Week 10 (9 – 13 Jan): Classical Conditioning & Learning

English: One of the many dogs Pavlov used in h...

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One of things I love about teaching psychology is that the principles are all around us. This is especially true of classical conditioning, in fact, with just a little bit of effort we can recognize many of the reactions that have been conditioned into our own lives. These examples make great learning tools because they help us relate these concepts to real meaningful examples. Here are a couple from my own life:

1a) Large motorbikes known as hogs are becoming popular in Vietnam. They have a very distinct sound and look. The engines are deep and throaty and they are slung low to the ground. The rider sits back and reaches up to the handle bars. Every time I hear one, I am on guard because I associate them with bikers. Bikers are usually members of criminal gangs. Very dangerous.

1b) I have a very similar reaction to groups of motorbikes. Anytime I see a large group of bikes, I think,”Gang,” and am leery. It might not be right, but those are my associations. There are others.

2) When I go to the movie theater, I have to have pop corn. If we don’t buy pop corn, then I’m restless and grumpy throughout the movie and a little peevish after it is over. So, we always get pop corn at the movies.

3) Oh wow! This just happened to me. I was in the hall closet picking up a bag off of a box. The bag rubbed along the box making a low throaty sound, and I had a startle response: I jumped a slight amount and felt some adrenaline enter my blood. I realized I had thought I heard a dog growling! A dog in the middle of my house! There isn’t a dog for a 100 meters and several walls to me. Why else would I react as if a dog were there growling at me if not from classical conditioning?

You can see the association between a neutral stimulus and the unconditioned response in each. Can you name them?