Classical conditioning is a psychological process that can condition any subject to do pretty much anything within normal boundaries (no, you can't teach your math professor to jump into the gorge in Cornell University).

The man who came up with the whole idea was Ivan Pavlov. He was actually a famous Russian psysiologist, who wrote a famous paper on the digestive systems of dogs. That was probably what led him to his place in modern psychology now.

He noticed how when his assistants brought the dogs food to prepare them for his studies, they would salivate. After a while, every time the dogs saw the assistant, it would drool even if there was no food. Interesting.

Consider a hungry dog who sees a bowl of food. Something like this might happen:

Food ---> Salivation

The dog is hungry, the dog sees the food, the dog salivates. This is a natural sequence of events, an unconscious, uncontrolled, and unlearned relationship. See the food, salivate.

Now, when Pavlov presents the food to the hungry dog (and before the dog salivates), we ring a bell. Thus,

Bell with Food ---> Salivation

Pavlov repeated this action (food and bell given simultaneously) at several meals. Every time the dog sees the food, the dog also hears the bell.

Pavlov continued to do another experiment. He rang the bell, but we don't show any food. What does the dog do? Obviously,

Bell ---> Salivate

The bell elicits the same response the sight of the food gets. Over repeated trials, the dog has learned to associate the bell with the food and now the bell has the power to produce the same response as the food.

This is the essence of classical conditioning. It really is that simple. You start with two things that are already connected with each other (food and salivation). Then you add a third stimulus (bell) for several trials. Eventually, this third thing may become so strongly associated that it has the power to produce the old behavior.

SCIENCE. Psychology. The process by which a response normally elicited by one stimulus (the UCS) comes to be controlled by another stimulus (the CS as well).
Adapted from Psychology: The Science of Behaviour Neil R. Carlson et al

If you didn't get that, classical conditioning is basically a method by which a person or persons is conditioned to react to a specific stimulus that does not naturally cause the reaction. Classical conditioning is not a bad thing. It's something we experience every day in our lives.

For instance, a child can watch a balloon expand (conditional stimulus), and exhibit a startle reaction (response) when the balloon explodes (the unconditional response. If this happens long enough a conditioned response would develop, then the child exhibits the startle reaction, which is now the conditional response, in response to the balloon being expanded.

Obviously someone cannot simply be conditioned by linking the specific stimulus with the response once. Factors such as strength and perceived importance of the stimulus and response, the number of repetitions that have to take place, and the time between the stimulus and the response also play a role.

Classical Conditioning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov in 1904 with his study on dogs (see for the original experiment). Its interesting to note that Pavlov's work was not intentionally a study into animal behaviour, but on the digestive system). Subsequently classical conditioning is also known as Pavlovian conditioning. The concept of using classical conditioning to control the masses, as exhibited in anti-government/anti-communist books such as Brave New World, where citizens are conditioned to enjoy working and fear the outdoors.

See also weird experiences with self classical conditioning.
Pavlov's work with his dogs was a pivotal study in to psychology, with conclusions that can still be applied to today’s world. However what is not often recognised is the way in which the study was conducted.

The key to these series of experiments is the measurable quality of saliva production; the more accurately you can do this, the more representative your end data will be.

So how do you do this? Do you try to mop up saliva with a cloth; unfortunately this would add a series of new problems so the simple solution is to pipe it straight out. This is exactly what Pavlov did (and this is the not widely known part); he drilled holes in the rear part of the dogs mouth floor, just inside of the lower jaw.

Tubes would then be fixed to the dog, with the end actually resting under the dogs tongue. The saliva would then simply be siphoned of and collected in jars.

This raises an interesting ethical discussion. How far should scientists be allowed to go in the cause of science? These experiments would obviously not happen today as it would be seen as cruel and barbaric, but the positive results from the work is clear to all.

There should be a balance struck between science and the ‘people’ i.e. commonly accepted ethics. The problem is the boundaries of both sides keep changing. How will the future shape this balance?

I have personal first hand experience with classical conditioning.

I used to live in an apartment above a trendy coffee house at the university that I attended. The place was long and narrow, and my roomate and I set up the front of the apartment with couches and television.

The TV that we had was one of those old public school types, that had more connectors on the back than I knew existed, and had obviously been bolted to the top of a rolling cart at some point; this was even more obvious when I noticed the half-torn sticker that warned children not to climb on the cart, lest they be crushed by a heavy object. The source of this monster (weighed in at over 100 pounds) was an old roomate's mother, who worked for a public school in Ohio. Regardless, being the poor college student that I was, having a 25" television for free was awesome.

Of course, there is always a catch. The television was probably late 1970s or early 1980s by the looks of it. It had dials to tune the stations (separate UHF and VHF), and the brightness and volume dials were metal and not automatic in any way shape or form. I did have a cheap cable box attached to the set that did allow me to change channels and turn the monster on and off. However, volume adjustment required a 20 foot trip across the carpeted floor to the volume dial.

Static electricity is perfect for classical conditioning. Across that stretch of carpet, I picked up quite a few electrons and upon touching the volume dial, ZAP! Almost every time. It was so bad, that eventually I would move my arm close to the television and instinctively retract my arm in fear of a static electric shock. It would take me several waves of my arm to eventually touch the side of the metal encased television to ground myself before I could adjust the volume. This happened for a year and a half.

I moved. I brought television monster with me (along with its friends, the ColecoVision and a VCR that I found in the trash but fixed up into a workable device). New house didn't have carpet or static electricity problems. However, my classical conditioning made it that for at least the next 6 months, I couldn't touch the volume dial without instinctively doing the several waves of retracting my arm to ground myself. No matter how conscious I was that I was in no danger of being shocked, I still couldn't touch the dial without going through the ritual.

I got rid of the television years ago. I'm sure if I ever saw it again, however, I'd probably still have a problem with the volume dial.

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