Classical Conditioning – Taste Aversion

Humans can develop an aversion to a food if they become sick after eating it. The particular food did not physically make them sick, but classical conditioning teaches them to have an aversion to that food since sickness immediately followed the consumption of it. We can relate this to Pavlov’s experiments, like the example we discussed in class where the dog is classically conditioned to salivate at the sound of a tone, using food.

When I was little I had a personal experience with taste aversion. Whenever I had the flu, my mom would give me ginger ale to try to help settle my stomach. However, after drinking the ginger ale I would still inevitably throw up since I had the flu. I developed a taste aversion to ginger ale because while I was sick, I would drink ginger ale and then throw up shortly after. This means that when I would drink ginger ale, when I didn’t have the flu, I would still feel sick as if I was about to throw up.

In this ginger ale example, the unconditioned stimulus, which is the stimulus that naturally elicits a response, is the fact that I had the flu. The unconditioned response, which is the naturally occurring response, would be throwing up. The conditioned stimulus, the stimulus that was originally irrelevant, would be the ginger ale. And the conditioned response, which is the learned response that happens as a result of the conditioned stimulus, is throwing up.

The thing about taste aversion, and all examples of classical conditioning, is that this response does not necessarily last forever. Over time, I have experienced “extinction,” which means that my response to the ginger ale has diminished. Since I’ve continued to drink ginger ale, and each time I’ve felt less and less sick afterwards. If I were to get the flu now, drink ginger ale, and then get sick shortly after, I might experience what’s called “spontaneous recovery,” meaning that my response would reappear for a while, and then become extinct again.

Another interesting thing that could happen is that other carbonated drinks, such as sprite, or sierra mist, might make me feel sick as well because of generalization. Generalization is the tendency for a similar stimulus to elicit a similar response. The response is not nearly as strong, because of discrimination (the ability to discriminate between a conditioned stimulus and another stimulus) but it still may exist.

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