In the field of learning theory, classical conditioning belongs to behavioral psychology. It suggests that if a contextual stimulus is frequently coupled with a stimulus that occurs naturally, ultimately, the former will evoke a comparable reaction to the latter. The tests with dogs conducted by Russian biologist Ivan Pavlov are the most well-known investigations related to classical conditioning. His dogs’ salivation reactions led Pavlov to develop classical conditioning. This paper uses a personal example to demonstrate how this learning process can occur in real-world situations.
Ivan Pavlov pioneered the study of classical conditioning, a four-stage learning technique using reflexes. After seeing that a few dogs in his lab started salivating before tasting the food, Pavlov investigated the phenomenon. He discovered that a buzzer or light could trigger a dog’s salivation, provided he set up the events correctly (Stangor et al., 2019). Further experiments determined the necessary circumstances for triggering this phenomenon. To carry out classical conditioning, the subject needs to be presented with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) that consistently triggers an unconditioned response (UCR) or a response that has not been previously taught (Stangor et al., 2019). Commonly referred to as reflexes, UCRs are a type of unlearned response represented by food in Pavlov’s experiment.
The term UCR often refers to a physiological reaction that a UCS may consistently elicit, such as salivation in reaction to the scent or presence of food, especially if a person is starving, or an intense reaction to loud noise. The classical conditioning process also needs a conditioned stimulus (CS), a response that may be made known to the recipient. However, it does not originally produce the UCR, accompanied by a conditioned response (CR), which is no different from the UCR but ultimately reacts to a distinct impulse (Stangor et al., 2019). In CS, the pulsing light had a significant influence on the dog’s behavior, but exclusively in certain circumstances; it was momentarily linked with the taste of food, which induced CR (salivation of the dog).
Pavlov’s experiment on classical conditioning illustrates how learning occurs in everyday life situations. According to Sørensen et al. (2020), classical conditioning is a method of associative learning. Undoubtedly, other components are involved, but in principle, this is how learning occurs. Classical conditioning represents the most basic learning mechanisms that influence all living things, even though one may not have recognized it previously. My experience of classical conditioning dates back to when I was in third grade. I was a slow learner and would not get the most basic concepts right. I had problems with spelling common words and phrases. Similarly, basic math was challenging, including addition and subtraction. Although I was not the only student with slow learning capability, it became apparent that I was perhaps the most frustrating to teach.
Ultimately, my mathematics teacher could no longer hide her disappointment and frequently mocked me in class. She joked about me being the only student who could not perform the simplest additional problem, even if it involved saving my life. Researchers have shown that educators’ interactions with their students are crucial to the success or failure of their student’s academic and mental development (Ali et al., 2019). Indeed, my mathematics teacher became quite harsh and hostile (UCS) with me. This attitude made me feel bad about myself and decreased my self-esteem (UCR). Gradually, I began to relate going to school (CS) with my intolerable teachers, which instilled a strong dislike of attending school (CR). In the long run, I developed truancy and forced my parents to take me to a new school.
Other important variables can be associated with classical conditioning. One is extinction which describes the gradual loss of learned behavior linked to another stimulus in the past (Stangor et al., 2019). In my case, after moving to the new school, I found teachers who were supportive and understanding. Instead of being frustrated because I was a slow learner, they repeatedly took their time to teach me complex concepts until I mastered them. In turn, I started developing a renewed liking for school, replacing my truant behavior. Sometimes, conditioned responses may re-emerge, which is known as spontaneous recovery (Stangor et al., 2019). The possibility of truancy reoccurring in my life is not impossible as long as I am exposed to the factors that led to the initial emergence of the habit. For instance, encountering teachers or students who belittled my academic abilities in high school would have pushed me to avoid school.
Another important variable in classical conditioning theory is contingency, which suggests that for learning to occur, a stimulus should furnish the subject with knowledge concerning the possibility that particular outcomes will emerge (Stangor et al., 2019). In my case, the classroom situation was the contingency because it automatically exposed me to an environment where my learning ability would be ridiculed. These variables, among others, explain how learning occurs in life through classical conditioning.
Learning is the acquisition of new information, skills, and values. There are channels for learning to take place in both the subconscious and the conscious. The personal example demonstrates that classical conditioning occurs in the first domain. Classical conditioning stresses the significance of environment-based learning and advocates nurturing over the environment. However, describing behavior exclusively based on nurture or nature is restrictive, and efforts to achieve this goal understate the diversity of human behavior.
Ali, M. R., Ashraf, B. N., & Shuai, C. (2019). Teachers’ conflict-inducing attitudes and their repercussions on students’ psychological health and learning outcomes. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(14), 2534.
Sørensen, D. B., Pedersen, A., & Forkman, B. (2020). Animal Learning: The science behind animal training. In D. B. Sørensen, A. Pedersen, & B. Forkman (Eds.), Animal-centric Care and Management (pp. 59-72). CRC Press.
Stangor, C., Walinga, J., BC Open Textbook Project & BCcampus. (2019). Introduction to psychology. BCcampus BC Open Textbook Project.