Classical Conditioning in Everyday Life

Many of you have heard about Pavlov’s dog experiment, a very famous example of classical conditioning we learned about in class. Classical conditioning is a learning process in which two unrelated stimuli are repeatedly paired, and over time a reaction to the second stimulus can be achieved by the first stimulus alone. In Pavlov’s experiment, he paired the two stimuli of ringing a bell, and then giving food to a dog. After several times of first ringing a bell and then feeding the dog, eventually when Pavlov rung the bell the dog would start to salivate without the presence of the food. With only the first stimulus (the bell), the reaction of the second stimulus (salivating to the food) was achieved.

It’s amazing how simple it can be to condition someone or something in this way. I while back, a saw an interesting YouTube video where a student at BGSU “trained” his roommate through classical conditioning for his Psychology class. Over the course of a couple days, while his roommate was unexpectedly studying, the student would hit a Staple’s ‘That was Easy’ button (audibly saying this phrase), and then shoot his roommate with an airsoft gun. After a few times doing this, whenever the student hit the button, his roommate would violently flinch, without being shot at.

Examples of classical conditioning can furthermore be seen in our everyday lives. A simple example for me would be for my dogs, Dazy and Bella. Whenever my dad gets home from work, he opens the garage door making an audible sound heard throughout the house. Over time, they associated the noise of the garage opening with his arrival, and would stop anything and everything they were doing to greet him excitedly at to door. Now whenever the garage door is activated, whether or not someone is arriving at the house, Dazy and Bella excitedly crowd the front door and are more times than not disappointed with the presence of no one.

5 thoughts on “Classical Conditioning in Everyday Life

  1. Anne Catherine Klepeiss

    Relating somewhat to your dogs, my cats are classically conditioned to respond to the sound of a spoon hitting against a can of cat food. Whenever the can of food is hit with a spoon, the cats will come running from all areas of the house because they think they’re about to be fed. I often use their responses to the sound to my advantage. If I want my cats to come to me, all I have to do is hit a can of their food until they all come running. Of course, I have to feed them sometimes when I hit the can or else their response would probably become extinct. It’s funny to see how we are able to classically condition animals efficiently in so many different ways.

  2. Julie Anne Johnson

    The point that you made about your dogs really hit home for me. My cat seems to display similar behavior. There is a certain noise that the cabinet where we store her food makes when we open it. But, we do not just store her food in this cabinet. So whenever we need to grab something out of the cabinet, she becomes excited, even though we are not grabbing her food. I’ve noticed lately that some extinction has occurred, because she no longer responds to the noise of the creaking cabinet.

  3. Adair M Mccabe

    I think it is very interesting how you brought up every day examples of classical conditioning. I never thought about that before. I think that we are more “classically conditioned” than we realize. Most of the examples I can think of from real life are not ones that we are conditioned on purpose. They occur naturally; maybe that is why I did not realize it until you brought it up. My dogs are also very conditioned, as yours. They get “excited” when the garage door goes off, the sound of their treat bag being wrinkled, and to phrases we say to them. Some of the phrases include, “who’s here?”, “wanna go for a ride”, or “mommy is home”. Dogs cannot understand the real meaning of these words, but they do know by the sounds of them that it is foreshadowing something they like to happen. We take our dogs on runs with us sometimes, and now even if we get running shoes out or they are in their sight, they go crazy and run to the door. They distinctly know sneakers as a cue that they may be going on a run. Some of these examples that you brought up could also be considered higher order conditioning. Like the running example I gave, when we walk towards the closet where the running shoes are, they also see that as a cue.

  4. Jake Minkoff

    I think it’s so interesting how much classical conditioning occurs in everyday life without realizing it. Living in a fraternity house, I experience classical conditioning everyday. For example, whenever our chef brings out a hot dish, he yells, “HOT HOT!” and everybody gets out of the way so they don’t get burned by whatever he’s holding. We are so trained to get out of the way when he yells this so even if he’s holding a cold dish he will scream “HOT HOT!” just so we all get out of the way. Before learning about classical conditioning in class, I wouldn’t have been able to realize how many conditioned stimuli and responses occur in a days time.

  5. Ashley V Fay

    This topic intrigued my interest because I never knew the true reason to why we associated certain pairings of stimuli, especially when the stimuli were drastically different. I know understand the nature through which associations can be made over time with repeated exposure and how the unconditioned response can be conditioned to respond to the conditioned stimulus (originally the neutral stimulus) without the presence of the unconditioned stimulus that was responsible for the observed response or reaction.
    For instance, my family is notorious for flushing the chain of the toilet while someone is taking a shower. The person does not realize what they are doing until the damage is done when they hear the person yelling from the shower due to the hot water. The person showering has the instinct to jump back from the hot water to avoid being scalded by the water. Over the years, this scenario became repetitive and whenever the person showering heard the toilet flush they would instinctively jump back from the shower water before the water changed temperatures. This illustrates that the members of my family were conditioned to immediately jump back from the water upon hearing the flushing sound.
    Another scenario is my increased heart rate that succumbs when I enter the small doctors room. I now understand that it is not the actual room but the injections and blood drawls that caused my heart rate to rise through the roof. I had unconsciously associated the small doctors room with the injection and blood drawls, to the point that my heart rate would rise solely upon being exposed to a doctors procedural room.
    I can relate to you in the pet dog scenario where the noise of ruffling plastic or tinfoil in the kitchen causes him to run looking for scraps or treats. Normally around 5pm we feed my Bailey, where he hears this ruffling sound and comes to investigate. Over time he has associated this noise with the presentation of food, thus any noise he hears coming from the kitchen he immediately will run to and look for food and sniff, regardless of what time it is or whether he is hungry or not. However, he is often disappointed because it may be only my family putting away groceries or making our own meals but nothing being given to him.

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