First discovered by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, classical conditioning is a form of learning through association. This association takes the form of a pairing between two stimuli to produce a learned response. John Watson proposed that all human psychology could be understood in terms of classical conditioning. Although we’ve moved far beyond this simplistic understanding of human behavior, the theory of classical conditioning can still offer insight to psychologists. Maybe the concept of classical conditioning rings a bell for you, but if it doesn’t this guide is for you!
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The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was instrumental to the discovery of classical conditioning. Pavlov’s initial research focused on the physiology of digestion in dogs. Pavlov examined how external stimuli—specifically the ringing of a bell—could condition a dog to salivate after they associated the bell with food.
The Rescorla-Wagner Model is a model of classical conditioning. Rescorla-Wagner aims to explain certain empirical findings regarding conditioning. One of these findings is the Kamin Blocking effect, which states that if an agent has already associated one stimulus (the conditioned stimulus) with another (the unconditioned stimulus) they will be unable to associate a new stimulus with the unconditioned one. The Rescorla-Wagner Model suggests that an agent’s ability to predict the unconditioned stimulus is driven by the strength of the conditioned stimulus.
The Pearce-Hall Model describes the circumstances in which an association can be formed between two stimuli. Developed in the late 1970s, the Pearce-Hall Model proposed that an association can be formed between stimuli based on the level of attention paid to a cue.
EXTINCTION AND LATENT INHIBITION
Extinction and latent inhibition are two phenomena observed in classical conditioning. If a conditioned stimulus is presented alone, before it is tied with an unconditioned stimulus, we experience a phenomenon known as latent inhibition. Latent inhibition weakens the strength of the conditioned response. The conditioned stimulus can also be presented alone after conditioning has occurred. In this case, called extinction, the strength of the conditioned response will also weaken.
Rosalie Rayner was a psychiatrist and worked as a research assistant for famous behaviorist John Watson. Watson and Rayner conducted a variety of experiments applying theories of conditioning to humans. The most famous of these experiments, the Little Albert experiment, conditioned a small child to fear furry objects by accompanying the appearance of these furry objects with a scary noise. Rayner was instrumental to the development of the theory of behaviorism.
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Pavlov is famous for other discoveries beyond classical conditioning, including his theory of transmarginal inhibition.
Watson is called the Father of Behaviorism but Rayner was instrumental to his work.
Read this article for an overview of classical conditioning.
Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are not the same. Watch this video to understand the difference:
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