You are here

Pavlov Demonstrates Conditioning in Dogs

16 February, 2016 - 09:24

In the early part of the 20th century, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936) was studying the digestive system of dogs when he noticed an interesting behavioral phenomenon: The dogs began to salivate when the lab technicians who normally fed them entered the r oom, even though the dogs had not yet received any food. Pavlov realized that the dogs were salivating because they knew that they were about to be fed; the dogs had begun to associate the arrival of the technicians with the food that soon followed their appearance in the room.

With his team of researchers, Pavlov began studying this process in more detail. He conducted a series of experiments in which, over a number of trials, dogs were exposed to a sound immediately before receiving food. He systematically controlled the onset of the sound and the timing of the delivery of the f ood, and recorded the amount of the dogs’ salivation. Initially the dogs salivated only when they saw or smelled the food, but after several pairings of the sound and the food, the dogs began to salivate a s soon as they heard the sound. The animals had learned to associate the sound with the food that followed.

Pavlov had identified a fundamental associative learning process called classical conditioning. Classical conditioning refers to learning that occurs when a neutral stimulus (e.g., a tone) becomes associated with a stimulus (e.g., food)that naturallyproduces a behavior. After the association is learned, the previously neutral stimulus is sufficient to produce the behavior.

As you can see in Figure 7.1", psychologists use specific terms to identify the stimuli and the responses in classical conditioning. The unconditioned stimulus (US) is something (such as food)that triggersa natural occurring response, and the unconditioned response (UR) is thenaturallyoccurring response(such as salivation)that follows theunconditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus (CS) is a neutral stimulus that, after beingrepeatedlypresented prior to theunconditioned stimulus, evokes a similar responseas theunconditioned stimulus. In Pavlov’s experiment, the sound of the tone served as the conditioned stimulus that, after learning, produced the conditioned response (CR), which is theacquired responseto theformerlyneutral stimulus. Note that the UR and the CR are the same behavior—in this case salivation—but they are given different names because they are produced by different stimuli (the US and the CS, respectively).

Figure 7.1  4-Panel Image of Whistle and Dog  
Top left: Before conditioning, the unconditioned stimulus (US) naturally produces the unconditioned response (UR).Top right: Before conditioning, the neutral stimulus (the whistle) does not produce the salivation response.Bottom left: The unconditioned stimulus (US), in this case the food, is repeatedly presented immediately after the neutral stimulus.Bottom right: After learning, the neutral stimulus (now known as the conditioned stimulus or CS), is sufficient to produce the conditioned responses (CR).  

Conditioning is evolutionarily beneficial because it allows organisms to develop expectations that help them prepare for both good and bad events. Imagine, for instance, that an animal first smells a new food, eats it, and then gets sick. If the animal can learn to associate the smell (CS) with the f ood (US), then it will quickly learn that the f ood creates the negative outcome, and not eat it the next time.