Chapter Eight: Learning

Classical Conditioning


In classical conditioning, a previously neutral stimulus acquires the capacity to elicit a response by its association with a stimulus that already elicits that response.



Pavlov's Famous Experiment
New Reflexes From Old
What's Really Learned in Classical Conditioning?
Principles of Classical Conditioning


Pavlov's Famous Experiment "Psychic Secretions" (p 262)


Pavlov's analysis of his dogs' unwanted "psychic secretions" led to the understanding of one of the basic types of learning, classical conditioning.


Pavlov's dogs were messing up his experiment in salivation and digestion. Instead of waiting until food was put in their mouths to salivate, the dogs began to prematurely salivate to the sight of the person delivering the food.

The next section describes Pavlov's method of understanding the source of these "psychic secretions".

LINKS About Ivan Pavlov

New Reflexes from Old [p.263]


Why did Pavlov's dogs salivate when they saw the dog dish? For the same reason your dog or cat salivates to the sound of the can opener -- association through classical conditioning.


Learning occurs when a neutral stimulus (bowl) is paired with a US (meat) , the neutral stimulus becomes a CS which elicits a CR which is similar to the original UR (salivation).

Remember, the Neutral Stimulus initially elicits no response
  US Unconditioned stimulus
  UR Unconditioned response
  CS Conditioned Stimulus
  CR Conditioned Response

The sequence in classical conditioning might be helpful to understand how the process works. A Bell is used in this example.


Summary Diagram and View the entire sequence  

Before Conditioning: The Effects Of Meat on Salivation US-->UR  
  Before Conditioning: The Effects of the Bell on Salivation NS-->No response  
  During Conditioning: Bell and Meat Together NS associated with US  
  After Conditioning: Bell Elicits Salivation CS-->CR  
  Conditioning works best if the original neutral stimulus (bell) precedes the US (meat) by less than a second.    
  Many diverse stimuli and responses can be classically conditioned.    


unconditioned stimulus (US)  

unconditioned response (UR)  

conditioned stimulus (CS)  

conditioned response (CR)  

classical conditioning  

LINKS about Classical Conditioning Principles

An exercise to see the effects of classical conditioning as you train a dog to anticipate a reward.  
Introductory page that links you to a number of learning exercises.  

What's Really Learned in Classical Conditioning? [p.264]


Conditioning may be more about predictive information than a simple association between stimuli.


What may be most important about the association between the bowl and the meat is that when the dog sees the bowl, he can be sure the meat is on its way. The bowl signals or predicts the meat.

This allows the dog to prepare for digesting the food by salivating.
Rescola concluded that the organism is an information seeker using logical relations among events and its preconceptions to form a representation of its world. This is a cognitive view of classical conditioning.

Does a rat have a preconception about the world?

LINKS about the cognitive aspects of conditioning

Principles of Classical Conditioning [p.265]


A description of some of the more important processes in classical conditioning


  Weakening and disappearance of the CR  
  Ex: If you quit putting meat (US) in the dog's bowl (CS), the dog will eventually stop salivating (CR) to the sight of the bowl.  
      Another example of extinction  
  Spontaneous Recovery  
    Reappearance of the CR after it has been extinguished  
    Ex: When you run into an old flame who you thought you had gotten over, but the sight of them stirs up strong feelings, you are experiencing spontaneous recovery. Get over it! You need more extinction!  

Higher Order Classical Conditioning (p.259)
  Occurs when we associate a new neutral stimulus with an already conditioned stimulus  
  Ex: Our dog bowser now salivates to a light (poor thing)  
      Original conditioning CS (bowl) ---> CR (salivation)  
    New association Light + CS (bowl) ---> CR (salivation)  
    New CS presented alone CS (light) ---> CR (salivation)  
  Ex: Student Test Anxiety
A Future link to an experience which is near and dear to many of you.  

Stimulus Generalization
  A stimulus which is similar to the CS which produced the CR.  
  Ex: Your dog salivates at the sight of your blue cereal bowl.  

Stimulus Discrimination
  Different responses are made to similar stimuli.  
  Ex: You never let your dog eat out of your blue cereal bowl, and he will eventually quit salivating when he sees it. However, he continues to salivate every time he sees his blue dog food bowl.  



spontaneous recovery  

higher-order classical conditioning  

stimulus generalization  

stimulus discrimination  

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