An Introduction to Classical Conditioning
Classical Conditioning (also known as Pavlovian Conditioning) was discovered by accident.
Ivan Pavlov – a Russian Physiologist, and the first Russian to win the Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology or Medicine – was studying the gastric system of dogs when he observed that the dogs began salivating in anticipation of food… The dogs had learned to associate certain sounds, or doors opening, with the delivery of food.
Pavlov discovered that this observation was the result of a learned association between an unconditioned stimulus (the food) and a conditioned stimulus (the door opening/bell ringing) even though the latter is to all intents and purposes entirely neutral and not directly related to the food itself.
Amazingly, after a period of conditioning, the dog would display the response (salivating) to the bell alone, even when there was no food present.
Watson and Raynor (1920) tested this conditioning theory with a baby named Albert. The Baby Albert Study is very famous and equally ethically challenging.
The researchers taught the baby to be scared of white rats (despite no natural phobia) by creating a loud and distressing noise every time Albert looked at a white rat.
Soon, Albert had become conditioned to fear the white rat, and generalised this fear to all white fluffy objects… including Santa Claus.