Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning, also called "Pavlovian conditioning" or "respondent conditioning", is a type of learning found in animals, caused by the association (or pairing) of two stimuli. The simplest form of classical conditioning is reminiscent of what Aristotle would have called the law of contiguity. Essentially, Aristotle said, "When two things commonly occur together, the appearance of one will bring the other to mind."



In studies of classical conditioning, the phrase "bring the other to mind" is operationalized so that all people can agree upon the definition. It is usually associated with the behavourist approach to psychology.

Classical conditioning is short-term, usually requiring little time with therapists, and patients need not be as proactive, unlike in humanistic therapies. The therapies (mentioned in the last paragraph), either cause aversive feelings to something, or reduce the aversion altogether.

Pavlov's experiment

The most famous example of classical conditioning involved the salivary conditioning of Pavlov's dogs. Pavlov's dogs naturally salivated to food. Pavlov therefore called the one-to-one correlation between the unconditioned stimulus (food) and the unconditioned response (salivation) an unconditional reflex. If a tone (generated by a tuning fork, for example) was reliably sounded for a few seconds before food, however, the tone eventually came to elicit salivation even when the tone was presented alone. Because the one-to-one correlation between the conditioned stimulus (tone) and the conditioned response (salivation) involved learning, Pavlov referred to this relationship as a "conditional reflex". The conditional reflex (food-related behaviour elicited by a stimulus that has been reliably paired with food) is said to be developed through classical conditioning.

The origins of the two reflexes are different. The food (unconditional stimulus) causing salivation (unconditional response) reflex has its origins in the evolution of the species. The tone (conditional stimulus) causing salivation (conditional response) reflex has its origins in the experience of the individual organism.

Later research

In recent years much progress has been made using a very simple form of classical conditioning called eyeblink conditioning, a form of motor learning that depends on the cerebellum. Other forms of classical conditioning that have yielded insight into how memories are encoded include fear conditioning and conditioned taste aversion.

Behavioural therapies based on classical conditioning

The implications for therapies and treatments using classical conditioning vary from operant conditioning. Therapies associated with classical conditioning are aversion therapy, flooding, systematic desensitisation, and implosion therapy. Implosion therapy and especially "flooding", which is forcing the individual to face an object/situation giving rise to anxiety, has been criticized for being unethical, since they cause extreme trauma in some cases.

Aversion therapy

See also: Aversion therapy

This is a form of psychological therapy, that, is designed to eliminate an 'undesirable' behaviour, by associating an aversive stimulus, such as nausea with it. Because the aversive stimulus performs as a unconditioned stimulus (UCS), and produces a unconditioned reflex (UCR), the association between the stimulus and behaviour leads to the same consequences each time. Then, if the treatment has worked, the patient will not have a complusion to engage in such behaviours again. This sort of treatment has been used to treat alcoholism and drug addiction, but it has also, controversially been used for treatment of homosexuality and sexual perversions. Adams et. al (1981), states that this treatment involved administering electric shocks to homosexuals to reduce the response to male nudes, and encouraging a heterosexual response to female nudes.

Systematic desensitisation

Patients might learn that the object of their phobias or fears, are not so fearful if they can relive the feared stimulus. However, the anxiety obstructs such a recovery. This obstruction is overcome by introducing the fear producing object gradually. A person imagines a series of advancing fearful situations while the person is languid. The responses of irrational fear to the object are eventually rendered incompatible known as, "reciprocal inhibition", and the fear is eventually removed, if the therapy is performed accurately, and correctly.

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