Classical Conditioning

If you have taken an Intro to Psychology class, you should have learned about John Watson and his approach to psychology, called behaviorism. He came up with this method because he did not agree with the method of analytic introspection. When behaviorism was introduced to psychology it was a style that veered away from studying the mind itself. I will be focusing specifically on the process of classical conditioning and how it is still apparent in everyday life.

Classical conditioning is when two stimuli are linked together to produce a new learned response in a person or an animal (McLeod 2008). A Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, is responsible for classical conditioning. According to Goldstein (2011), Pavlov demonstrates this in his famous dog experiment in which he paired a ringing bell with the presentation of food because he wanted to see what made the dog salivate (p.10). Watson used classical conditioning along with his theory of behaviorism to show people that the mind was not needed when studying behavior.

There are three stages to classical conditioning. The first stage is understandably, before conditioning. This stage is when an unconditioned stimulus in the environment produces an unconditioned response. The second stage is during conditioning and this is when the unconditioned stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus. As Saul McLeod states in his article, Classical Conditioning, “Often during this stage the UCS must be associated with the CS on a number of occasions, or trials, for learning to take place” (McLeod 2008). The third stage is after conditioning and this is basically that the conditioned stimulus has been established and is connected to the conditioned response.

There are many familiar occasions that we can relate to classical conditioning. A specific one I can think of has to do with my cat. Every time I shake her bag of treats she comes running to me. The neutral stimulus would be the bag of treats and the unconditioned stimulus would be the sound of the treats shaking in the bag. Therefore, her running to the sound of the treats is the conditioned response because it was her reaction when the neutral stimulus and the unconditional stimulus were presented together. I think that in this case she was able to learn this response after going through this process one time.

Classical conditioning is a concept that is still used in the present day. It also shows that it was vital to the study we know today as cognitive psychology. “Watson’s goal was to eliminate the mind as a topic of study in psychology and replace it with the study of directly observable behavior” (Goldstein, 2011, p.10). To learn more about his theory you can watch the video of his famous “Little Albert Experiment” in the article by Saul McLeod. After taking a more in depth approach to this subject, I would say that Watson was successful in his goal then and now.


Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.Goldstein, E. (2011).

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Classical Conditioning. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply