Pavlov Classical Conditioning Theory of Learning | Psychology (2024)


In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Meaning of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory 2. Experimental Evidences of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory 3. Principles 4. Educational Implications 5. Some Objections.


  1. Meaning of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory
  2. Experimental Evidences of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory
  3. Principles of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory
  4. Educational Implications of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory
  5. Some Objections to Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory

1. Meaning of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory:


This is learning from the behavioristic viewpoint. According to this viewpoint learning is ‘formation of conditioned reflexes’ or “acquisition of involuntary anticipatory adjustment” or “a habit formation”, so that behaviour may become automatic.

By “anticipatory adjustment” he means “organic behaviour” which is “not complete” but “with a gap in the whole equilibrium pattern”. For example, hunger function of the stomach etc., are the organic behaviour with a gap and so incomplete.

It becomes complete when the object of hunger is obtained. Importance of anticipatory adjustment is very great because, firstly, it is the foundation of all voluntary behaviour. Secondly, it is the active desires that sets the goal and makes the organism strive. Thirdly, it determines “the mindset” or “organic pattern of readiness”.

Unless this organic pattern takes place within, no real learning can appear. If we can control this anticipatory adjustment we can also control learning. This controlled learning is the conditioned learning. In this the thing to be learnt is termed as, ‘cue stimulus,’ and this is then followed by a satisfying stimulus. This combination is repeated again and again and ultimately the learning of the “cue-stimulus” is established. This is conditioned learning.


Conditioned learning is also accompanied by a generalization of the experience. For example, a child whose fear is conditioned to a white rat also begins to fear a rabbit, cotton wool, a white fur coat and other alike objects. When the same process is repeated again and again for a long time, after the conditioning has taken place, it produces adverse effects. The conditioned S-R becomes extinguished. For example, repeated exposure of the rat may gradually reduce the fear after it has been conditioned.

Conditioned learning actually means responding normally by a natural response to an unnatural situation or stimulus, when in actual fact; the response is to be in the presence of the natural stimulus. We have watering of the mouth seeing a ‘Gulab Jamun’ or a child feels watering of the mouth when he sees or smells food and not by hearing a bell. But, it is the common experience that the ringing of the recess bell leads to watering of the mouth.

This learning of watering of the mouth on hearing the bell is conditioned learning. It is established when repeatedly the recess bell is followed by some refreshments, meals or lunch during recess and bell and food, are associated in quick secession. Much of the learning is by conditioning, Fear, anger and many such reactions are aroused by unnatural, irrelevant or unusual stimuli.

The approaching peon of the boss, for example, aroused nervousness and fear, though the peon is harmless and innocent. But, that peon almost always bought some unpleasant message, letters or news from the boss’s office and so the person is conditioned to the approaching of this peon which leads to rousing of fear and nervousness.

Similarly, if two girls have been seen together a number of times, seeing one makes you think of the other. These are all illustrations of associative connections. This idea of association has been the basis of the conditioned response theory, according to which learning consists in building up of new associative bonds between a stimulus and a response. According to Guilford, “The most simile interpretation of this phenomenon is that when two stimuli are presented repeatedly together, the new one first, then the original, effective one, the new one also becomes effective”.

2. Experimental Evidences of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory:

Expt. 1:

The Russian Psychologist Ivan Pavlov experimented for long on dogs to study how the stimuli and responses are associated with different types of the stimuli of bell, different colours or lights and established conditioned response of salivation in the dog. In his experiment, he took a dog, kept him in a room and repeatedly gave the ringing of the bell, as a stimulus, soon followed by food (piece of meat) which led to salivation.

Bell and food were presented in a sequence over a number of times (about seven days) and at every trial there was the bell. A stage reached when ringing of the bell led to normal salivation even when there was no food supplied. Neurologically it could be explained that the stimulus bell followed by food led to the response of salivation in this manner.

This process is by making the nerves carrying the stimulus of the food which leads to the response of salivation, coming closer and closer, with every trail to the nerves carrying the stimulus of the bell that a stage reached that there was an over lapping reinforcement of the nerves carrying the stimulus of food with the nerves carrying stimulus of the bell.

In other words, a stage reached when the bell meant the food and the natural response of salivation was there to the unnatural stimulus of the bell. Such establishment of the nervous connections was the conditioned reflex. Here ‘sight of food’ was termed as UCS, the ringing of the bell as ‘CS’ and the ‘salivating’ on the ringing of the bell only was termed as CR.

A schematic diagram of the procedure is as under:

Before Training (Conditioning)-

Bell (CS) → (Head turning, co*cking of ears) Training.

Bell (CS) and Meat powder (UCS) → Salivation (UCR)

After Training-

Bell (CS) → Salivation (CR).

Expt. 2:

In a similar manner, Watson performed an experiment in which a rabbit was shown to a baby followed very soon by a loud bang which made the baby shriek with fear as the sudden and loud bang becomes fearful due to the bombardment of the sound waves on his delicate eardrum and auditory nerves. In the repeated presentation of the rabbit followed by the loud banging, a stage reached when the baby shrieked the moment the rabbit was shown even when there was no banging. This is learning by conditioning.

The baby learnt to shriek at the sight of the rabbit which was so harmless and quite incapable of instilling any fear but with the help of banging which is certainly shocking and grousing fear, the baby made to react in the fearful manner at the sight of the innocent and harmless rabbit. Watson further experimented on the same baby when at last instead of being afraid; the child was made to be happy on seeing the rabbit.

It was reversing the conditioning or what was called reconditioning. It was done by giving a chocolate or a candy to the child when the rabbit was shown. After some trials when the rabbit was followed by giving of candy, the rabbit and candy, rabbit and candy sequence established the connection between rabbit and enjoyment of candy as a pleasant experience.

A stage reached when instead of being afraid the baby began to play with the rabbit and was very happy to see it because the rabbit was the harbinger of the pleasant feeling of enjoying the candy. This situation of the natural response to an unnatural stimulus with the help of natural stimulus is the process of conditioning.

Similarly, a sleeping infant is frightened by the falling pillow but as it is dark when the pillow fell, the fear is conditioned to the dark and he learns to avoid dark places. The mother feeds the infant I after placing him in a certain position on the bed, but he starts felling the pleasure of feeding as he sees her making the bed. All these illustrations throw light on the process of conditioning.

3. Principles of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory:

The success of the theory depends upon the following principles:

1. Time Principle:

It means that there should not be a wide gap of time between the cue stimulus and the satisfying stimulus. The longer the interval between the two, the less effective the association. Normally the CS (bell) is presented before the UCS (food) is presented. Before the CS, some learning may take place, but it is not as effective as when the CS is presented before the UCS. It is so that reward and punishment whenever to be given, should be immediate.

2. Principle of Intensity:

It means that the satisfying stimulus should be of great intensity; otherwise it cannot produce the desirable organic behaviour.

3. Principle of Consistency:

It means that the same process should be repeated in the same way without any change for several days.

4. The Situational Principle:

It means that the situation or the surrounding in which learning is to take place should be such as there may not be in it chances of distraction.

5. Principle of Repetition:

It means that repetition is necessary for reinforcement and fixation of learned response.

6. Principle of Inhibition:

Inhibition should not be allowed i.e., there should not be allowed any factor or situation that inhibits learning. Pavlov’s students often found that having set up a conditioned response in a dog they not exhibit it to Pavlov, because his presence in the room inhibited it. Likewise, we see student-teachers failing to deliver a very well planned and prepared lesson in the presence of his supervisor.

4. Educational Implications of Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory:

Many things of the school-subjects are learnt more adequately through this process. Reading writing, spelling or habits are learnt more effectively through the process of conditioning. Direct method of teaching English is just a process of conditioning. We learn many things in a better way through this process; and that is perhaps the reason why language is more efficiently learnt by living in the society in which it is spoken. Teaching through visual aids also implies the same principle.

Discipline may also be caused through conditioning. Good sentiments, good habits, virtues and ideals etc., which are the components of discipline, are effectively learnt through the process of conditioning, and they are learnt surely, in a society in which they are actually lived and manifested.

Classroom procedures are often far removed from the natural procedures required for the process of conditioning. Languages are not taught as they ought to be in connection with many vivid and widely different experiences. If the regulations, commands and virtues are followed by the friendly behaviour and the most sympathetic attitude of the teacher, he can bring about a complaint emotional tone in the class that no amount of punishment can accomplish. But, uniformity of procedure is essential. Voluntary action may be controlled through reasoning, punishment and reward, but if it’s involuntary basis is neglected it will not endure. In conditioning involuntary responses are controlled through the cue stimuli.

Many of our fears and phobias may be traced back to some kind of conditioning. When things and objects associate with an unpleasant experience and a sort of generalization is made, phobias appear. Such fears and phobias can be removed by deconditioning. Disliking for a teacher or certain school subjects can also be helped to overcome these dislikes through reconditioning by associating pleasant stimuli with them.

The conditioned response theory may also help in explaining many of our repugnance’s and unexplained reactions to people, places and things. Such conditioning often takes place in childhood and though the real causes are not known the effects remain. In this way many of our reactions are not natural but simple causes of conditioning.

Moreover, in experimental psychology the theory of conditioned reflex occupies an important place and it has revolutionised child learning. Before the advent of this theory the knowledge of process of learning was vague. It is rightly the importance of association in learning. It is now a psychological truism that the child’s learning consists in the establishment of conditioned reflexes through the formation of permanent habits. The intelligent learner can establish conditioned reflexes with facility, while the idiot cannot. Lastly, this theory brings learning under the teacher’s control making desired learning conditioned by situations created or regulated by the experimenter himself.

“Different kinds of habits based on training, education and discipline of any short are nothing but a long chain of conditioned reflex.” -Pavlov

In Brief, implications of this theory can be explained through the following points:

1. Theory of Reward and Punishment:

Theory of reward and punishment is also based on conditioning. Children know that they will be punished as a result of wrong actions and they will be rewarded as a result of good deeds. Thus, for the conditioning of the child it is essential to punish him for his misdeeds and give him reward for distinctions. This thing motivates the children in the classroom.

2. Useful in Language Learning:

The teacher can utilize this conditioning method in the classroom for teaching the languages. Conditioning is much useful in language training, particularly Sanskrit language. The correct use of the language makes the child conditioned for the use of that particular language. Apart from Sanskrit language, this conditioning method is quite effective to the learning of subjects like Mathematics.

3. Helpful in Removal of Superstitions:

A teacher can make the use of the conditioning method to eliminate the superstitions of the children. Certain superstitions like sneezing and passing the cat across your way etc., can be removed by this method. The teacher has to develop faith in the children through conditioning that such types of superstitions have no place in real life situations. They have to be pulled out of his false orbit.

4. Development of Attitudes:

Conditioning may help the child in breaking negative and promoting attitudes. In short, good and bad habits may be developed in the child through this method of conditioning. Proper habits can be formed by providing the education of positive behaviour and values to the child. Thus, a teacher should present himself before the children as an ideal. A conditioning between good examples and responses of the children will help in developing a healthy attitude in the child.

5. Helpful in Adjustment:

The conditioning method helps the child in adjusting in various types of environments. The beginning of this takes place with the adjustment of the child in class room conditions and school circ*mstances. Later, he applies all this to make adjustment in real life challenging situations. It is the conditioning only that enables the child to make way in difficult and odd circ*mstances.

6. Use of Audio-Visual Aids:

The use of audio-visual aids in the class room can be made effective through conditioning. For example, if a word parrot is to be taught to the children in the class, then the picture of the parrot must be shown to them along with the word written on the Black-Board. Children will speak that word after looking the picture. Then the picture is removed and the children will repeat only the written word. Thus, the children could learn to speak the word parrot as a result of conditioning.

7. Arousal of Fear, Love and Jealousy:

The conditioning helps in accelerating the development of fear, love and jealousy among the students in the classroom. For instance, if a teacher beats any child excessively or he makes fun of him in the midst of his classmates, then, quite naturally that child will show the fear or jealousy for that teacher even after hearing his name only. On the contrary, if a teacher exhibits love and affection for students, in return, the students will show full regard for that teacher.

8. Useful in Mental Hospitals:

The mental cases and emotionally unstable children can best be treated with this process of conditioning. There are quite a few research evidences, on behalf of which, one may confidently admit the role of conditioning in the treatment of mental patients. Moos Ward Atmosphere Scale is pioneer in this regard. It states that on account of love, affection and good treatment many complexes and fears can be removed from the minds of such patients and such type of conditioning helps in their early recovery.

Sometimes, conditioning is to be ceased or happens to be ceased itself. This is known as de-conditioning. For de-conditioning lack of motivation, increase in interval, lack of repetition and removal of natural stimuli are the responsible elements.

5. Some Objections to Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory:

In spite of the above merits, the conditioned reflex theory of learning is open to serious defects. It is, in the first place, a mechanical theory overlooking the learner’s interest, attention and other higher mental processes. Yet, in default of these conditions this theory does not work. Learning depends largely upon learner’s will, interest and attention.

Further, not all stimuli can be conditioned by unconditioned ones. For example, the child’s natural love for the mother cannot, normally, be conditioned by the unconditioned stimulus of seeing somebody else, whom he naturally hates, associated with the mother. Secondly, the theory of conditioning lays emphasis on repetition of stimulus and response to strengthen connection between them. But, Dunlop demonstrated that the occurrence of a response is the probability that it will occur again when there is the same stimulus. Dunlop had the habit of typing ‘the’ as ‘hte’.

He was able to mend his habit by consciously typing ‘the’ thousands of time. Thus, the probability of occurrence of response (typing ‘hte’) was provided. This law is opposed to theory that repetition strengthens connections. We can conclude from these two conflicting portions that it is not the occurrence of the response, which determines the probability of its occurrence but pleasant and unpleasant nature of the response. Thirdly, the theory is not put forward as an explanation of learning; it merely states the conditions of learning, the condition that must be present if learning is to occur.

A certain amount of frequency or duration of time is required to permit the effective factors to operate. The space of time separating the two stimuli or recipes to be connected must not be theory has been considerably elaborated into ascending orders of conditioning to explain the higher thought and reasoning processes and even voluntary activity. At this point most psychologists demur. While conditioning given a plausible account of the conditions of specific learning, particularly those involving emotional reactions, its adequacy in the case of complex though processes is widely questioned. To the educator, in particular, it is of no apparent value in describing the higher stages of learning.

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Pavlov Classical Conditioning Theory of Learning | Psychology (2024)


What is the answer to the classical conditioning theory? ›

What Is Classical Conditioning Theory? Classical conditioning theory says that behaviors are learned by connecting a neutral stimulus with a positive one, such as when Pavlov's dogs heard a bell (neutral) and expected food (positive).

What is Pavlov's theory of learning? ›

Pavlov's theory, often referred to as Pavlovian conditioning, centers around the concept of associative learning. He sought to explore how organisms, including humans, acquire new behaviors and responses through repeated associations between stimuli.

What was the conditioned response in Pavlov's experiment? ›

The dogs salivating for food is the unconditioned response in Pavlov's experiment. A conditioned stimulus is a stimulus that can eventually trigger a conditioned response. In the described experiment, the conditioned stimulus was the ringing of the bell, and the conditioned response was salivation.

What are the learning principles of Pavlov's classical conditioning? ›

Classical conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning, means learning through association. People or animals are repeatedly exposed to two stimuli, and they learn to associate the two so that they exhibit a new learned response when in the presence of the stimuli.

What is classical conditioning theory easy? ›

Updated on January 23, 2020. Classical conditioning is a behaviorist theory of learning. It posits that when a naturally occurring stimulus and an environmental stimulus are repeatedly paired, the environmental stimulus will eventually elicit a similar response to the natural stimulus.

What best explains classical conditioning? ›

Expert-Verified Answer. Classical conditioning best explains involuntary behaviors, whereas operant conditioning best explains voluntary behaviors.

What is Pavlov's classical conditioning summary? ›

Pavlovian Conditioning: Theory of Learning

Classical conditioning (later developed by Watson, in 1913) involves learning to associate an unconditioned stimulus that already brings about a particular response (i.e., a reflex) with a new (conditioned) stimulus, so that the new stimulus brings about the same response.

What did Pavlov discover? ›

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist best known in psychology for his discovery of classical conditioning. During his studies on the digestive systems of dogs, Pavlov noted that the animals salivated naturally upon the presentation of food.

What was the aim of Pavlov's dog experiment? ›

Pavlov's aim was to use the salivary conditioning method to investigate the function of the brain of higher animals in their adaptation to the external environment.

What is a real life example of classical conditioning? ›

For example, if the smell of food (the unconditioned stimulus) had been paired with the sound of a whistle (the conditioned stimulus), the sound of the whistle would eventually come to evoke the conditioned response of hunger.

When did Pavlov discover classical conditioning? ›

The term classical conditioning refers to the process of an automatic, conditioned response that is paired with a specific stimulus. The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov studied classical conditioning with detailed experiments with dogs, and published the experimental results in 1897.

What is the classical conditioning quizlet? ›

classical conditioning. a form of learning in which a neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response after being associated with a stimulus that already elicits that response. unconditioned stimulus (UCS)

Which of the following is true of classical conditioning? ›

Answer and Explanation:

In classical conditioning, an organism does not have to be aware of the changes that are taking place. The response that this organism has will have no effect, positive or negative on future stimuli.

Which best describes classical conditioning quizlet? ›

Which best describes classical conditioning? Two stimuli are paired to make a new learned response.

What is response conditioning? ›

conditioned response. In psychology , the response made by a person or animal after learning to associate an experience with a neutral or arbitrary stimulus .

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