Classical Conditioning of Learning in Psychology

Learning is the process by which our mind adapts the changing conditions in our surroundings and around the world. Through learning, we sometimes alter the existing actions and sometimes we add some new actions inside our memory.

Therefore, learning is defined as the

Relatively permanent changes in behavior which is brought about by experiences and continuous efforts made through practices.

As per research, once people learn anything, it gets stored in our memory.

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Learning through Classical Conditioning

A Russian scientist, named Ivan Pavlov, tried to bring objectivity to the Psychology through an empirical study of the principles of the particular kind of learning, called Classical Conditioning.

Classical conditoning learning


When food is placed inside the mouth of the dog then salivation started automatically which is actually a reflex. Thus, reflex defined as the involuntary response of the animals or humans which is not under control of the mind.


Any object which shows the response, generally due to another object or event or experiences is Stimulus.

Classical Conditioning

It is the learning to draw an involuntary reflex type response to a stimulus which normally produces the response. It is different than the original and normal stimulus.

Elements of Classical Conditioning

  1. Unconditioned Stimulus: In short UCS, The original, unlearned and naturally occurring stimulus is Unconditioned Stimulus.
  2. Unconditioned Response: In short UCR, The automatic, unlearned and involuntary response occurs due to the unconditioned stimulus is called the Unconditioned Response. It happens due to genetic wiring in the nervous system.
  3. Neutral Stimulus: In short NS, It happens prior to the conditioning, when any stimulus doesn’t have any effect on the desired response then it is called Neutral Stimulus. Example: Dish without food.
  4. Conditioned Stimulus: In short CS, When a previously neutral stimulus gets paired with an unconditioned stimulus, which ultimately produces involuntary response then it is called Conditioned Stimulus. This is a learned stimulus.
  5. Conditioned Response: In short CR, A learned response is visible out of conditioned stimulus is called Conditioned Response. This response is weaker than the Unconditioned Response.


When Neutral stimulus and Unconditioned stimulus repeatedly paired then it is called Acquisition. This type of learning process is called acquiring learning.

Principles of Classical Conditioning

The principles of classical conditioning were formulated by Pavlov and some of the other researchers are discussed as follows:

  1. The CS must come before UCS.
  2. The CS and UCS should come very close together, ideally in the difference of 5 seconds.
  3. The NS must be paired with UCS several times before conditioning takes place.
  4. The CS should be distinct, not competing with other stimuli.
Classical conditoning learning with dog experiement

Image Credit: Very Well

Stimulus Generalization

Pavlov observed that similar sounds would produce a similar conditioned response. Hence, Stimulus generalization occurs when an object responds to the stimulus which is similar to the originally conditioned stimulus.

Stimulus Discrimination

When an organism started differentiating between the fake stimulus and CS in case of generalized stimulus and responding to the CS then it is called Stimulus discrimination.


When CS is present and UCS is absent then CR died out. It is called Extinction. It is basically the weakening of learned response by removal of UCS or reinforcer.

People can’t unlearn as learning relatively stores the learned process in the memory. During extinction, when UCS introduced then objects starts producing CR.

Spontaneous Recovery

The brief recovery of conditioned response or when the learned response reappears after extinction then it is called Spontaneous recovery.

Higher order conditioning

When a neutral stimulus becomes the part of the conditioned stimulus and prior conditioned stimulus act as the UCS then it is the Higher-order conditioning.

Application of Classical Conditioning on Human beings

Initially, Pavlov tried classical conditioning on Dogs and Rats. After his experiment was successful on animals then he started applying the concept of classical conditioning of learning on human beings too. Hence, he started conditioning the emotional response. Let’s discuss.

Conditioned Emotional Response (CER)

Suppose we develop the fear of dog or doctor’s injection in the mind of a child then whenever the child sees even a polite dog or injection he starts crying. Similarly, people start showing their emotional reactions on seeing an attractive person of the opposite gender. Therefore, such emotional response is the result of classical conditioning which occurs at learned stimuli.

Vicarious Conditioning (VC)

It is involuntary classical conditioning by watching the response to a stimulus of another person.

Advertisers use CER and VC to develop emotional bonding with the product.


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