Classical Conditioning: A Case Study

Classical conditioning is a major concept in psychology that emerged as an attendant to the behaviorism school of thought. The latter envisioned human behavior as a subject of learning, and reprised earlier beliefs of the unfettered control of the mind and consciousness. Proponents of this school of thought proposed that humans could interact with environmental and natural stimuli to learn certain behaviors. Thereby, classical conditioning entails the learning of a new behavior through associative relationship. Two stimuli are combined together to give a new response. In this case, there are five important components, the unconditioned stimuli (UCS) which produces the unconditioned response (UR), and the neutral stimuli (NS) which exists without causing any response on its own but combines with the unconditioned stimuli (UCS) to become the conditioned stimuli (CS). The conditioned stimuli on its part give the conditioned response (CR) which comes as a result of repeated association with a pairing of the UCS and the NS (conditioned stimuli). This paper applies the above concepts to a small experiment in the dark involving switching on the light after a bell prompt.

In the experiment, the bell was rang and the light immediately turned off. The light was then turned on after 15 seconds. The same procedure was repeated severally with the light turned off immediately after ringing the bell. After 22 attempts, the bell was rang and but the light was not turned off. Surprisingly, the pupils dilated in the same way they had been when the light was put off. In other words, the ringing of the bell alone was enough to cause dilation in the eyes, though naturally the sound of a bell has no capability to evoke such a response. It was an exciting experience that precipitated classical conditioning in action.

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In the given experiment, the switching off of light was an unconditional stimulus (UCS) that evoked an unconditioned response (UR), dilating of the pupils. An unconditional response (UR) is a natural reaction that follows an UCS without any learning. The dilating of the pupils (UR) was a natural response to switching off the light with no learning at all. However, all this time there was a neutral stimulus (NS) involved, which was the ringing of the bell. The sound of a bell in natural circumstances has no effect on the eyes. However, after being paired with the unconditioned stimulus (switching of the light), the ringing of the bell (NS) became the conditioned stimulus (CS) which brought about a conditioned response (CR) in dilating of the pupils. In other words, the neutral stimulus upon frequent pairing with the unconditioned stimulus became a conditioned stimulus and ended up creating a response that was naturally unattached to it (dilating of pupils). In summary, the five components of classical conditioning in the experiment were as follows:

Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS) – Switching off the light

Unconditioned Response (UR) – Dilating of pupils

Neutral Stimulus (NS) – Ringing of the bell

Conditioned Stimulus (CS) – Ringing the bell before switching off the light (UCS+NS)

Conditioned Response (CR) – Dilating of pupils without a change in light.

            The above experiment therefore demonstrates the functionality of classical conditioning. There are several real life examples of the phenomenon that have been experienced at a personal level. These include losing sleep after listening to the alarm in the morning even if I had just slept. Though the alarm has no connection to becoming fully awake, in most cases the sound of the alarm was followed by waking up. Another example is being frightened whenever I witness lightening. This is because lightening is often followed by the sound of thunder, which is scary. However, sometimes lightening just happens without the thunder and still evokes the fretting.

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