Category Archives: Methods

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.

Watching Is Learning


As a child grows up, they typically begin to do things and become familiar with them based on watching others. They may watch a baseball player on television and see the basic fundamentals that are displayed when it comes to swinging a baseball bat. Another example would be if a child is learning how to swim. That is when the idea immediately comes to my mind. Learning how to swim is not something we are born knowing how to do. It takes a little bit of time and practice in order to be successful and safe to be in a pool without some sort of floaties, noodles, or a grownup to hold onto.

Looking back, I laugh at the first time I learned how to swim. A few days before this happened; I was walking around the edge of my pool without my floaties on. I felt daring and rebellious being four years old and taking a step closer to be in the pool area without something to keep me safe. However, when I fell in, I realized it was time to learn how to swim if I want to be that rebellious again. Over the next few days, my older brothers and all of their friends were in my pool swimming. As I sat on the deck, dipping my feet in with my mom, I began to gain a basic concept of what it takes to be able to swim, or atleast hold you up in the pool without drowning. Of course it did not immediately come to me once I got in the water. With motivation and being rewarded ice cream when I could swim without holding onto my mom, I was able to complete such a rewarding task.

Children are constantly watching the people around them, and we are the ones they look up to. Our actions are what provide them with basic understanding of what it takes to do certain things in life, no matter how big or basic. This is extremely important in the early stages of development in a child. The mirror neurons cause us to copy what we see, allowing us to reenact the action for ourselves. Observational learning is extremely important, always be conscious that someone around you may be watching what you are doing.

Fun with Conditioning

How does a bear learn to play trumpet and sit upright in one of your Mother’s colored lawn chairs? Or how does your dog roll over or do amusing things? Well, if you have yet to see the YouTube video I’m referring to or learned about this in a psychology class like I did, then you may be wondering what a bear is doing on a lawn chair or playing a brass instrument. These actually happened! But how you say? It was done by a form of operant conditioning called shaping and technique called successive approximations.

Let’s take this more familiar example. When I was younger I used to have a dog named Shmuffin. No typo there, actually ‘Shmuffin’. Not sure how my younger self and sister concocted that doozy of a name but muffin with a SH- as a prefix it was. He was a small little Yorkie dog with so much energy. Basically, he was the best. Well, he liked to play with all his energy. And as children, I think we had the energy to match, if not surpass his stamina after running around for hours. I really wanted to teach him something. Hm, so instead of teaching a new dog, old tricks (see what I did there), I thought I’d try something different.

I wanted see my dog spin around on his hind legs and spin around when presented with a treat. There were multiple steps involved of course. First I had to get him to stand up. Usually standing him up by holding two of his paws. Then, once he learned to stand without my assistance, I got him to spin. This was certainly more difficult but I managed to run around him while holding the treat to get him to spin. After multiple attempts he could do every motion without my assistance because he anticipated his treat. Even way before presenting the treat he would do the motions many times, even if he wasn’t getting a treat! This was all because of shaping and successive approximation.

The more common form of successive approximation. But it is theoretically possible to teach pigeons to discriminate flowers or people. Obviously there are some practical uses of training animals by way of shaping but the possibilities are endless. Maybe we could teach dogs to help disabled people get certain objects because they are immobile or bedridden. Maybe you could even teach your dog to get you a drink, even if you are capable, from the fridge. So, this isn’t practical whatsoever. I think a lazy college student on game day will beg to differ…

All in all, its pretty exciting to see the things you can do by using psychology. You can train bears to do crazy things, dogs to do funny things, or even other animals to be useful. I’m kind of surprised we do not see this more often. Maybe there will be more advancements with this type of  psychological conditioning with pets, especially dogs. Oh the things a dog will do for a treat.

training pets with punishment and reinforcement

My family recently got a puppy.  Like most dogs in a new environment, he liked to go to the bathroom wherever he felt like going.  In the beginning we used to just punish him by yelling or something to try and scare him from doing it again.  He still would constantly keep peeing around inside the house.  We thought that he would have learned by now, but clearly he hasn’t.  He was trained to use a pad, but every once in a while he will find a different spot.  He learned a lot, but not enough to stop.  My mom found a new tactic to use however.  Now instead of trying to punish, she would reinforce it.  But not reinforce him peeing around the house.  She takes a paper towel, gets a little bit of the pee on it, and puts it on the pad.  Then she brings the puppy to the pad, let’s him sniff it, to know it’s his.  After that she will reward him with a treat.  It is difficult to change to this style of conditioning because he was already used to receiving treats a few times randomly throughout the day.  So it is a little earlier to determine if it will work one hundred percent, in case someone gives him a treat at a time other than when he pees on the pad.  I was a little skeptical of this idea at first because we are trying to also get him to pee when we take him on walks because he usually loves to try and run the whole time he is outside instead of actually going to the bathroom.  Hopefully by the time school ends he will have learned what he should and should not be doing.

Little Michael

Watson proved that fears do not always have to be elicited from birth; people can be trained to be afraid of things. In his experiment called “Little Albert,” Watson used his son, Albert, to prove that fear is not always an innate reaction. For a couple of days, Watson would let Albert play with a white mouse, which Albert seemed to really enjoy, then recorded his results. After a certain amount of days, Watson would still let Albert play this white mouse, but he would then make a loud banging noise. Immediately after Albert heard this noise, he would start to cry. After more days had passed, Watson would simply show Albert the white mouse, and Albert would start crying. By conducting this experiment, Watson was able to determine that the banging noise was considered the unconditioned stimulus, the white mouse was the conditioned stimulus, and crying was both the unconditioned and conditioned stimulus.

When I was younger, I would always wait anxiously for my parents to come home. I would always be downstairs playing with my babysitter, and every time I heard the door open, my parents would be right there. With that being said, I would immediately run to the door to greet them. Keep in mind, this happened on weekdays, the days my parents worked, and on weekend when I would hear the door, I would still run to the door because I would think that it would be one of my parents coming home. I can relate to Watson’s experiment because I experienced these different stimuli and responses like Albert did. In my case, the unconditioned stimulus was the noise of the door opening, the conditioned stimulus was my parents actually walking through the door, and the unconditioned and conditioned responses were me being extremely enthralled every time I heard the door opening.

Understanding Disorders

Humans are amazing organisms that have evolved and over come an incredible amount of adversity. When considering all the plagues, famines, droughts, and wars it truly is incredible that our population has grown to more than seven billion people. As a human race in the last two hundred years we have gotten better at helping those in need, particularly those with psychological disorders. Just think about how rudimentary the procedures were that people used in early societies. The Hebrews believed it was punishment from God for the parent’s wrongdoing. Catholics believed that they could heal people by exorcising demons. Some believed blindly drilling holes in the skull of the disabled would alleviate the psychological symptoms observed.  Today we have much more reasonable methods to deal with and understand these issues.

It is thought that there is a great deal of things that can influence and contribute to a psychological disorder. Everything from where you grow up to who your parents are may play a role in the existence of a disorder. Generally psychologists group them together into three categories: biological, psychological, and socio-cultural influences. Biological influences are things that are directly related to the genetic make up and development, things like evolution, genes, and brain structure. Psychological influence are things like stress, trauma, learned helplessness, mood related perceptions and memories. Most believe that most of these are encountered first at an early age and continue to recur throughout childhood into adulthood. Social-cultural influences are things like the roles, expectations, and definitions of normality the culture holds. Beyond the influences there are three models that we learned about in class: the biomedical model, psychological model, and the biopsychosocial model.

The biomedical model treats disorders as if they are regular sicknesses. The doctor would diagnose a disorder after a series of regulated tests and observations. After diagnoses a prescription for the corresponding medicine and dosage would be given to the patient.  Although there were significant leaps in knowledge of disorder throughout the biomedical phase, it has been found that it isn’t always that simple. The simple nature of the disorder makes it hard to prescribe a medicine, because every patient is different and may require a different dosage or even a different drug.  Even after figuring out the correct drug and dosage, which can be frustrating, the patient may have an experience that triggers the disorder. Patients with anxiety often experience this phenomenon.

The psychological method is one that looks at disorders as a result of psychological influences. As mentioned above, it often looks at events that happened in the patient’s childhood that have become repressed and unconscious.  These experiences may give the psychologist a clue as to what the disorder is. It also looks at the way the patient has learned, for clues that may point towards a certain disorder. For example, if the mother of a child is extremely scared of spiders and screams loudly every time she sees one, the child may learn a phobia of spiders.

The biopsychosocial approach mixes all three of the influences to try to pinpoint a disorder. This model assumes that biological, psychological, and socio-cultural influences all combine to form a disorder. Some evidence for this method lies in the demographics of disorders. Depression and schizophrenia are both found worldwide dating back hundreds of years. This shows that there is some kind of gene for the disorder, but because not everyone has it there must be something that triggers it, perhaps an experience during childhood or a learned behavior from the culture. Regardless the biopsychosocial method is backed by most psychologists today

Moral Questions for Operant Conditioning in Animals

Have you ever wondered why we, as humans, measure the intelligence of other organisms by their ability to mimic the characteristics or behaviors that we exhibit? For example, consider a dog. If a dog listens well, does tricks, and obeys orders given by their owners then that dog is considered to be intelligent when compared to a dog that does not obey their owners. Now, if these two dogs are the same breed and the same age it is safe to assume that one has received training, most likely in the form of operant conditioning during their raising while the other dog did not. Does the fact that one dog was taught how to do tricks through positive reinforcement, most likely, make it more intelligent than the dog that was not given the same opportunity? I would venture to say that tricks and obeying orders does not explicitly illustrate the intelligence level of animals. I would argue that tricks and obeying orders is simply a medium which trainers and psychologists use to project the intelligence of animals into a tangible scale that most people are able to understand.

Now, the question arises: is it morally right and psychologically safe to use classical and operant conditioning methods to make animals perform tricks and obey orders that they would inherently never do in nature. Granted, domesticated animals such as service dogs serve a greater purpose than ‘rolling-over’, but take this idea and extrapolate it out from domesticated animals to organisms that truly have no place in captivity.

Consider the orca whale. For over 30 years these animals have been used as show animals for organizations like SeaWorld performing tricks for crowds of people of all ages. I would recommend watching the documentary ‘Blackfish’ in regards to the details of the orcas of SeaWorld, and for those of you who have seen it you might understand my stance a bit more clearly (Blackfish, Cowperthwaite). By nature, the orca is an extremely emotional driven animal. They live in families that live and die closer than most humans do to their families. Naturally, they are extremely intelligent and highly skilled in teamwork. A short video (hyperlink: shows how a family of orcas not only using teamwork to capture a seal, but using observational learning techniques with the children to try and show them how hunting works (Killer Whales). As we saw in class, the use of observational learning requires the use of mirror neurons which seem to only be found in organisms with high cognitive development such as primates and humans.

The heightened ability to learn through observation may have been a reason leading to making orcas show animals, but this has proven to have negative influences on the animals. In the film ‘Blackfish’, SeaWorld trainers explain how they used positive reinforcement to promote behavior and negative punishment to demote behaviors. On the surface this worked to train the animals to do tricks for their performances. However, just as Pavlov’s dog would do after conditioning if the trainers would make the orca do a trick and deny it a reward they would get frustrated. This frustration has led to violence and, in cases, the death of trainers.

Unfortunately, the moral questions continue. As stated before, orcas are very family based creatures. When taken from their homes and dumped into a cage with strange whales they can quickly begin to show signs of anxiety. There are cases where this anxiety has led to violence against other whales and to trainers. Over time, this anxiety has led to what seems to be similar to antisocial personality disorders and even depression. Once again I would highly recommend watching the documentary ‘Blackfish’ to get a sense of what I have talked about.

I hope this has sparked some thought into why we as humans find it necessary to psychologically shape other creatures when given the chance. In the case of orcas this forced conditioning has led to possible psychological disorders and in the case of domesticated animals it has led to the near complete dependence on humans for survival.

I encourage comments, thoughts, and criticisms.


Works Cited:

Blackfish. Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Dogwoof, 2013. Film.

“Killer Whales “Gang Up” to Capture Seal.” Killer Whales “Gang Up” to Capture Seal. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.

Classical conditioning

John Brzozowski

Classical Conditioning

            During class we learned about classical conditioning and the results of the experiment done by Pavlov. The theory of classical conditioning has to do with stimulus and responses or reflexes. In his study he was able to pair the sound of a metronome with the presentation of food; which elicited the unconditioned response of salivation by the dogs. He was then able to have this unconditioned response by the dogs, without the unconditioned stimulus of the food, by just playing the metronome. Therefore the dogs learned to respond to the sound because they expected it to be immediately followed by the unconditioned stimulus, being the food.

After going over this in class I tried to look back in my life to see if there was any time where I either unknowingly used classical conditioning on someone or had it done to me without my knowledge. I could not think of anything, but my roommate who takes the same class had an idea. He decided to use this method to condition me into having an unconditioned response without the unconditioned stimulus. His conditioned stimulus was him saying the words, “John, mint!” which would then be followed by him throwing a small mint at me with great force and accuracy. This would elicit the unconditioned response of me cringing. He did this enough times so that when he no longer paired the conditioned and unconditioned stimulus together, he could still get the response he intended. He had effectively conditioned me to respond without the correct stimulus. I realized what he was doing after the first time he had not paired the two stimuli together and therefore the extinction period was not very long. But effectively, we proved the findings of Pavlov to be true.

Deep Processing Before Battle

I want to talk about the theories behind completing an arduous task, studying for an exam. As a college student, your life, career and future depends on these three headed monsters called assessments. So what do we do? We slay those filthy creatures with whichever means possible and with whatever minimal time we have.

What is the best way to study, though? Studies have actually been conducted on studying. As much as that sounds like an inception, study-ception if you will, it is true. Every current college student, or so it appears to those pulling all nighters in the patee library (the ones napping on their books and desks), that cramming and staying up extra late is the sword to which the exam monster can be mutilated. However, the information you are “retaining” is simply and most likely just not sticking. Instead of showing up to battle the exam wielding a sword and a good looking companion, you show up with a large coffee and hefty eye baggage. It might have just been a more strategic move to bring a pillow and blanket and just sleep on the damn exam. Believe me, I’ve been there.

That lack of sleep affects your ability to perform well on the exam. I’ve done it before; many have. Although you were able to study thru all the material and it could be fresh in your mind (as fresh as those ragged pajamas you’re wearing and haven’t washed since you bought them), you will most certainly make stupid mistakes. We’re talking, screwing up two plus two on a calculus exam-stupid.

So we know now that it’s not about the quantity of studying but rather the quality of studying you participate in. We talked about many strategies in our psych class for proper studying. No, sleeping in the library wasn’t one of them… (Although sleeping on the couches in the business building should be one. Those are comfy, anyone concur?) We talked about the idea of creating visual representation of the information you’re reviewing and/or learning. Caution: this isn’t referring to some people’s ability to be “visual learners”, since this style of learning hasn’t been shown to actually exist.

Concept maps are good to help show relationships between the information you understand and others you may not. This is what we learned to be called deep processing. Think about it for a second… If you are spending hours studying flashcards and memorizing individual words and phrases, when it comes to exam slaying, your mind may be fumbling over words you may forget and may not be able to think about the context of the concept.

So here’s the gameplay. We need to create concept maps all the time with our course material. Professor Wede even suggested doing this while note taking as well, which gives the nod to pencil and paper note taking. We draw nodes with certain information or terms and connect them to other things we’ve learned. For note taking, many of this unconsciously do this, but draws arrows to notes referring to something else you have written previously. This is also another form of a concept map. I found that even relating course material with another course I did well in, and was able to actually recall information, aided my deep processing ability and allowed me to put things into perspective.

Concept maps are an ingenious idea and have proven to work. They may change from rendition to rendition but it allows one to look at information in a different light and understand the graphical and hierarchical representations of information. Rather than slaving away hours upon hours down to the last minutes of studying, periodically make concept maps throughout your learning and all throughout your studies. Put your learning into context and in such a way that your complex, unique human brain can understand it. We learned this in class but I can attest, generating concept maps is actually effective. You’ll be on your way to kicking the ass of that three headed monster we call exams.

Happy battles,

Kenny G.

Psychoanalysis and trauma

Psychoanalysis is a theory that assumes that the past shapes the present and stresses the importance of unconscious factors that can influences our conscious thoughts and actions. In other words psychoanalysis analyzes how unconscious factors influence conscious thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Sigmund Freud was the first psychoanalyst. With the discovery of the unconscious, he developed the idea that the ‘unconscious conflict’ is significant in subsequent normal and abnormal behavior. He then pursued a theory of psychoanalytic treatment that would help patients recall suppressed traumatic memories and form ‘associative connection’ with conscious thoughts. Psychoanalytic treatment or therapy tackles conscious thought by tracing these thoughts to their origin.

My mom is a therapist and a psychoanalytic fellow at Penn. She brought up in a conversation an article she read about a woman who went through psychoanalytic therapy. The woman began therapy for depression; she also struggled with aspects of her social, economic, and intimate life. She did not know why. Slowly, the woman began to talk about how she would feel distraught visiting her parents, and feel extreme discomfort regarding a tree that stands in the yard behind her parents house. When asked about adult relationships as a child and the potential of sexual abuse, the woman said no confidently. The psychoanalyst began to realize the woman may have dissociative symptoms related to a trauma she may have experience as a child. After working through unconscious mental processes with her psychoanalyst, the woman began to have vivid flashbacks of being tied to the tree for hours by a family member and abused. In an article on Psychoanalysis, the experiments conducted by Jung and Riklin are discussed. They found that the process of association is a process that is beyond a subjects control and attention plays the greatest part in the process of association. The above example exemplifies the minds power to dissociate traumatic events and bury them into our unconscious memory because they are too painful. While rehashing these events were painful, the woman was able to work through the behaviors and emotions related to her trauma that she was playing out in other aspects of her life such as social and professional relationships.

Sources –

Arden, Abraham. Psychoanalysis: its theories and practical application. New York: n.p., 1972. 116. Web. 5 Feb. 2014. <;view=1up;seq=2>.

Pfister, Oscar, and Eduard Hitschmann. Definition and history of psychoanalysis and Freud’s theories of the neuroses. New York: n.p., 1916. Web. 5 Feb. 2014. <link –> >.