Psychology of Learning- Classical Conditioning

Psychology of Learning- Classical Conditioning

Psychology of Learning- Classical Conditioning. Theoretical inclinations are paramount in the understanding of learning. Instruction is a behavior with no autonomy, thereby obliging theorists to propose ideas that can help describe the process. Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning is one of the theories that help describe the process. The theory purports that learning is a process of pairing that unconsciously creates conditioned reflexes from specific stimuli. Rehman et al. (2017) define classical conditioning as an unconscious learning method entailing an automatic and conditioned response that individuals pair with a certain stimulus. Therefore, classical conditioning involves the placement of a neutral stimulus to initiate behavioral changes due to the alterations of naturally occurring reflexes.

Pavlov’s Experiment

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, stumbles upon the notion by accident as he researches dogs’ digestion. He gradually notices that the reactions of dogs to food change over time. Initially, the dogs only salivate when they see food. The theorist observes that they also salivate in reaction to the consistent sounds that are present at the time of the arrival of the food. For instance, they respond to the sound of the food carts. He tests the theory by introducing a bell before food to the animals. At first, the dogs do not react to the bell, but they eventually begin to salivate once they hear the sounds, even in the absence of food (Rehman et al., 2017). Therefore, the experiment proves that ringing the bell gradually elicits learning and conditions the dogs to react to the process.


Conceptualization of Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning entails a schematic depiction of the processes contributing to adopting behavior and learning. Ivan Pavlov conceptualizes classical conditioning through concepts such as unconditioned stimulus, neutral stimulus, the conditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, and conditioned response (Eelen, 2018). In Ivan Pavlov’s experiment, the neutral signal is the sound of the bell. The naturally occurring reflex is salivating (Cherry & Gans, n.d).  The direct associations of the neutral stimulus with the environmental stimulus (introduction of food items) elicit salivation as a response.

  • Unconditioned Stimulus

An unconditional stimulus refers to a trigger whose aftermath is an automatic response. For instance, cold air is an unconditioned response that makes individuals shiver (Cherry, 2022).

  • Neutral Stimulus

A neutral stimulus does not trigger responses on its own. For instance,  a person hearing the sound of a fan without feeling the breeze does not shiver (Cherry, 2022).

  • Conditioned Stimulus

A conditioned stimulus refers to an initially neutral stimulus (one that does not trigger any responses) that now leads to a behavioral response. A good example of a conditioned stimulus is an individual who never feared dogs being bitten by one, consequently making them wary of the animals (Cherry, 2022). In such a case, the dog is a conditioned stimulus.

  • Unconditioned Response

An unconditioned response is a behavior that an unconditioned stimulus stimulates (Cherry, 2022). A good example is watering when an individual smells their favorite food.

  • Conditioned Response

A conditioned response is a learned response that results from exposure to a conditioned response. A good example is fear resulting from being bitten by a dog.

The process of Classical Conditioning in Learning

Before conditioning, an unconditioned stimulus automatically leads to an unconditioned stimulus. The neutral stimulus has no effect. During conditioning, individuals pair the neutral stimulus repeatedly with the unconditioned stimulus, making the neutral stimulus a conditioned stimulus. The latter can now trigger a conditioned response. After conditioning, the conditioned stimulus can now evoke responses, even without the existence of the unconditioned stimulus.


In conclusion, classical conditioning is a theoretical inclination that describes the learning process. The theory purports that the rate of learning and acquisition depends on the noticeability of the stimulus. Individuals learn certain things and assume certain behaviors due to exposure to stimuli over time, leading to conditioned responses.


Cherry, K. (2022, August 28). How classical conditioning works, with examples. Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from

Cherry, K., & Gans, S. (n.d.). What Is Classical Conditioning? Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from

Eelen, P. (2018). Classical conditioning: classical yet modern. Psychologica Belgica58(1), 196-208.

Rehman, I., Mahabadi, N., Sanvictores, T., & Rehman, C. I. (2017). Classical conditioning.



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