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Classical conditioning as an explanation of human behavior Cause and Effect Essay

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Updated: May 29th, 2018

Classical conditioning explains some kind of human behavior that is usually associated through interaction with the environment and is used in behavioral training.

This type of learning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov in 1927 while conducting an experiment with dogs. In his theory he explains that as an individual, reactions are learned through the paring of neutral stimulus which would be defined as any event that does not result in overt behavioral response along with a stimulus of some significance (Coon & Mitterer, 2008).

Pavlov termed the significant stimulus a conditioned stimulus (CS). This kind of stimulant causes is an often reflexive response from an individual.

Pavlov referred to these responses as unconditioned stimulus (US) and unconditioned response (UR) respectively. In a situation where the US and UR were paired repetitively, an organism may tends to produce a behavioral response to the CS a conditioned he later named as conditioned response.

The basic experiment that Pavlov used to evidently show how the learning process took place involved placing food within the outlook of a dog that then started salivating.

The salivation extracted established a relationship between the unconditioned stimulus which is food and the unconditioned response which is the saliva. He then conducted another experiment, but this time he used a bell as the conditioned stimulus which took on the power to bring out the response of the conditioned response which is saliva (Kalat 2010).

In his research he recorded how much the dogs salivated each time they were fed and soon he noted that the dogs learned to salivate once the door opened. Pavlov main objective was to understand behavior theory and his basic paradigm became the model for classical conditioning a theory that is important in explaining human behaviors which was carried out by John B Watson an American psychologist.

The model explains why certain reflexive behaviors in people are performed in response to stimuli which did not beforehand suggest the behavior. Classical conditioning is said to evidently show the existence of involuntary reflexes which are said to be responsible for the association of the reflexes compelling. The principle of classical conditioning has been used to give an explanation for a range of developmental occurrence like fears and phobias in human beings.

Today many scholars studying theories believe that fears and phobias mainly develop due to classical conditioning and they make use of treatment tactics such as flooding based upon the conditions (Davey, 1989)(; diNardo, Guzy, Jenkins &Bak, 1988). Systematic desensitization is a therapy that is used to help those people suffering from various phobias through making the person relax hence replacing the anxiety they feel that is caused by the phobia.

The therapy is system as it is conducted step by step. Most people develop fears during child development. Children fear different things such as darkness heights flying, dentist office, selected animals like snakes dogs and so forth. Learning theorist suggest that repeated paring of the responses (both CS and UCS) results to fear.

The main question that lingers in the minds of many is how classical condition explains various human behaviors. Behaviors that are classically conditioned are those behaviors that involve the learning of involuntary responses which the leaner has no control over.

In real life, Classical condition can explain how some aspects of behaviors are acquired and how some specific responses are associated with particular stimulus especially those that are based on emotional and motivational phenomena’s which is regarded as a fundamental aspect during all forms of animal training and also in some human training.

Coon and Mitterer (2008) notes “in humans, it’s associated with dealing in the formation of certain habits for example, enjoying running, feeling good when one gets good grades and being able to achieve good school performance and getting rewards.” It can also be useful while trying to break bad habits for example, smoking, overeating and getting over phobias and fears.

In an educational setting, the most common classical condition experienced is when students exhibit phobias and anxieties for instance, likes for different subjects or math’s students fearing to fail a condition that is usually seen as a challenge by many teachers who are obligated to oversee that they create a steady and positive classroom climate to help all kinds of students experience more success in school activities rather than failure.

Today the art of manipulating people’s association has been ideated by the advertising industry. Classical conditioning is also associated with advertising.

Coon and Mitterer (2008) notes “in advertising, Classical conditioning is described as a type of learning whereby stimulus conditions acquires the capability of evoking responses that were originally evoked by something else or by another stimulus.” Many advertising and marketing companies view classical conditioning as a convincing technique of endorsing their merchandise and services.

Most of the product and service providing companies use classical conditioning as a very effective tool for advertising by pairing up their products and service with positive stimulations that affects human beings like sex, music, attractive colors and humor (Coon and Mitterer 2008).

There could be an advert that has actors within a scene that represents unconditioned stimuli whereby the positive attitude towards that advert or the positive response exerted from the advert is what refferd to as unconditioned response.

According to those making the advert, their main goal is to have the unconditioned response become conditioned response which would be that the brand should precipitate the same positive attitude the advert did.

According to a research that was conducted by Janiszewski and Walop (Buckley 1989) “in addition to leading transfer of feelings, classical conditioning procedures can also have an effect on attention levels for the CS: classical conditioned brands stars getting attention more quickly than if it was not conditioned”.

The US can be used to include a large number of rewarding stimuli like beautiful people; attractive scenery, well liked celebrities, cute cuddly pet’s, pleasant music and lavish surrounding that are associated with wealth. Advertisers also pair their products with exiting events like sports finals, recognized symbols like flags and also sexual imageries with extremely attractive models especially the female species.

The main strategy used by advertisers is to associate their product and services with stimuli that evoke pleasurable feeling in general to the extent of trying to create a more specific association. For example, the cigarette brands that are marketed for men are commonly paired with men who are portrayed as tough and strong whereby they associate cigarette smoking with masculinity.

In another advert of the same product being marketed for women, most of the images presented would be paired to femininity. For high end products like expensive automobiles and credit cards, advertisers market these products while pairing them with affluence symbols luxury, exiting benefits such as mansions and astounding jewels.


Today the concept of classical conditioning has turned out to be part of the behaviorist discipline of psychology as it continues to influence more on psychology researches in the world.

Every individual should be aware of the fact that in whatever we do is as a result of a stimulus of classical conditioning and that it’s not everything that we participate in doing is usually intentional but sometimes what we involve ourselves in may be due to an incidental outcome (Lavond and Steinmetz 2003). Studying the basic association of learning processes which are mostly done through conducting careful examination of response characteristics becomes an advantage in knowing more about human studies.

Over five decades enormous research has been conducted about classical conditioning with many relevancies pointing out to advertising. The strength of conditioned responses depends on the pairing of US and CS and for this reason the advertisers are encouraged to use enough repetitive measures in advertising products and services to create necessary association for better responses.

Many scholars find it difficult to criticize the idea of classical conditioning as an explanation to human behavior, but Classical conditioning has its benefits in a number of fields.

Understanding classical conditionings prove to marketers as a very important aspect in eliciting favorable responses from consumers through associative learning. Pavlov’s works has also led to realization of treatments that would be used to treat those with problems by use of such as therapies for example, the aversion therapy.


Coon D.,& Mitterer J. O (2008).Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior (Edition12). New York NY: Cengage Learning.

Kalat J. W (2010). Introduction to Psychology (Edition9). New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Lavond D. G. Steinmetz J. E(2003). Handbook of classical conditioning. New York, NY: Springer.

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