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Acquisition - Classical Conditioning

Updated on September 26, 2013

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Uncontrolled & Controlled Stimulus & Response

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a sub- theory of behaviorism. Ivan Pavlov is famously known as having discovered this process of learning. Also referred to as respondent conditioning, happens when an association between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus produces a response (Cherry, 2012). This theory of learning includes conditioned and unconditioned stimuli and responses.

Behaviorism is a theory of psychology which says human learning is a result of experiences in someone’s surroundings or environment. There is much difficulty in denying that environment, which includes the objects and people in it, has no effect on human behavior, emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Unconditioned Stimulus (US)

Unconditioned stimuli are any thing which elicits a natural and automatic response. The unconditioned stimulus is one that needs no prior learning to evoke a response. For example, the smell of fresh baked deserts reminds an adult of a grandparent. As a child anytime they went to this house there was the smell of fresh sweets. The scent of fresh deserts is an unconditioned stimulus.

Unconditioned Response (UR)

An unconditioned response is a direct result of unconditioned stimuli. An unconditioned response is a natural and automatic response elicited by an unconditioned stimulus. In the previous example, the memory trigger of a grandparent is a unconditioned response. Memory retrieval is a natural and automatic response to the smell of fresh baked deserts.

Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

Opposite of unconditioned, conditioned stimulus is any previously neutral object which does not produce a natural and automatic response. For example, a high school student gets up around 6 a.m. to get ready for school (let’s just say this is a natural task, no alarm clock needed). One week the student gets dressed while listening to the radio for a contest. After the contest is over the student continues to dress in the mornings while listening to the radio. The radio has become a conditioned stimulus.

Conditioned Response (CR)

A conditioned response is the combination of a conditioned stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus. Conditioned responses are learned actions and responses. Order is important to a conditioned response. A conditioned stimulus followed by an unconditioned stimulus. Pavlov thought that conditioned responses were smaller versions of unconditioned responses. An example of a conditioned response would be the student getting dressed while listening to the radio.

Scenario 1

In a townhome, any time someone turns on the hot water at any sink the water quickly becomes very cold for anyone using the shower making the person jump back and scream out. Initially it was requested that no one operate the hot water while the shower was in use but that can be a really hard request to fill for other house members to fulfill. After many interrupted showers, one house member noticed there would be a noise and shift in water pressure that signified other water in use. The member began to step out from the water when ever heard the shift was heard to Avoid the cold water.

US: Cold water in the shower.

UR: Moving back and screaming out.

CS: Hot water in use at other faucets.

CR: Moving back when hear the shifting of other faucets in use.

Scenario 2

A child has fish sticks for dinner one evening. By bedtime the child has an upset stomach and is nauseous. The child believes the fish sticks were the cause of the upset stomach and develops a dislike for fish, never eating any fish through adulthood. Turns out it was just an upset stomach. The child developed a fear and if he or she were to eat any would become ill.

US: Stomach ache.

UR: Nausea.

CS: Fish sticks.

CR: Will not eat fish for fear will create nausea and upset stomach.

A method of reversing the classical conditioning of example two is called extinction. Extinction is the process of removing a learned behavior or process. In scenario two, the child was unaware that the upset stomach was a random event having nothing to do with the fish sticks. Unfortunately, the child developed a phobia of eating any type of fish that last through adulthood.

However, the smell of fish was absolutely delicious as an adult. The child desperately wanted to eat but was afraid. Then the child realized that they had eaten imitation or processed fish sticks as a child and realized fresh fish might not do the same. The adult decided to try catfish. After indulging a few times without an upset stomach, the adult soon overcame the phobia associated with fish. Now there is not a week which goes by that there is not salmon, tilapia or orange roughy for dinner.

Classical learning can be a permanent part of memory or one that is held temporarily until new conditioning happens.


Bowan, R. (2006). Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Colorado State University. Retrieved



Cherry, K. (2012, July). Introduction to Classical Conditioning. Retrieved from

Olson, M. H. & Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to theories of learning (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.


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      Johnf944 3 years ago

      Dead written subject material, Really enjoyed studying. gdebcddebkfe