CS) is presented, a period is allowed to elapse during which no stimuli are presented, and then the unconditioned stimulus (US) is presented.

The stimulus-free period is called the trace interval.

It may also be called the conditioning interval.

Simultaneous conditioning: During simultaneous conditioning, the conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (US) are presented and terminated at the same time.

Backward conditioning: Backward conditioning occurs when a conditional stimulus (CS) immediately follows an unconditional stimulus (US).

Unlike traditional conditioning models, in which the conditional stimulus (CS) precedes the unconditional stimulus (US), the conditional response (CR) tends to be inhibitory.

This is because the conditional stimulus (CS) serves as a signal that the unconditional stimulus (US) has ended, rather than a reliable method of predicting the future occurrence of the unconditional stimulus (US).

Temporal conditioning: The unconditioned stimulus (US) is presented at regularly timed intervals, and CR acquisition is dependent upon correct timing of the interval between unconditioned stimulus (US) presentations.

The background, or context, can serve as the conditioned stimulus (CS) in this example.

Unpaired conditioning: The conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (US) are not presented together.

Usually they are presented as independent trials that are separated by a variable, or pseudo-random, interval.

This procedure is used to study non-associative behavioral responses, such as sensitization.

CS-alone extinction: The conditioned stimulus (CS) is presented in the absence of the unconditioned stimulus (US).

This procedure is usually done after the conditional response (CR) has been acquired through “forward conditioning” training. Eventually, the conditional response (CR) frequency is reduced to pre-training levels.

Essentially, the stimulus is presented until habituation occurs.

Implications of Pavlov’s Theory to Classroom Situations

  • The theory believed that one must be able to practice and master a task effectively before embarking on another one.
  • Teachers should know how to motivate their students to learn.
  • They should be versatile with various strategies that can enhance effective participation of the students in the teaching learning activities.
  • Most of the emotional responses can be learned through classical conditioning.
  • A negative or positive response comes through the stimulus being paired with.


It is believed that the learners and more importantly the teachers have greatly benefited from all the theories. The teachers should be familiar with this theory and apply it to teaching-learning activities where applicable.

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