Study Coach: What is Classical Conditioning?

ANSWER: Classical Conditioning is a form of learning and it is part of  Behaviourism psychological theory. The Behaviourism theory argues that behaviour is learned by a process known as conditioning and that there are two types of conditioning (Operant conditioning and Classical conditioning). 

A notable Classical Behaviourist theorist is John Watson (1878 – 1958).  The work of John Watson and Behaviourism is relevant to AS/A Level Psychology www.aqa.org.uk Classical Conditioning theorists argue that it is possible to change behaviour via a process of conditioning and to remedy phobic fears.   

To understand how it is possible to change behaviour via Classical Conditioning, learners need to understand a number of concepts. To begin, the basic concepts are known as stimuli and response (S = stimuli and R = response). Here is a practical example of how Classical conditioning can be applied to provide therapy and change behaviour through the process of conditioning; this type of therapy is referred to as systematic desensitisation (Wolpe, 1958). 

Let’s imagine that a child is afraid of your new pet budgie Charlie, when the child sees the budgie the child starts to cry. In this case Charlie the budgie is the S = stimuli and crying is the R = response. If you would like to change the child’s behaviour, so that when they see Charlie it doesn’t result in tears/fear, what you will need to do is to select an additional stimuli, for example a bunch of grapes. You have knowledge that the child love grapes. We will refer to the bunch of grapes as a CS (conditional stimulus). 

The bunch of grapes is a conditional stimulus because the aim is to use the grapes to condition the child’s behaviour. You will therefore start the conditioning process by pairing Charlie the budgie (S) with the (CS) bunch of grapes. Meaning that you will start an experiment by presenting Charlie the budgie to the child.  

Place Charlie in his cage and bring the cage as close as possible to the child without causing the child great anxiety; when presenting the budgie to the child you must simultaneously give the child a bunch of grapes to eat. You will therefore be paring Charlie the budgie with the bunch of grapes, this process of the child making an association between the feared object (the budgie) and lovely grapes must be repeated over and over again, until you believe that the child has been conditioned. 

During the initial stage of conditioning, the child will still be feeling anxious and tearful, perhaps eating only a few grapes and keeping a firm eye on Charlie, but with repeated consistent pairing (presenting the budgie and giving the child grapes) more grapes will be consumed and the child will become less fearful of Charlie. If the experiment goes well you will have changed the child’s behaviour, since you would have conditioned the child to stop fearing Charlie (Lovely grapes, Lovely Charlie). 

CONTACT: If you have a question about Behaviourism, then do get in touch with Study Coach UK. Email: Morel Benard info@studycoach.uk.com 

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It has truly been a pleasure to have had you as my psychology teacher. I do not think I would have understood half of what we learnt otherwise. THANK YOU for being so supportive and encouraging and for making Wednesday mornings unexpectedly amusing at times.
Falak

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