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Learning Theory Definitions

Classical Conditioning

Operant Conditioning

Desensitization & Counter Conditioning

Schedules of Reinforcements

Proofing & Generalization



Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a process in which an animal learns to associate one event that comes immediately after another event. The animal does not have to do anything in order for this association to take place.

Classical conditioning was discovered by the Russian scientist Pavlov. In his lab, Pavlov brought food to dogs. When the food was shown to the dogs, they began salivating. Then, Pavlov preceded the food with a ring of a bell. He rang the bell and immediately brought the food. He repeated it many times. Bell ring, show food, dog salivates, and again and again.

Now, here’s the cool part. Pavlov now decided to ring the bell without bringing the food. He rung the bell, DID NOT bring the food, and……guess what – the dogs still salivated.

What happened? The dog has learned the association between the bell and the food. Since the bell was rung, the food must be coming – hence, saliva.

How is this information helpful?

Classical conditioning takes place all the time whether we want it or not. The door bell rings, your dog jumps up and runs to the door – why? The association between the door bell ringing and the showing up of people right after that was made after many times this happened – this is classical conditioning at work.

 Your dog hears the noise that a collar, tags, and leash make (you know those noises) – he turns around and looks for a dog. Why? An association was made between those noises and the appearance of a dog.

Classical conditioning can be used for behavior modification in the process of counter conditioning. We can deliberately make an association between 2 events in order to create positive association between them. This will be explained further in the desensitization & counter conditioning page.




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