Classical conditioning is all about learning behaviors through associations. I want to look at how both Ivan Pavlov and John Watson used classical conditioning to control behavior, and if it is truly possible to shape or control behavior.
In Ivan Pavlov’s experiment he gave a dog food and saw that this was a positive stimulus that would cause the dog to drool. So each time he would feed the dog he would ring the bell and the dog began to drool every time he heard the bell because he associated it with his food. Eventually the dog would drool after hearing the bell without ever receiving any food.
John Watson wanted to see if the same thing could happen for people and so he did an experiment using baby Albert. First he socialized Albert with a number of animals, a coat, and a Santa mask; Albert seemed to like all these things especially the rat. In fact he associated all the other things shown to him with the rat. However, Watson then rang a bell which made a loud noise and scared Albert; he did so whenever Albert would reach for the rat. Albert began to fear not only the rat but everything else he once liked because he associated everything with the rat and the rat with the loud noise that scared him. Watson wanted to see if this same thing would work over a period of time so brought in Albert later on to watch his response and it turned out that Albert still feared the loud noise and the rat he associated it with.
Each of these studies, although semi-unethical, are credited with discovering something new about human behavior; however I would like to analysis to what extent they engage in the scientific process.
In both of these studies the null hypothesis would be the behavior is not learned through associations. The alternative hypothesis would be that you do learn behavior through association. The correlations within these studies is that as perceived associations change so does behavior. Both of these experiments are not randomized. Being a though they both only have one subject. They do not have a placebo because there is no way to fake a bell ringing. They are also single blind experiments because while Pavlov and Watson knew what was happening the dog and baby did not. The issue with all of this is that as we have seen in the past, when the only the participants do not know what is happening the results can be affected by the scientist or observers. The scientist what’s the alternative hypothesis to be true and so by him partaking in the experiment he may be unintentionally be push the behavior to change so that he gets the results he wants. The mechanisms in each of these studies are the bells that ring; they provoke the behavior of the subject and their association further shape their behavior. However without the original stimulus the behavior cannot be provoked. Something else to point out is that reverse causation would not be considered in these studies because of time and third confounding variables are unlikely the reason for their behavior changes. In closing, they both rejected the null hypothesis and I agree because there have been studies to follow these two that suggest the same. Not everything they did in their studies convinces me that they are accurate, but what convinces me outweighs what does not.