Classical conditioning

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A statue of Ivan Pavlov and one of his dogs.

Classical conditioning (also Pavlovian conditioning or respondent conditioning) is a form of learning in which the conditioned stimulus or CS, comes to signal the occurrence of a second stimulus, the unconditioned stimulus or US. (A stimulus is a factor that causes a response in an organism.) The conditioned response is the learned response to the previously neutral stimulus.[1] The US is usually a biologically significant stimulus such as food or pain that elicits a response from the start; this is called the unconditioned response or UR. The CS usually produces no particular response at first, but after conditioning it elicits the conditioned response or CR. Classical conditioning differs from operant or instrumental conditioning, in which behavior emitted by the subject is strengthened or weakened by its consequences (i.e. reward or punishment).[2]

There are many examples of these innate (unconditioned) reflexes (corneal, coughing, swallowing, withdrawal reflexes etc.) or learned (conditioned) reflexes.[3]:p. 82

"In any animal, regardless of its prior history, painful stimulation of the foot causes the leg to be withdrawn by bending at all its joints. This flexor reflex is an example of an unconditioned reflex, an innate response based on fixed connections in the chain of neurons from the receptor (sensor) to the effector. Of still more interest in everyday life are the acquired or conditioned reflexes, in which the functional connections between the excited sensors and the patterns of activity in effector organs become established by learning process."[4]:p. 155

Conditioning is usually done by pairing the two stimuli, as in Pavlov’s classic experiments.[5] Pavlov presented dogs with a ringing bell followed by food. The food elicited salivation (UR), and after repeated bell-food pairings the bell also caused the dogs to salivate. In this experiment, the unconditioned stimulus is the dog food as it produces an unconditioned response, saliva. The conditioned stimulus is the ringing bell and it produces a conditioned response of the dogs producing saliva.

It was originally thought that the process underlying classical conditioning was one where the conditioned stimulus becomes associated with, and eventually elicits, the unconditioned response. But many observations do not support this hypothesis. For example, the conditioned response is often quite different from the unconditioned response. Learning theorists now more commonly suggest that the CS comes to signal or predict the US. In the case of the salivating dogs in Pavlov's experiment, the bell tone signaled and predicted the arrival of the dog food, thus resulting in the dog salivating.[6] Robert A. Rescorla provided a clear summary of this change in thinking, and its consequences, in his 1988 article "Pavlovian conditioning: It's not what you think it is."[7]

Classical conditioning procedures[edit]

Ivan Pavlov provided the most famous example of classical conditioning, although Edwin Twitmyer published his findings a year earlier (a case of simultaneous discovery).[5] During his research on the physiology of digestion in dogs, Pavlov developed a procedure that enabled him to study the digestive processes of animals over long periods of time by redirecting an animal’s digestive fluids outside the body, where they could be measured. Pavlov noticed that the dogs in the experiment began to salivate in the presence of the lab technician who normally fed them, rather than simply salivating in the presence of food. Pavlov called the dogs' anticipated salivation, psychic secretion. From his observations he predicted that a stimulus could become associated with food and cause salivation on its own, if a particular stimulus in the dog's surroundings was present when the dog was given food. In his initial experiments, Pavlov rang a bell and then gave the dog food; after a few repetitions, the dogs started to salivate in response to the bell. Pavlov called the bell the conditioned (or conditional) stimulus (CS) because its effects depend on its association with food. He called the food the unconditioned stimulus (US) because its effects did not depend on previous experience. Likewise, the response to the CS was the conditioned response (CR) and that to the US was the unconditioned response (UR). The timing between the presentation of the CS and US affects both the learning and the performance of the conditioned response. Pavlov found that the shorter the interval between the ringing of the bell and the appearance of the food, the stronger and quicker the dog learned the conditioned response.[8]

As noted earlier, it is often thought that the conditioned response is a replica of the unconditioned response, but Pavlov noted that saliva produced by the CS differs in composition from that produced by the US. In fact, the CR may be any new response to the previously neutral CS that can be clearly linked to experience with the conditional relationship of CS and US.[2][7] It was also thought that repeated pairings are necessary for conditioning to emerge, however many CRs can be learned with a single trial as in fear conditioning and taste aversion learning.

Diagram representing forward conditioning. The time interval increases from left to right.

Forward conditioning[edit]

Learning is fastest in forward conditioning. During forward conditioning the onset of the CS precedes the onset of the US in order to signal that the US will follow.[9] Two common forms of forward conditioning are delay and trace conditioning.

Forward Conditioning.svg

Simultaneous conditioning[edit]

Classical Conditioning procedures and effects

During simultaneous conditioning, the CS and US are presented and terminated at the same time.

For example: If you ring a bell and blow a puff of air into a person’s eye at the same moment, you have accomplished to coincide the CS and US.

Simultaneous Conditioning.svg

Second-order conditioning/Higher-order conditioning[edit]

This form of conditioning follows a two-step procedure. First a neutral stimulus (“CS1”) comes to signal a US through forward conditioning. Then a second neutral stimulus (“CS2”) is paired with the first (CS1) and comes to yield its own conditioned response. For example: a bell might be paired with food until the bell elicits salivation. If a light is then paired with the bell, then the light may come to elicit salivation as well. The bell is the CS1 and the food is the US. The light becomes the CS2 once it is paired with the CS1

Second Order Conditioning.svg

Backward conditioning[edit]

Backward conditioning occurs when a CS immediately follows a US.[9] Unlike the usual conditioning procedure, in which the CS precedes the US, the conditioned response given to the CS tends to be inhibitory. This presumably happens because the CS serves as a signal that the US has ended, rather than as a signal that the US is about to appear. For example, a puff of air directed at a person's eye could be followed by the sound of a buzzer.

Temporal conditioning[edit]

Respondent conditioning in which a US is presented at regular intervals, for instance every 10 minutes. Conditioning is said to have occurred when the CR tends to occur shortly before each US. This suggests that animals have a biological clock that can serve as a CS. This method has also been used to study timing ability in animals. (see Animal cognition).

Temporal Conditioning.svg

Zero contingency procedure[edit]

In this procedure, the CS is paired with the US, but the US also occurs at other times. If this occurs, it is predicted that the US is likely to happen in the absence of the CS. In other words, the CS does not "predict" the US. In this case, conditioning fails and the CS does not come to elicit a CR.[10] This finding - that prediction rather than CS-US pairing is the key to conditioning - greatly influenced subsequent conditioning research and theory.


In the extinction procedure, the CS is presented repeatedly in the absence of a US. This is done after a CS has been conditioned by one of the methods above. When this is done the CR frequency eventually returns to pre-training levels. However, spontaneous recovery (and other related phenomena, see "Recovery from extinction" below) show that extinction does not completely eliminate the effects of the prior conditioning. Spontaneous recovery is when there is a sudden appearance of the (CR) after extinction occurs.

Phenomena observed in classical conditioning[edit]


As described above, during acquisition the CS and US are paired in one of those ways. The extent of conditioning may be tracked by test trials. In these test trials, the CS is presented alone and the CR is measured. A single CS-US pairing may suffice to yield a CR on a test, but usually a number of pairings are necessary. This repeated amount of trials increase the strength and/or frequency of the CR gradually. The speed of conditioning depends on a number of factors, such as the nature and strength of both the CS and the US, previous experience and the animal's motivational state[2][6] Acquisition may occur with a single pairing of the CS and US, but usually, there is a gradual increase in the conditioned response to the CS. This slows down the process as it nears completion.[11]


The process of presenting a CS alone, without the US, that causes the learned behavior to disappear eventually is called extinction. When the presentation of the CS with the US absent is done often enough, the CS ordinarily stops eliciting a CR; that is, it has been extinguished.[6]

Classical conditioning - extinction.svg

External inhibition[edit]

External inhibition may be observed if a strong or unfamiliar stimulus is presented just before, or at the same time as, the CS. This causes a reduction in the conditioned response to the CS.

Recovery from extinction[edit]

Several procedures can cause an extinguished CR to recover. The outcomes of these procedures suggest that extinction does not entirely erase the effects of conditioning. Each of the following descriptions assumes that a CS has been conditioned and then the CR extinguished through the procedures described above.[2]

If the CS is again paired with the US, a CR is again acquired, but this second acquisition usually happens much faster than the first one.

If the CS is tested at a later time (for example an hour or a day) after conditioning it will again elicit a CR, a phenomenon called spontaneous recovery. This renewed CR is usually much weaker than the CR observed prior to extinction

If the CS is tested just after intense but associatively neutral stimulus has occurred, there may be a temporary recovery of the conditioned response to the CS

If the US used in conditioning is presented to a subject in the same place where conditioning and extinction occurred, but without the CS being present, the CS often elicits a response when it is tested later.

If conditioning and extinction are conducted in different contexts (for example, conditioning occurs in one experimental chamber and extinction occurs in a chamber with a different color and shape), a return to the conditioning context may cause the CS to again elicit a CR.

Stimulus generalization[edit]

Stimulus generalization is said to occur if, after a particular CS has come to elicit a CR, another test stimulus elicits the same CR. Usually the more similar are the CS and the test stimulus the stronger is the CR to the test stimulus.[6] The more the test stimulus differs from the CS the more the conditioned response will differ from that previously observed.[12]

Stimulus discrimination[edit]

One observes stimulus discrimination when one stimulus ("CS1") elicits one CR and another stimulus ("CS2") elicits either another CR or no CR at all. This can be brought about by, for example, pairing CS1 with an effective US and presenting CS2 in extinction, that is, with no US.[6]

Latent inhibition[edit]

In this procedure, a CS is presented several times before paired CS–US training commences. This slows the rate of CR acquisition relative to that observed without such pre-exposure.[6]

Conditioned suppression[edit]

This is one of the most common ways to measure the strength of learning in classical conditioning. A typical example of this procedure is as followed: a rat first learns to press a lever through operant conditioning. After a series of trials the rat is exposed to a CS, a light or a noise . At this point classical conditioning has begun to commence. Afterward, the CS is followed by the US, a mild electric shock. An association between the CS and US develops, and the rat slows or stops its lever pressing when the CS comes on. The rate of pressing during the CS measures the strength of classical conditioning; this means that the slower the rat presses, the stronger the association of the CS and the US. (Slow pressing indicates a "fear" conditioned response, and it is an example of a conditioned emotional response, see section below.)

Conditioned inhibition[edit]

Three phases of conditioning are typically used:

Phase 1
A CS (CS+) is paired with a US until asymptotic CR levels are reached.
Phase 2
CS+/US trials are continued, but these are interspersed with trials on which the CS+ is paired with a second CS, (the CS-) but not with the US (i.e. CS+/CS- trials). Typically, organisms show CRs on CS+/US trials, but stop responding on CS+/CS− trials.
Phase 3

Classical conditioning - inhibition.svg


This form of classical conditioning involves two phases.

Phase 1
A CS (CS1) is paired with a US.
Phase 2
A compound CS (CS1+CS2) is paired with a US.
A separate test for each CS (CS1 and CS2) is performed. The blocking effect is observed in a lack of conditional response to CS2, suggesting that the first phase of training blocked the acquisition of the second CS.

Classical conditioning - blocking.svg

Theories of classical conditioning[edit]

Data sources[edit]

Experiments on theoretical issues in conditioning have mostly been done on vertebrates, especially rats and pigeons, but conditioning has also been studied in invertebrates, and very important data on the neural basis of conditioning has come from experiments on the sea slug, Aplysia.[13] Most relevant experiments have used a classical conditioning procedure, though instrumental (operant) conditioning experiments have also been used, and the strength of classical conditioning is often measured through its operant effects, as in conditioned suppression (see Phenomena section above) and autoshaping .

Stimulus-Substitution Theory[edit]

According to Pavlov, conditioning does not involve the acquisition of any new behavior, but rather the tendency to respond to old ways to new stimuli. This theory follows Pavlov's theory that the CR and UR are one and a same. The CS merely substitutes for the US in evoking the reflex response. This process is called Stimulus-Substitution Theory. A critical problem with the Stimulus-Substitution Theory is that there is evidence that the CR and UR are not always the same. As a rule, the condition response is weaker than the UR. An even more serious difficulty for the theory is the finding that the CR is sometimes the opposite of the UR.

For example: The unconditional response to electric shock is an increase in heart rate, whereas a CS that has been paired with shock elicits a decrease in heart rate.

Despite these problems, It has been proposed by experimenters that only when the UR does not involve the central nervous system are the CR and the UR opposites.

The Rescorla–Wagner model[edit]

The Rescorla–Wagner (R–W) model[2][14] is a relatively simple yet powerful model of conditioning. The model predicts a number of important phenomena, but it also fails in important ways, thus leading to number modifications and alternative models. However, because much of the theoretical research on conditioning in the past 40 years has been instigated by this model or reactions to it, the R–W model deserves a brief description here.[15]

The Rescorla- Wagner model argues that there is a limit to the amount of conditioning that can occur in the pairing of two stimuli. For example: Pairing a bell with a juicy steak, is more likely to produce salivation than pairing a piece of dry bread with the ringing of a bell, and dry bread is likely to work better than a piece of cardboard. One determinant of this limit is the nature of the US. A key idea behind the R–W model is that a CS signals or predicts the US One might also say that before conditioning the subject is surprised by the US, but after conditioning the subject is no longer surprised, because the CS predicts the coming of the US. (Note that the model can be described mathematically and that words like predict, surprise, and expect are only used to help explain the model.) Here the workings of the model are illustrated with brief accounts of acquisition, extinction, and blocking. The model also predicts a number of other phenomena, see main article on the model.

The Equation[edit]

   ∆V = αβ(λ − ΣV) 

This is the Rescorla-Wagner equation. It specifies that the amount of learning (the change ∆ in the predictive value of a stimulus V) depends on the amount of surprise (the dif- ference between what actually happens, λ, and what you expect, ΣV). By convention, λ is usu- ally set to a value of 1 when the US is present, and 0 when it is absent. A value other than 1 might be used if you want to model a larger or smaller US. The other two terms, α and β, relate to the salience of the CS and the speed of learning for a given US, respectively. As far as Rescorla and Wagner are concerned, these parameters affect the rate of learning, but neither of them changes during learning; in most cases we can ignore α and β and focus solely on surprise to determine the extent to which learning will occur. For further information on the equation, see main article on the model.

R–W model: acquisition[edit]

The R–W model measures conditioning by assigning an "associative strength" to the CS. Before a CS is conditioned its associative strength is zero. Pairing the CS and the US causes a gradual increase in the associative strength of the CS from zero to a maximum. This increase is determined by the nature of the US (e.g. its intensity). The amount of learning that happens during any single CS-US pairing depends on the difference between the current associative strength of the CS and the maximum set by the US. On the first pairing of CS and US this difference is large and the associative strength of the CS takes a big step up. As CS-US pairings accumulate, the US becomes more predictable, and the increase in associative strength on each trial becomes smaller and smaller. Finally the difference between the associative strength of the CS and the maximum strength reaches zero. That is, the CS fully predicts the US, the associative strength of the CS stops growing, and conditioning is complete.

R–W model: extinction[edit]

The associative process described by the R–W model also accounts for extinction (see Procedures above). The extinction procedure starts with a CS with a positive associative strength, which means the CS predicts that a US will occur. Furthermore, in the extinction procedure, the US fails to occur. As a result of this “surprising” outcome, the associative strength of the CS takes a step down. Extinction is complete when the strength of the CS reaches zero; no US is predicted, and no US occurs. However, If that same CS is presented without the US but accompanied by a well-established Conditioned Inhibitor (CI), that is, a stimulus that predicts the absence of a US (in R-W terms, a stimulus with a predictive value of -1) then R-W predicts that the CS will not undergo extinction (its V will not decrease in size).

R–W model: blocking[edit]

The most important and novel contribution of the R–W model is its assumption that the conditioning of a CS depends not just on that CS alone, and its relationship to the US, but also on all other stimuli present in the conditioning situation. In particular, the model states that the US is predicted by the sum of the associative strengths of all stimuli present in the conditioning situation. Learning is controlled by the difference between this total associative strength and the strength supported by the US. When this sum of strengths reaches a maximum set by the US, conditioning ends as just described.

The R–W explanation of the blocking phenomenon illustrates one consequence of the assumption just stated. In blocking (see Phenomena above), CS1 is paired with a US until conditioning is complete. Then on additional conditioning trials a second stimulus (CS2) appears together with CS1, and both are followed by the US. Finally CS2 is tested and shown to produce no response because learning about CS2 was “blocked” by the initial learning about CS1. The R–W model explains this by saying that after the initial conditioning, CS1 fully predicts the US. Since there is no difference between what is predicted and what happens, there is no new learning happening on the additional trials with CS1+CS2, hence CS2 later yields no response.

Theoretical issues and alternatives to the Rescorla–Wagner model[edit]

One of the main reasons for the importance of the R–W model is that it is relatively simple and makes clear predictions. The tests done, has concluded predictions that have led to a number of important new findings and a considerably increased understanding of conditioning. Some new information has supported the theory, but much has not, and is generally agreed that the theory is, at best, too simple. However, no single model seems to account for all the phenomena that experiments have produced.[2][16] Following are brief summaries of some related theoretical issues.[15]

The content of learning[edit]

The R–W model reduces conditioning to the association of a CS and US, and measures this with a single number, the associative strength of the CS. A number of experimental findings indicate that more is learned than this. Among these are two phenomena described earlier in this article

The role of attention in learning[edit]

Latent inhibition might happen because a subject stops focusing on a CS that is seen frequently before it is paired with a US. In fact, changes in attention to the CS are at the heart of two prominent theories that try to cope with experimental results that give the R–W model difficulty. In one of these, proposed by Nicholas Mackintosh,[17] the speed of conditioning depends on the amount of attention devoted to the CS, and this amount of attention depends in turn on how well the CS predicts the US. Pearce and Hall proposed a related model based on a different attentional principle[18] Although neither model explains all conditioning phenomena, the attention idea still has an important place in conditioning theory.[2]


As stated earlier, a key idea in conditioning is that the CS signals or predicts the US (see Zero contingency procedure above). However, the room or chamber in which conditioning takes place, also “predicts” that the US may occur. Still, it would predict with much less certainty than does the experimental CS itself. The role of such context is illustrated by the fact that the dogs in Pavlov's experiment would sometimes start salivating as they approached the experimental apparatus, before they saw or heard any CS.[11] Such so-called “context” stimuli are always present; they have been found to play an important role in conditioning and they help to account for some otherwise puzzling experimental findings. Context plays an important role in the comparator and computational theories outlined below.[2]

Comparator theory[edit]

To find out what has been learned, we must somehow measure behavior ("performance") in a test situation. However, as students know all too well, performance in a test situation is not always a good measure of what has been learned. As for conditioning, there is evidence, that subjects in a blocking experiment do learn something about the “blocked” CS, but fail to show this learning because of the way that they are usually tested.

“Comparator” theories of conditioning are “performance based;”, that is, they stress what is going on at the time of the test. In particular, they look at all the stimuli that are present during testing and at how the associations acquired by these stimuli may interact.[19][20] To oversimplify somewhat, comparator theories assume that during conditioning the subject acquires both CS-US and context-US associations. At the time of the test, these associations are compared, and a response to the CS occurs only if the CS-US association is stronger than the context-US association. After a CS and US are repeatedly paired in simple acquisition, the CS-US association is strong and the context-US association is relatively weak. This means that the CS elicits a strong CR. In “zero contingency” (see above), the conditioned response is weak or absent because the context-US association is about as strong as the CS-US association. Blocking and other more subtle phenomena can also be explained by comparator theories, though, again, they cannot explain everything.[2][15]

Computational theory[edit]

An organism's need to predict future events is central to modern theories of conditioning. Most theories use associations between stimuli to take care of these predictions. For example: In the R–W model, the associative strength of a CS tells us how strongly that CS predicts a US. A different approach to prediction is suggested by models such as that proposed by Gallistel & Gibbon (2000, 2002).[21][22] Here the response is not determined by associative strengths. Instead, the organism records the times of onset and offset of CSs and USs and uses these to calculate the probability that the US will follow the CS. A number of experiments have shown that humans and animals can learn to time events (see Animal cognition), and the Gallistel & Gibbon model yields very good quantitative fits to a variety of experimental data.[6][15] However, recent studies have suggested that duration-based models cannot account for some empirical findings as well as associative models.[23]


Neural basis of learning and memory[edit]

Pavlov proposed a physiological account of conditioning that involved connections between brain centers for the conditioned and the unconditioned stimuli. Though Pavlov's physiology has been abandoned, classical conditioning is extensively used in modern studies of the neural structures and functions that underlie learning and memory. Forms of classical conditioning that are used for this purpose include, among others, fear conditioning, eyeblink conditioning, and the foot contraction conditioning of Hermissenda crassicornis, a sea-slug.

In their textbook on human physiology, Nikolai Agajanyan and V. Tsyrkin list five criteria for demarcation between unconditioned and conditioned reflexes. Unconditioned reflexes are relatively stable; in contrast, conditioned reflexes are unstable and can be modified and extinguished as described above. This distinction is reflected in underlying neural processes; A leading role in the performance of unconditioned reflexes is played by the lower divisions of the higher nervous system, the subcortical nuclei, brain stem and spinal cord.[24]:vol. II, p. 330 Conditioned reflexes, in contrast, are a function of the cerebral cortex and can involve the most varied stimuli applied to different receptive fields.[25]:see a table at page 105

Behavioral therapies[edit]

Some therapies associated with classical conditioning are aversion therapy, systematic desensitization and flooding. Aversion therapy attempts to associate an unpleasant CR, such as nausea, with stimuli associated with unwanted behavior, such as the smell of alcohol. Systematic desensitization attempts to eliminate an unwanted CR, such as anxiety, by gradually exposing the patient to associated CS's (e.g. angry words) in a relaxing situation. Flooding attempts to eliminate an unwanted CR through massive exposure of the associated CS, as in extinction. Such therapies and treatments using classical conditioning differ from those using operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning usually takes less time with therapists and less effort from patients than humanistic therapies.[26]

Conditioned drug response[edit]

A stimulus that is present when a drug is administered or consumed may eventually evoke a conditioned physiological response that mimics the effect of the drug. This is sometimes the case with caffeine; habitual coffee drinkers may find that the smell of coffee gives them a feeling of alertness. In other cases, the conditioned response is a compensatory reaction that tends to offset the effects of the drug. For example, if a drug causes the body to become less sensitive to pain, the compensatory conditioned reaction may be one that makes the user more sensitive to pain. This compensatory reaction may contribute to drug tolerance. If so, a drug user may increase the amount of drug consumed in order to feel its effects, and end up taking very large amounts of the drug. In this case a dangerous overdose reaction may occur if the CS happens to be absent, so that the conditioned compensatory effect fails to occur. For example, if the drug has always been administered in the same room, the stimuli provided by that room may produce a conditioned compensatory effect; then an overdose reaction may happen if the drug is administered in a different location where the conditioned stimuli are absent.[27]

Conditioned hunger[edit]

Signals that consistently precede food intake can become conditioned stimuli for a set of bodily responses that prepares the body for food and digestion. These reflexive responses include the secretion of digestive juices into the stomach and the secretion of certain hormones into the blood stream, and they induce a state of hunger. An example of conditioned hunger is the "appetizer effect." Any signal that consistently precedes a meal, such as a clock indicating that it is time for dinner, can cause people to feel hungrier than before the signal. The lateral hypothalamus (LH) is involved in the initiation of eating. The nigrostriatal pathway, which includes the substantia nigra, the lateral hypothalamus, and the basal ganglia have been shown to be involved in hunger motivation.

Conditioned emotional response[edit]

The influence of classical conditioning can be seen in emotional responses such as phobia, disgust, nausea, anger, and sexual arousal. A familiar example is conditioned nausea, in which the CS is the sight and/or smell of a particular food that in the past has resulted in an unconditioned stomach upset. Similarly, when the CS is the sight of a dog and the US is the pain of being bitten, the result may be a conditioned fear of dogs.

As an adaptive mechanism, emotional conditioning helps shield an individual from harm or prepare it for important biological events such as sexual activity. Thus, a stimulus that has occurred before sexual interaction comes to cause sexual arousal, which prepares the individual for sexual contact. For example, sexual arousal has been conditioned in human subjects by pairing a stimulus like a picture of a jar of pennies with views of an erotic film clip. Similar experiments involving blue gourami fish and domesticated quail have shown that such conditioning can increase the number of offspring. These results suggest that conditioning techniques might help to increase fertility rates in infertile individuals and endangered species.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

One of the earliest literary references to classical conditioning can be found in the comic novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) by Laurence Sterne. The narrator Tristram Shandy explains[29] how his mother was conditioned by his father's habit of winding up a clock before having sex with her:

My father [...] was, I believe, one of the most regular men in every thing he did [...] [H]e had made it a rule for many years of his life,—on the first Sunday-night of every month throughout the whole year,—as certain as ever the Sunday-night came,—to wind up a large house-clock, which we had standing on the back-stairs head, with his own hands:—And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of age at the time I have been speaking of,—he had likewise gradually brought some other little family concernments to the same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby, to get them all out of the way at one time, and be no more plagued and pestered with them the rest of the month. [...]

[F]rom an unhappy association of ideas, which have no connection in nature, it so fell out at length, that my poor mother could never hear the said clock wound up,—but the thoughts of some other things unavoidably popped into her head—& vice versa:—Which strange combination of ideas, the sagacious Locke, who certainly understood the nature of these things better than most men, affirms to have produced more wry actions than all other sources of prejudice whatsoever.

In the 1932 novel Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, conditioning plays a key role in the maintenance of social peace, especially in maintaining the caste system upon which society is based. Children are conditioned, both in their sleep and in their daily activities, to be happy in their Government-assigned social role as Alphas, Betas, etc., as well as in adopting other "socially acceptable" types of behaviour, including consuming manufactured goods and transport, practicing free sex, etc. For example, early on in the book, the Director of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre shows his young visitors how a group of toddlers of the Delta caste is conditioned to avoid books and flowers, by using shrill noises to terrorise them and applying "mild electric shocks". Also, in a later explanation by Resident World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond of how their society really works, he explains how early conditioning is an essential part of how social harmony among the different castes is maintained. Lower-caste members like Epsilons are as happy as upper-caste Alpha-Pluses, in large part due to their conditioning.

Another example is in the dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange in which the novel's anti-hero and protagonist, Alex, undergoes a procedure called the Ludovico technique, where he is fed a solution to cause severe nausea and then forced to watch violent acts. This renders him unable to perform any violent acts without inducing similar nausea. Unintentionally, he also forms an aversion to classical music.

In the science-fiction book Ender's Shadow, "Pavlovian mental bans" are also used to prevent crime. In the book, a controversial scientist, Anton, is kept from researching genetic experimentation by associating his work with anxiety. A device is then surgically placed in his head that would increase detected anxiety, sending him into a panic attack. The result is that Anton must remain good humored at all times, can only speak of his work through self-deceptive metaphors, and even after his Pavlovian mental ban is lifted can no longer study science. An abusive father is also mentioned to have received such a ban; he proceeds to become very nice for a time, before eventually committing suicide.

The metal band Rorschach have a song titled "Pavlov's dogs"[30] (the title being an obvious reference to Ivan Pavlov's experiment) whose lyrics also treat about classical conditioning.[31]

One of the most popular singles by American singer-songwriter, Academy Awards and Grammy Award nominee, Aimee Mann's is the song "Pavlov's Bell," the lyrics of which explicitly compare Mann's own actions to those of the dogs in Pavlov's experiments. Aimee Mann performed the song on the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, during a 2002 episode[32] in which a main cast member is being controlled by a form of classically conditioned trigger.[33]

Rolling Stones reference Pavlov's early experiments in their song "Bitch" with the line "Yeah when you call my name, I salivate like a Pavlov dog."[34]

In the "Phyllis's Wedding" episode of NBC's TV series The Office, Jim conditions Dwight to want a breath mint whenever he hears a computer chime.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cherry, Kendra. "What Is a Conditioned Response?". Guide. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bouton, M. E. (2007) Learning and Behavior: A Contemporary Synthesis, Sunderland, MA: Sinauer
  3. ^ Schmidt, Robert F.; Weisendanger, Mario (1989). "Motor Systems". In Schmidt, Robert F.; Thews, Gerhard. Human Physiology. Translated by Marguerite A. Biederman-Thorson (Second, completely revised ed.). Berlin etc.: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 3-540-19432-0. 
  4. ^ Schmidt, R. F. (1989). "Behavior Memory (Learning by Conditioning)". In Schmidt, Robert F.; Thews, Gerhard. Human Physiology. Translated by Marguerite A. Biederman-Thorson (Second, completely revised ed.). Berlin etc.: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 3-540-19432-0. 
  5. ^ a b Pavlov, I.P. (1927/1960). Conditional Reflexes. New York: Dover Publications (the 1960 edition is not an unaltered republication of the 1927 translation by Oxford University Press
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Shettleworth, Sara J.(2010) ‘’Cognition, Evolution, and Behavior (2nd Ed)’’ Oxford Univ. Press
  7. ^ a b Rescorla, Robert A. (1988) American Psychologist, 43, 151-160.
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Further reading

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