Four Basic Phenomena of Classical Conditioning


          Classical conditioning refers the presentation of two or more events defined experimentally through a distinct temporal relationship. Learning occurs at the behavioral, cognitive and neural levels with four basic phenomena: acquisition, extinction, generalization and discrimination, underlying conditioning (Terry, 2008).

          Acquisition describes the development of a conditioned response as result of conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (US) experiments. Conditioning can appear through simple pairings of a CS and US, as in taste aversion or may required multiple pairings such as eye blink conditioning. Although the conditioned stimulus evokes an unconditioned response, the occurrence could have other influences such as startle or orienting responses; control procedures are necessary to test for behavioral change “due to conditioning and not to incidental aspects of the procedure” (Terry, 2008, p. 60).

          Extinction refers to the presentation of a singular, previously conditioned CS in absence of the US resulting in a decrease or disappearance of the previously exhibited conditioned response (CR). Extinction contains but does not eradicate the relationship between the CS and US; spontaneous recovery of the suppressed response can occur after delay and re-exposure of the conditioned stimulus.

          Exposures to stimuli that are similar to the CS have the ability to produce a conditioned response; this generalization can occur in response to different dimensions such as color, meaning, size, shape and sound for example. In order to determine if generalization has occurred, the similar CS or test stimuli should be assessed without the presence of the US to determine what type of response, if any, appears (Terry, 2008).

          Discrimination and subsequent testing find use to eliminate the tendency of generalization patterns and serve to substantiate the differences among conditioned stimuli. Terry (2008) notes that as not all stimuli in the environment have pairings with unconditioned stimuli it appears paramount to discriminate between the stimuli that are, and are not, paired to evoke a conditioned response with significant events. In order to test for discrimination exposure of one CS appears followed by a US while another CS does not face exposure to a US. The original exposure of the CS followed by a US will exhibit a conditioned response; initially the CS alone may as well however, with increased and continual training, the response to the CS alone should cease.

          Application of Classical Conditioning.

Originally, Classical Conditioning is a form of learning that was first observed by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist and physician, who received Nobel Prize in 1904.

At first, Pavlov noticed that whenever seeing a piece of meat, the experimented dog began to salivate. He called the presence of meat the Unconditioned Stimulus (US) and the act of salivating the Unconditioned Response (UR). Later, Pavlov rang a bell at the time of showing the meat to the dog and he recognized that the dog started to salivate when hearing the bell, too. He then called the bell the Conditioned Stimulus (CS) and the learning to salivate when hearing the bell the Conditioned Response (CR).

          There is a way to give a more thorough explanation of these terms “Unconditioned” and “Conditioned”.

          Naturally, the dog salivates when seeing the meat. The dog does not need to learn to salivate. Therefore, the act of salivating (UR) happens when seeing the meat (UC). No condition is required. Then, when the ring of bell is added to the presence of the meat, the dog learns that if the bell rings, there should be a piece of meat. The dog salivate automatically when hearing the bell although he does not see the meat yet. Speaking in other words, the bell is a conditioned stimulus (CS) and the act of salivating when hearing the bell is a conditioned response (CR).

Based on those learning conditions, animal trainers used some methods to train their dogs, lions, tiger, monkeys, sea dogs, elephants, or dolphins to perform some acts that the trainers want to do. Usually, the trainers use CS to teach the animal to respond to some signals of the trainers in order to receive some rewards. Simultaneously, a punishment is applied if the animals do not react completely and fully as they are taught. Sometimes, the punishment is only the missing of the reward.

For example, a kiss and a pat on the head of the dog will reward a good and simple circus act. But a bowl full of tender meat will be given to a complex circus act after the act is performed. Repeated taps on the water surface at a pool will tell a dolphin to swim to the trainer immediately in order to receive a kiss or a fish, depending on different times of a day. With some animals that are less smart than dogs or dolphins such as lions or tigers, a whip will force them to jump or to stand on their feet. In this case, the whip is called a “bridge” because it bridge the time between when the animal performs a desired behavior and when it gets its reward” (Stacy Braslau-Scheck, 1998). Some trainers use a whistle. Others used clipper to make a noise.

          Nowadays, classical conditioning is applied to attract people worldwide. Specialists in marketing fields use CS to lead buyers to designed areas in certain times. Through the affection of marketing, the decisions to buy are already set in the minds of buyers especially of some females who have shopping addictions. They buy whatever on sale without a little consideration on the purpose of buying. Generally, the marketing methods pay attention on colors and images. In some department stores, the red tags means 70% off, green tags means 50%, and yellow tags means 25% off. Whenever seeing the colorful tags, buyers walk fast to the clothes racks while their hearts beat faster than usual. At other stores, a green light means special sale. On the day a green light is on, buyers get in line in patience waiting for their turns. Many beer companies use the images of healthy young females in bikinis to attract men because in most fun events, besides music, beer and girls are items that can not be missed. In some cases, casinos use images of beautiful and quiet resorts to allure seniors who like to rest after many years working hard in technical fields. With the intention to have more young consumers, companies that produce body lotions mostly use soft curves of female bodies, gentle smiles, and attractive glances of beautiful eyes.



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Petty, R., & Cacioppo, J. (1981). Attitudes and persuasion: Classic and contemporary   

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Stacy Braslau-Scheck, 1998. Operant and Classical Conditioning. Retrieved on April 12,

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Terry, W.S. (2006). Learning and memory: Basic principles, processes, and procedures.           Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.