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Learning (Conditioning). Learning is how we Adapt to the Environment. Learning— A relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience. Behaviorism. The view that psychology should restrict its efforts to studying observable behaviors , not mental processes. Founded by John Watson

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Learning is how we Adapt to the Environment

  • Learning—A relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience

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  • The view that psychology should restrict its efforts to studying observable behaviors, not mental processes.

  • Founded by John Watson

    • Thought that all human behavior is a result of conditioning or a result of past experiences and environmental influences.

    • Claimed he could take any child and train him to become any type of specialist.

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Classical Conditioning

  • A type of learning where a stimulus gains the power to cause a response because it predicts another stimulus that naturally produces that response

  • OR to put it simply: When an animal learns a natural reflexive response to something that it would NOT NORMALLY respond to.

  • Learning by association

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  • Stimulus - anything in the environment that one can respond to

  • Response – any behavior or action

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Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936)

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Pavlov’s Dogs

  • Digestive reflexes and salivation

  • Psychic secretion

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Ivan Pavlov

  • Watch “Pavlov’s Discovery of Classical Conditioning” Video #6 from Worth’s Digital Media Archive for Psychology.

    – 3:00 clip

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Neutral Stimulus

  • Does not normally elicit (cause) a response or reflex action by itself

    • a color

    • a furry object

  • What was the NS in Pavlov’s Experiment?

  • Bell

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Unconditioned Stimulus

Always elicits a reflex action: an unconditioned (unlearned) response

blast of air


What was the UCS in Pavlov’s Experiment?


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Unconditioned Response

  • The automatic response to the unconditioned stimulus

  • A response to an unconditioned stimulus—naturally occurring & not learned

    • Eye blinks at blast of air

    • Startle reaction in babies

  • What was the UCR in Pavlov’s Experiment?

  • Salivation

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Conditioned (Learned) Stimulus

  • The stimulus that was originally neutral becomes conditioned after it has been paired with the unconditioned stimulus

  • Will eventually cause the unconditioned response by itself

  • What was the CS in Pavlov’s Experiment?

  • Bell

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Conditioned (Learned) Response

  • The original unconditioned response becomes conditioned after it has been caused by the neutral stimulus

  • Usually the same behavior as the UCR

  • What was the CR in Pavlov’s Experiment?

  • Salivation

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Classical Conditioning Terms

  • Acquisition

  • Extinction

  • Spontaneous recovery

  • Generalization

  • Discrimination training

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  • The initial learning that takes place in the during stage of conditioning when the animal starts to associate the NS with the UCS.

  • NS + UCS = UCR

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  • The diminishing of a learned response

  • When the CS is continually presented without the UCS then the CR will eventually begin to disappear.

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Spontaneous Recovery

  • The reappearance, after a rest period, of an extinguished conditioned response

  • After a period of time if the CS is presented, the CR returns.

  • Learning may disappear but is not eliminated.

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  • Process in which an organism produces the same CR to two similar stimuli (CS)

  • The more similar the substitute stimulus is to the original used in conditioning, the stronger the generalized response

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  • Ability of an animal to not respond to a new CS that is too different from the original CS.

  • The subject learns that one stimuli predicts the UCS and the other does not.

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John B. Watson and Little Albert

  • 11-month-old infant

  • Watson and his assistant, Rosalie Rayner, classically conditioned Albert to be frightened of white rats

  • Led to questions about experimental ethics

To Watch a Short Video on Watson and the Little Albert experiment (4:00) click HERE.

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Little Albert – Before Conditioning

  • Watch “Watson’s Little Albert” Video #7a from Worth’s Digital Media Archive for Psychology.

  • – 13 seconds

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Little Albert – After Conditioning

  • Watch “Watson’s Little Albert” Video #7b from Worth’s Digital Media Archive for Psychology.

  • – 14 seconds

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Little Albert - Generalization

  • Watch “Watson’s Little Albert” Video #7c from Worth’s Digital Media Archive for Psychology.

  • – 17 seconds

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Could Little Albert’s Fear Have Been Undone?

  • YES!!! Through Counter Conditioning!

  • Must pair the conditioned stimulus (Rat) with something that is incompatible with fear (Candy).








CS = New CR







Not Scared

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How is classical conditioning involved in the placebo effect?

  • Individual expects a drug will work a certain way and have a psychological and physiological reaction to it.

  • Regular use may produce “placebo response” where user associates sight, smell, taste with drug effect

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Robert Rescorla (1940- ) effect?

  • Developed a theory emphasizing the importance of cognitive/mental processes in classical conditioning

  • Pointed out that subjects had to determine (think) whether the NS/CS was a reliablepredictor of the UCS

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Rescorla’s Experiment effect?

When the rats in group 2 could not reliably predict when the shocks would occur the result was they didn’t learn to fear the tone. This shows they were using cognitive processes!

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Biological Preparedness effect?

  • We are predisposed to learn things that affect our survival.

  • Internal stimuli—associate better with taste

  • External stimuli—associate better with pain

  • The majority of phobias are about objects of natural importance to the survival of the species.

  • Animals seem to be biologically prepared to fear certain types of stimuli that represent natural threats to survival.

    • We are predisposed to avoid threats our ancestors faced--food that made us sick, storms, heights, snakes, etc.

    • But not modern-day threats--cars, water pollution, etc.

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Taste Aversion effect?

John Garcia (1917- )

  • Rats drank flavored water (NS) and hours later were given a shot with a drug (UCS) that made them sick (UCR). The rats refused to drink the flavored water again.

  • Subjects become classically conditioned to avoid specific tastes, because the tastes are associated with nausea.

  • **Differs from other Classical Conditioning in that:

  • It did not require repeated pairings of a NS and UCS.

  • The time span between the two was a few hours.

  • Rats were conditioned to taste and not anything else that occurred in the hours between when they drank the flavored water and got sick.

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How Taste Aversion Works: effect?

Flavored Water


NS = No Response UCS = UCR







Flavored Water



Flavored Water


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Flooding as a Cure for Phobias effect?(example of extinction)

  • When a fear is disproportionate to the harm it could cause, psychologists could use flooding to cure phobias.

  • Expose person to the harmless stimulus repeatedly until fear becomes extinct.

  • Drawbacks of this technique?

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Systematic Desensitization effect?

  • People are taught relaxation techniques and are gradually exposed to the stimulus causing fear.

  • Example: Pictures of the stimulus (snakes), the actual stimulus far away, the stimulus closer, and finally holding/touching a snake.

  • All the while, they are pairing the experience with something NOT fearful and hopefully relaxing

  • How Classical Conditioning is used for curing phobias: Virtual Systematic Desensitization – video clip #31 from Scientific American Frontiers (9:31).