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Classical Conditioning Theory Of Learning By Ivan Pavlov

Understanding human’s behavior have been always an attractive field that driven scientists to make uncounted researches throughout the history. John B. Watson the Father of American Behaviorist (1878-1958) was one of those scientists who studied this field. So he worked on “Learning theory” which interprets the individuals’ behavior through several sub-theories’ perspectives; was founded by, he founded the first behaviorism school in 1912. Watson has conducted a number of experiments, including the famous (Little Albert) child experiment. Watson’s work was based on Pavlov experiments on dog’s digestive system. He made researches on classical conditioning and believed that all individual differences in behavior were resulted from different experiences of learning, so he considered individuals as a clean slate that can be filled with any outward experience.

Ivan Pavlov found classical theory then was adopted by John Watson. John Watson proposed that the classical conditioning theory was able to interpret all aspects of human psychology and behaviour. Everything such as speech to emotional responses were simply patterns of response and stimulus. Watson ignored completely the influence of the mind or consciousness.

Famous quotation by John Watson “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well- formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant- chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors”.

Aspects of Watson’s theory:

He contradicted mentalistic concepts, used contiguity to interpret learning, pointed feelings and emotions as just another example of classical conditioning and he denied the idea of individual differences. He considered the behaviors resulted of combinations of reflexes and believed that practice reinforces learning.

Definition of Classical conditioning theory:

It’s the process of learning a new behavior through association. For example, two stimuli things are associated both of them in order to give us a new learned reaction in an individual.

Stages of Classical Conditioning:

There are 3 stages of classical conditioning. The 1st stage is ‘before conditioning’, where the unconditioned stimulus in the surrounded environment produces an unconditioned response. The 2nd stage is ‘during conditioning’ when the unconditioned stimulus turns to be a conditioned stimulus. As Saul McLeod states in his article, Classical Conditioning, “Often during this stage the UCS must be associated with the CS on a number of occasions, or trials, for learning to take place”. The 3rd stage is ‘after conditioning’ when the conditioned stimulus accomplished and is associated to the conditioned response. Studies:Pavlov conducted dog studies and one of the experiments that put a dog in an isolated box. Then the food is provided to the dog and it is an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) that increases the saliva of the dog and is an unconditioned response (UCR). When you serve food with a bell sound (neutral motivational bell) the dog’s saliva increases. Whenever Pavlov gave food to his dogs, he also rang the bell. After number of repetitions of this procedure, when the dog hears only the sound of the bell, the dog’s saliva begins to increase. Therefore, the dog learns that there is a relationship between the sound of the bell and the food. This response is a conditioned response (CR) and the neutral stimulus has become a conditioned stimulus (CS).

Examples of Classical Conditioning Theory in real life:

First example: My brother who have three years old, always refuses to eat an enough amount of food. And I know that he loves sticking small stars stickers on his hands, so I started to put the stars on his hands while feeding him in order to make him eat more. After a while, whenever he sees stars stickers he starts feeling hungry.

Second example: My other brother Zayed who have 10 months, he loves go out and see the outside world. Zayed used to see my father wearing kandoora if he will take him out with him. After a while, whenever he sees my father wearing a kandoora he start following him and crying to take him out.

Third example: My sister used to drink a warm cup of milk before sleeping. Now when she sees a cup of milk anytime during the day; she yawns and feels sleepy.


Classical Conditioning Theory adopted a scientific approach in conducting its experiments through empirical evidences, which is considered as a strength point. It is also divided down the complex behavior into smaller stimulus-response units in order to explain the behavior easily ‘reductionist’, while others argued about this step as a lack of validity. The precise controls in addition to the independent variable were both clear and practical with the dependent variable have been carefully observed and measured.

The Pavlov’s study was about implementing the classical conditioning theory on dogs, but it was generalised to humans after conducting a study on one particular child (Little Albert). Only one participant so should be wary about generalization. The lab which used to conduct the experiment on Little Albert was under the lack of ecological validity due to the artificial setting and it may heightened Albert’s level of fear.

The lack of validity by playing with animals and loud noises are both real in life, but the frequent coincidence of the two isn’t common. The major concern is the ethical conditions in conducting the study (it couldn’t be repeated today) – there was distress to Albert, without informed consent or right to withdraw from the study.

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