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A History of The Study of Classical Conditioning and Its Use

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Each day, people are conditioned without even realizing it. This may include being productive at work to avoid losing a job or associating a gas station with anger because it is right next to that one light that never turns green. Whatever it may be, what people have been conditioned to think and do affect them everyday. One form of conditioning is known as classical conditioning. This form of conditioning includes an unconditioned stimulus combined with an conditioned stimulus to create a conditioned response. Through classical conditioning, people find themselves automatically responding in ways that are not natural to them due to stimuli that they have been conditioned to respond to.

Classical conditioning began in the early nineteen hundreds when Ivan Pavlov observed that dogs salivate when they see food. This was an unconditioned response. He decided to experiment with this by ringing a bell, a conditioned stimulus, every time he brought food, an unconditioned stimulus, to the dogs. At first, when he rang the bell without food, the dogs had no reaction. However, after sometime of ringing the bell before giving the dogs food, the dogs began to associate the bell with food. As a result, the dogs had been conditioned to respond to the bell with salivation, even if food did not come afterwards (Myers, 2013, p. 269). Within classical conditioning there are two types of learning: signal and evaluative. In signal learning, there is an “if-then” relationship between the unconditioned stimulus and the conditioned stimulus. In classical conditioning where evaluative learning is used, the subject is unaware of the unconditioned and conditioned stimulus, and the subject subconsciously connotes positive and negative feelings with the stimuli (Pornpitakpan, 2012, p. 282).

Classical conditioning is seen in practice nearly every day. For example, at my grandfather’s funeral we sang the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. While before his funeral, this hymn was just another song from church, now whenever I hear the song I get sad as it reminds me of my grandpa’s absence. The unconditioned stimulus was that my grandpa died, and this created the unconditioned response of sadness. The neutral stimulus, the song, when matched with the unconditioned stimulus created the same unconditioned response. Soon, the neutral stimulus of the hymn became a conditioned stimulus and created the conditioned response of sadness. This situation is an example of evaluative learning. I was not aware of the conditioning that was happening, instead I was feeling a response to a related stimulus.

Another example of classical conditioning in my life is my from my junior year in high school. I had a concussion that year and had a tutor coming to my house everyday to help me manage my school work. After I recovered, whenever I saw that tutor around town or in school I began to experience a headache much like I did when I had a concussion. The unconditioned stimulus, my concussion, created the unconditioned response of my headache. A neutral stimulus, my tutor, become associated with the unconditioned stimulus of my concussion, and I soon became conditioned to respond with a headache whenever I saw my tutor, or the conditioned stimulus. This is an example of signal learning as it resulted into the situation where if I saw my tutor then I would get a headache.

Without anyone’s knowledge, classical conditioning occurs all the time. Sometimes it happens in a lab, like with Pavlov and his dogs, but most the time it appears naturally as seen in my life. With a true grasp of classical conditioning, a person can come to understand their life and the reasons they do certain things and react in certain ways to certain stimuli.

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A History of the Study of Classical Conditioning and Its Use. (2018, November 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 6, 2022, from
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