6.1—classical conditioning: learning by association Flashcards Preview

🚫 PSY100H1: Introduction to Psychology (Winter 2016) with J. Vervaeke > 6.1—classical conditioning: learning by association > Flashcards

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  • learning: a process by which behaviour or knowledge changes as a result of experience.
  • cognitive learning: reading, listening, and taking tests in order to acquire new information.
  • associative learning—the type of learning in this module, i.e. classical conditioning. 


Classical (Pavlovian) Conditioning

  • classical conditioning: (or Pavlovian conditioning): learning that occurs when a neutral stimulus elicits a response that was originally caused by another stimulus.
  • Pavlov's work inspired future studies and served as a foundation of behaviourism: a line of inquiry focused on observable behaviours rather than unobservable mental events.
  • stimulus: an external event or cue that elicits a response.
  • a defining characteristic is that a neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response.
  • this is because the neutral stimulus is paired with, and therefore predicts, an unconditioned stimulus.


Unconditioned Stimulus (US)

  • unconditioned stimulus (US): a stimulus that elicits a reflexive response without learning.
  • "conditioning" and "learning" are synonymous.


Unconditioned Response (UR)

  • unconditioned response: a reflexive, unlearned reaction to an unconditioned stimulus.
  • what distinguishes the UR from the CR is the stimulus that elicits them; a UR is a naturally occuring response whereas a CR must be learned.


Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

  • conditioned stimulus (CS): a once neutral stimulus that later elicits a conditioned response because it has a history of being paired with an unconditioned stimulus.


Conditioned Response (CR)

  • conditioned response (CR): the learned response that occurs to the conditioned stimulus.
  • what distinguishes the UR from the CR is the stimulus that elicits them; a UR is a naturally occuring response whereas a CR must be learned.


The Hebb Rule

  • Hebb Rule: when a weak connection between neurons is stimulated at the same time as a strong connection, the weak connection becomes strengthened.
  • the connections between specific groups of neurons (or specific axon terminals and receptors sites on neurons) become strengthened during each instance of classical conditioning.
  • the strengths of these networks—and thus of the conditioning—will vary depending upon how often and how consistently the CS and the US appear together.



  • acquisition: the initial phase of learning in which a response is established.
  • in classical conditioning, acquisition is the phase in which a neutral stimulus is repeartedly paired with the US.
  • in Pavlov's experiment, conditioning either would not occur or would be very weak if food was delivered inconsistently when the tone was sounded.



  • extinction: the loss or weakening of a conditioned response when a conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus no longer occur together. 
  • a number of studies have shown that classically conditioned behaviours that had disappeared due to extinction could quickly reappear if the CS was paired with the US again.


Spontaneous Recovery

  • spontaneous recovery: the reoccurrence of a previously extinguished conditioned response, typically after some time has passed since extinction.



  • generalization: a process in which a response that originally occurs to a specific stimulus also occurs to different, though similar, stimuli.
  • when we perceive a stimulus, it activates not only our brain’s representation of that item, but also our representations of related items. 



  • discrimination: occurs when an organism learns to respond to one original stimulus but not to new stimuli that may be similar to the original stimulus. 


Conditioned Emotional Response and Little Albert

  • conditioned emotional responses: emotional and physiological responses that develop to a specific object or situation.
  •  "Little Albert" (an 11-month old baby named Albert B.) was conditioned to fear white rats.
  • while Albert was in the vicinity of the rat, they startled him by striking a steel bar with a hammer.
  • Little Albert not only developed a fear of rats, the emotional conditioning generalized to other white furry objects including a rabbit and a Santa Claus mask.
  • conditioned emotional responses offer a possible explanation for many phobias, which are intense, irrational fears of specific objects or situations.
  • contextual fear conditioning: if an organism learns to fear a particular location, such as learning that a certain cage is associated with an electrical shock, then context-related activity in the hippocampus will interact with fear-related activity in the amygdala to produce this effect.


Evolutionary Role for Fear Conditioning

  • a healthy fear response is important for survival, but not all situations or objects are equally dangerous.
  • fearing snakes is very common, which makes it tempting to conclude that we have an instinct to fear them.
  • in reality, young primates (both human children and young monkeys, for example) tend to be quite curious about, or at least indifferent to, snakes, so this fear is most likely the product of learning rather than instinct.



  • preparedness: the biological predisposition to rapidly learn a response to a particular class of stimuli.


Conditioned Taste Aversion

  • conditioned taste aversion: acquired dislike or disgust of a food or drink because it was paired with illness.
  • these conditioned aversions only occur for the flavour of a particular food rather than to other stimuli that may have been present when you became ill.
  • e.g. if you were listening to a particular song while you got sick from eating tainted spinach or a two-week-old tuna sandwich, your aversion would develop to the taste of spinach, but not to the song that was playing.

yet, there are still some riddles to it.

  • e.g. the onset of symptoms from food poisoning may not occur until several hours have passed after the tainted food or beverage was consumed.
  • therefore, the interval between tasting the food (CS) and feeling sick (US) may be a matter of hours, whereas most conditioning happens only if the CS and the US occur very closely to each other in time.
  • the flexibility offered by a long window of time separating CS and US, as well as the requirement for only a single exposure, raises the chances of acquiring an important aversion to the offending substance. 
  • latent inhibition: when frequent experience with a stimulus before it is paired with a US makes it less likely that conditioning will occur after a single episode of illness.


Conditioning and Negative Political Advertising

  • evaluative conditioning—in an evaluative conditioning study, experimenters pair a stimulus (e.g. a shape) with either positive or negative stimuli (e.g. an angry face).
    • in the laboratory, evaluative conditioning works.
    • this phenomenon has been found with visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), taste, and tactile (touch) stimuli.
  • different cultures will respond to negative advertising differently; people with different education levels or who differ in terms of socioeconomic status might also vary in how they respond to these types of ads.
  • third-person effect: people assume that others are more affected by advertising and mass media messages than they themselves are.


Conditioned Drug Tolerance

  • conditioned drug tolerance: over time, more of the drug will be needed to override these preparatory responses so that the desired effect can be obtained.


"Diet" Beverages

  • through neural mechanisms linking the brain and digestive system, humans actually become conditioned to the foods and drinks that they consume, including those that contain real sugar.
  • sweet tastes send a message to the body that a high dose of calories is on the way. 
  • the artificially sweetened taste of a diet soda is not followed by a high dose of calories that your body “expects.”
  • your body responds by sending out hunger messages: your gut “tells” you to make up for the calories by opening up a bag of cookies or potato chips. 

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