Essay Writing Samples

Sample MLA Essay on Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a kind of learning that majorly influences behaviorism, a school of psychological thought assumes learning ensues through interactions with our environment. It describes the process in which an organism is conditioned to respond to a previously neutral stimulus in a certain way. Discovered and proven by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, this learning process occurs through a developed association between a naturally occurring stimulus and an environmental stimulus.

Based off this theory, one can also assume that our. Pioneered by Ivan Palov and his famous experiments with dogs and bells, classical conditioning is considered by some to be the fundamentals of learning. Examples can be found in famous experiments and in our everyday lives. This is an example of a research paper offered under Ultius advanced writer options.

Pavlov’s Dogs and the process of classical conditioning

During the very beginning of the twentieth century, Ivan Pavlov was conducting research on digestion that would later win a Nobel Prize. While studying the role of saliva in the digestive process of dogs, he discovered the phenomenon of psychic reflexes, which is a reflex brought on by a stored impression of a memory. He recognized the significance of this discovery and would go on to conduct a very famous experiment with dogs.

Pavlov’s dog experiment

During his primary research phase, Pavlov’s dogs were kept in an experimental chamber and surgically implanted with a tube in their saliva glands that would measure their saliva. Pavlov would present the dogs with meat and measured their salivation. He noticed over time that the dogs would begin salivating before the meat was presents by either a handler or a device that would click when distributing food (“Classical Conditioning”). Both the site of the handler with food and the sound of the clicking out elicit the same response. Fascinated by this, Pavlov decided to pair the meat with the ringing of a bell.

The bell and food would be presented at the same time over and over again. Then, the bell was presented alone. The dogs still salivated as they did when food was presented, even though there was no food this time. The bell began as a neutral stimulus and became a conditioned stimulus when it was paired with the bell and produced a conditioned response; salivation. This experiment showed how stimulus-response bonds, which some consider the building blocks of learning, are formed.

Conditions for classical conditioning

There are several things that need to take place for classical conditioning to occur. First, there must be a naturally occurring stimulus that will automatically elicit a response (Cherry 2016). In the case of Pavlov’s dogs, the naturally occurring stimulus is the salivation in response to the smell of food. At this stage, the unconditioned stimulus results in an unconditioned response. There is also a neutral stimulus that is not yet in effect and will only garner a response once paired with the unconditioned stimulus.

1. Naturally triggers a response

During Pavlov’s research, he found that the unconditioned stimulus is one that unconditionally, naturally, and automatically triggers a response (Cherry 2016). The smell of the food is the unconditioned stimulus in the experiment with Pavlov’s dogs. The unconditioned response is an unlearned reaction that naturally occurs in response to the unconditioned stimulus. In this case, the unconditioned response is the salivation.

2. Must pair unconditional stimulus and neutral stimulus

The next phase of the classical conditioning process involves pairing the unconditioned stimulus with the previously neutral stimulus. When the two are paired together, an association between the unconditioned stimulus and the previously neutral stimulus is formed (Huitt and Hummel 1997). The neutral stimulus is known now as the conditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus eventually serves as a trigger for the conditioned response. In the experiment with Pavlov and his dogs, the conditioned stimulus is the bell. The bell was neutral until the dogs were conditioned to associate it with their food. Research has shown similar stimuli contribute to triggers violent criminals experience prior to committing their offense.

3. Third stage makes it happen

After conditioning, the third stage begins. Once an association between the unconditioned stimulus and the conditioned stimulus has been made, presenting the conditioned stimulus alone will begin to evoke a response even when the unconditioned stimulus is not present. The response is called the conditioned response. The conditioned response is the learned response to the previously neutral stimulus (Cherry 2016). For Pavlov’s dogs, the conditioned response is the salivation at the sound of the bell.

Examples of classical conditioning

Besides Pavlov and his dogs, there are other famous examples of classical conditioning as well. One demonstrates that one can be classically conditioned to have a fear response. American psychologist John B. Watson performed a well-known experiment in which a fear response was conditioned in a young boy known as Little Albert (Cherry 2016). Before the experiment, Little Albert showed no fear of white rats whatsoever. Watson would then present a white rat to the boy accompanied with loud, scary sounds. Eventually, the child would cry when he saw a white rat and also developed a general fear of other white fuzzy objects (Green). Criminal science experts attribute similar factors to bystander apathy and fear of helping others.

Before the experiments, the white rat served as the neutral stimulus. The scary sounds were the unconditioned stimulus and the unconditioned response was Little Albert’s fear when he heard the noise. Because the rat was repeatedly paired with the scary sounds, the white rat became the conditioned stimulus and inspired the fear response or the conditioned response. This experiment proves that phobias can be formed through classical conditioning. In cases like this, a single pairing of a neutral stimulus (like a dog) and a frightening experience (like being bitten by a dog) can lead to a lasting phobia (cynophobia) (Cherry 2016).

Taste aversion and classical conditioning

Another well-known example of classical conditioning can be found in the development of conditioned taste aversions. John Garcia and Bob Koelling discovered this when they realized that rats that had been exposed to nausea-causing radiation developed an aversion to flavored water after the radiation and the water were presented together (Hall 1998). In this example, the unconditioned stimulus is the radiation and the nausea is the unconditioned response. When the two are coupled, the flavored water becomes the conditioned stimulus and the nausea that formed when exposed to the water alone becomes the conditioned response.

In later experiments, it was demonstrated that these kinds of classically conditioned aversions could be made through only a single pairing of the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus. For example, if you eat chicken and then develop nausea from food poisoning, chicken could cause you to feel nausea in the future because you have been conditioned to associate the nausea with chicken.

It has also been found that such aversions can manifest if the stimulus (the chicken) is presented many hours before the unconditioned stimulus (the nausea-causing stimulus). This form of conditioning happened after the fear of E Coli from Chipotle’s food caused customers to stop visiting the restaurant.

This kind of aversion can develop so quickly because of the survival benefits it provides living organisms. If an animal consumes something that makes it sick, it will obviously need to avoid eating that same food in the future to avoid further sickness or more dire consequences like death. This example of biological preparedness serves as a survival aid (Cherry 2016).

In one particularly well-known study, sheep carcasses were injected with poison that, when consumed by coyotes, would make them sick but would not kill them. Researches aimed to reduce the number of sheep lost to coyotes for sheep ranchers. The experiment was successful; the number of sheep killed was drastically reduced and some coyotes eventually developed an aversion to sheep that was so strong that they would flee at the sight or scent of a sheep.

Humans respond to food conditioning differently

While people do not respond to this kind of conditioning as successfully as animals do, there are still several real-world applications for classical conditioning. One example is that dog trainers use this kind of learning to help people train their pets. Even so, these techniques are sometimes helpful in the treatment of phobias or anxiety in humans. In a classroom setting, teachers can apply classical conditioning by creating an environment that is positive and helps students overcome their fears and anxieties.

By combining a situation that provokes anxiety, like speaking in front of a group, for example, with positive surroundings, the student can reassociate speaking in front of a group with something pleasant. Now, the child will not feel fear or anxiety over the anxiety-inducing situation, but instead remain relaxed and calm (Cherry 2016).

Other everyday examples of classic conditioning can be found in advertising techniques. Advertisers will use certain objects or people to elicit the desired response from consumers. People are generally conditioned to feel pity for children in need of help because children are typically seen as innocent and unable to control their own lives. Commercials for organizations in which customers can sponsor an underprivileged child often feature images of crying children.

This inspires an emotional response, the feeling of pity and desire to protect children, and is thus more effective in convincing consumers to sign up. Another everyday example of classical conditioning is called vicarious conditioning. This is when there is classical conditioning of a reflex response or emotion by watching the reaction of another person. For example, in a dentist’s office, a child might hear the nervous or scared cries of another child and become nervous or scared themselves before they even see the dentist.

Critical evaluation of classical conditioning

The theory of classical conditioning is supported by scientific evidence, strengthening its validity. It is based on empirical evidence found though controlled experiments (McLeod 2014). Classical conditioning serves as a reductionist explanation of human and animal behavior because of the way complex behavior is broken down into simpler pieces. Many support this approach and state that by breaking down complicated concepts, we can scientifically test them by focusing on their individual parts.

Still, not everyone supports the theory. Though classical conditioning can be used to emphasize the importance of nurture over nature, it is rather limiting to think that behavior is the result or either nurture or nature rather than a combination of the two. Human behavior and psychology is too complex to be attributed to one factor (McLeod 2014). Experts agree that it is more likely that behavior is a result of an interaction between nature and nurture. Many agree that by reducing something so complex into such simple parts, we reduce its validity.


Classical conditioning can create a new behavior through the process of association. When two stimuli are linked together and an association is established, a new response in a person or animal is learned. An unconditioned stimulus is paired closely with a neutral stimulus, making the neutral stimulus a conditioned one. Then, the unconditioned stimulus is paired with the conditioned stimulus until an association is formed between the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response. Sometimes referred to as the building blocks of learning, classical conditioning is still an important piece to understanding what motivates the behavior of living organisms.

Work Cited

Cherry, Kendra. “Classical Conditioning”. About Health. About Health, 09 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

“Classical Conditioning”. Learning Theories., 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Green, Christopher D. “Classics in the History of Psychology.” York University. York University, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Hall, Richard. “Classical Conditioning” Psychology World. Psychology World, 1998. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Huitt, W., Hummel, J. “An Introduction to Classical (Respondent) Conditioning”. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta State University 1997. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

McLeod, S.A. “Classical Conditioning” Simply Psychology. Simply Psychology, 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

McLeod, S. A. “Pavlov’s Dogs” Simple Psychology. Simply Psychology, 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *