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Stimulus-Response Theory Essay

Evaluate how Classical Conditioning can be applied to the Learning Process

Classical conditioning is the process by which learning takes place through environmental and natural stimuli. Psychologists believe that learning occurs through behavioral change when environmental stimulus is associated with naturally occurring stimulus. Several theories support the working of classical conditioning and learning process (Carlson, 2010).

Stimulus-response theory agrees that when a test begins, unconditioned response may result. Despite this response, learning eventually takes place.

For instance, a rat may not respond unconditionally when put in a maze at the beginning, but with time, it learns the maze and thus responds conditionally. This theory has some flaws given that the conditioned or unconditioned responses may differ even when the stimulus is the same (Terry, 2009).

The second theory is based on stimulus to stimulus. This theory entails acquisition of a piece of knowledge and retaining it for future use. For instance, children learn colors and numbers conditionally or unconditionally, and remember this learning experience regardless of the stimulus later in life (Neuringer, 2002). Second order conditioning is used here for acquiring basic knowledge and then expanding it at high levels.

For example, at first grade, pupils may learn about Osama by name. At high grades, they may learn about his complicated life. The original teachings are conditioned stimuli that higher grade pupils use to obtain more information. This theory is based on cognitive abilities which differ from one person to another (Terry, 2009).

The third theory is based on operant conditioning. It focuses on certain behaviors that result in punishments or rewards. For instance, preschool children can be given a snack if they pronounce a letter sound properly everyday or the snack withheld if they do not.

This theory may impact learning process negatively because such children may develop negative reputation towards learning abilities (Neuringer, 2002). This hinders development of positive learning abilities.

What are the basic Concepts of Conditioning Associated with Pavlov?

Conditioning comprises of four basic concepts that are crucial in the understanding of learning process. They include the following;


This phenomenon refers to a period in which the conditioned response is reinforced. Associating conditioned stimuli with unconditioned stimuli reinforces classical conditioning.

For instance, a dog can be taught to salivate when the bell rings before it is given food. Immediately the dog salivates in response to the bell sound, the response has been acquired. Once the response has been acquired, the dog can be reinforced with food (Baum, 2012).


Removal of reinforcement affects the conditioned response negatively by weakening it (Baum, 2012). For instance, when one gets an accident while on a motorcycle, he/she develops fear riding it. However, with time, the fear fades away after several safe rides


Generalization concept results when a conditional stimulus brings to mind similar responses repeatedly. This is called stimulus generalization (Neuringer, 2002). For instance, when a dog gets burnt with hot water in a basin, it tends to fear water in basins.


The ability to distinguish between conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus is known as discrimination. For instance, if the national anthem is the conditioned stimulus, then the ability to distinguish between the national anthem and other songs is referred to as discrimination (Terry, 2009).

Behaviors can best be Learned by using Classical Conditioning methods

Gambling Behavior

A person playing casino may have a big win while standing in a particular position or while wearing specific clothing. This person may keep on standing in this position or keep on wearing this type of clothing repeatedly thinking that the win resulted from these coincidental events. This, eventually, changes the person’s behavior (Carlson, 2010).

Superstitious Behaviors

People tend to believe that accidental events associated to each other have cause-and-effect relationship. For instance, if a person is robbed while passing through a given street at night, the incident would be associated with walking at night. This may change his behavior (Terry, 2009).

Alcoholism Behavior Treatment

One can use anti-abuse drug to induce the negative effect of using liquor. When alcohol is induced, the person experiences nausea. Hence, he/she learns to avoid it (Carlson, 2010).


Baum, W. M. (2012). Rethinking Reinforcement: Allocation, Induction and Contingency. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 97, 101-124.

Carlson, N.R. (2010). Psychology: The Science of Behaviour. New Jersey, United States: Pearson Education Inc.

Neuringer, A. (2002). Operant Variability: Evidence, Functions, and Theory. Psychonometric Bulletin & Review, 9(4), 672–705.

Terry, W.S. (2009). Learning and Memory: Basic Principles, Processes, and Procedures (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

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