Pavlov's Classical Conditioning Theory of Learning

After performing various experiments Psychologists Pavlov gave birth to a new theory of learning known as Conditioned Response Theory

Pavlov's Classical Conditioning

After performing various experiments upon the subjects like dogs, rats and cats, Psychologists Pavlov gave birth to a new theory of learning known as Conditioned Response Theory or simply as Learning by conditioning. The understanding what is conditioning and what does this theory imply, it is desirable to move an idea of the type of experiments performed by these psychologists.

Experiment by Pavlov

In one of the experiments, Pavlov kept a dog hungry for the night and then tied him on to the experimental table which was fitted with certain mechanically controlled devices. The dog was made comfortable anddistractions were excluded as far as it was possible to do so. The observer kept himself hidden from the view of the dog but able to view the experiment by means of a set of mirrors. Arrangement was made to give food to the dog through automatic devices. Every time when the food was presented before the dog, he also arranged for the ringing of a bell. When the food was presented before the dog and the bell was rung, there was automatic secretion of saliva from the mouth of the dog. The activity of presenting the food accompanied with a ringing of the bell was repeated several times and the amount of saliva secreted was measured.

Pavlov's Classical Conditioning Theory of Learning

After several trials the dog was given no food but the bell was rung. In this case, also the amount of saliva secreted was recorded and measured. It was found that even the absence of food (the natural stimulus), the ringing of the bell (an artificial stimulus) caused the dog to secrete the saliva (natural response).

It considers the learning as a habit formation and is based on the principle of Association and Substitution. It is simply a stimulus-response type of learning where in place of a natural stimulus like food, water, sexual contact etc. the artificial stimulus like sound of the bell, sight of the light of a definite colour etc. can evoke a natural response. When both the artificial or neutral stimulus (ringing of the bell) and natural stimulus (food) are brought together, several times, the dog becomes habituated or conditioned to respond to this situation.

There becomes perfect association between the types of stimuli presented together. As a result, after some time natural stimulus can be substituted or replaced by an artificial stimulus and this artificial stimulus is able to evoke the natural response.In this experiment, the dog learned to salivate at the sound of the bell. This kind learning was named as Learning by Conditioning.

The conditioning theory of learning put forward by Watson and Pavlov actually involves the conditioning of the Respondent behaviour though a process of stimulus association and substitution. Here the responses of the learner become so much conditioned-behaving in the same way or responding similarly to the similar situation that he does not care for the natural stimuli for evoking the related natural response. As a result the new substituted stimulus behaves like original stimulus and is able to evoke and desired response.

Features of Classical Conditioning Theory

  1. Contraction theory is based on related synergies. Young children often learn this way.
  2. This theory emphasizes that if a conditioned stimulus is used in conjunction with a natural stimulus, there is an increase in the natural response.
  3. This principle emphasizes on conditioning and reinforcement. Reinforcement increases the speed of learning and conditioning makes learning permanent.
  4. According to this theory, there must be a relationship between the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response for learning.
  5. Good habits can be replaced by bad habits of children by the method of classical conditioning.

Drawbacks of Classical Conditioning Theory

  1. This theory has been propounded by experiments on animals and confirmed by experiments on children, so it does not fully apply to the learning process of mature humans.
  2. In this theory, man is considered as a biological machine and his learning process is considered as a mechanical process, so it does not explain the process of thinking and reasoning learning of man.
  3. Learning through contracted response is not permanent.
  4. The process of conditioning takes place only under certain circumstances, whereas the process of learning naturally goes on always.
  5. This theory does not correctly explain the human learning process.

Utility in Teaching Classical Conditioning Theory

  1. This theory emphasizes action conditioning and reinforcement in learning. This makes the learning process effective.
  2. This theory emphasizes on the use of teaching tools in the teaching of subjects and the use of rewards and punishments in establishing discipline.
  3. In this method such subjects can be taught easily, which do not require intelligence, thinking and reasoning.
  4. Through classical conditioning, bad habits of children can be replaced in good habits and mental diseases like fear can be removed.
  5. Children can be easily socialized by classical conditioning.

Educational Implications of the Theory of Conditioning

The phenomenon of conditioning does not limit itself to such laboratory experiments only. The day to day learning at home, school etc. consists of plenty of examples where the child learns through conditioning.

Fear, love and hatred towards the subjects are created through conditioning. A mathematics teacher, with his defective methods of teaching or improper behaviour, may be disliked by students or by a particular student. He without caring to know the basic reason, always rebukes and punishes the child while returning him the checked home-assignments. Gradually, the child begins to fear home assignments of any sort. He also develops a distaste and hatred towards the subject of Mathematics.

On the contrary the sympathetic treatment given by the teacher and his interesting and effective methodology can bring a desirable impact on the students through the process of conditioning. They develop a positive attitude towards the subject and love their teacher as well as the subject taught by him.

The use of audio-visual aids in the teaching-learning process involves the conditioning theory in making the students learn so many things. The child gets an idea of a particular object or phenomenon through this aid. For example, the teacher shows him the picture of a cat, along with the written words 'cat'. The teacher speaks out 'cat' and asks the student to say 'cat' every time when the picture is presented. After some time thepicture of the cat is not presented, only the written word 'cat' is shown. But. the child responds to it by saying 'cat'. He associates the written word 'cat' with the picture of the cat and sound of the word.

In developing desirable habits, interests, attitudes, sense of application in the children etc. the conditioning process may help the teachers and parents a lot. Not only it helps the development of proper behaviour in them, but also is helpful in removing so many bad habits-unhealthy attitudes, superstition, fear and phobias-through reconditioning. A child who fears a particular object can be made to seek pleasure with it. Another child who thinks it a dangerous sign if a cat. crosses his way can be made to give up his misblief. In this way, the conditionining theory throws light on so many aspects of learning and helps the teacher and parents in their task.

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