Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a type of conditioning where an individual responds to some stimulus that would not invariably produce such a response. Classical conditioning grew out of experience to teach dogs to salivate in response to ringing of the bell, conducted by Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov. The theory is used in organization to understand how an individual learn to respond only to conditioned stimulus when it is tied with a non-conditioned stimulus. The theory can be explained on the basis of experiment conducted by Pavlov on a dog stated as below:

  • The dog was offered piece of meat due to which the dog salivated.
  • After few days he started to ring a bell without providing meat to the dog. At that point the dog stopped salivation.
  • Turning to the same experiment, he started to link giving meat (unconditional stimulus) after offering the conditional stimulus (ringing the bell). When the bell was rung the dog salivated in expectation of meat provided to him.

A simple surgical procedure allowed Pavlov to measure accurately the amount of saliva secreted by a dog. When Pavlov presented the dog with a piece of meat, the dog exhibited a noticeable increase in salivation. When Pavlov withheld the presentation of meat and nearly rang a bell, the dog has no salivation. The Pavlov proceeded to link the meat and the ringing of the bell. After repeatedly hearing the bell before getting the food, the dog began to salivate nearly at the sound of the bell even if no food was offered. In effect, the dog learned to respond that is to salivate the bell.

The meat was unconditioned stimuli. It invariably caused dog to react in a specific way. The reactions that took place, whenever; the bell was the artificial stimulus or conditioned stimulus. While it was originally neutral, when the bell was paired with the meat (an unconditioned stimulus), if eventually produced a response when presented alone. It is the conditioned response. This describes the behavior of the dog salivating in reaction to the bell alone.

Thus, the theory inferred that the conditional response is provided even in absence of unconditional stimulus.

Using these concepts, we can summarize the classical conditioning. Learning a conditioned response involve building up an association between a conditioned stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus.

Using the paired stimulus, one compelling and other one neutral, the neutral one becomes a conditioned stimulus and hence takes on the properties of the unconditioned stimulus.
Classical conditioning is passive. Something happens and we behave in a specific way. It is elicited in response to a specific, identifiable event. As such, it can explain simple reflexive behaviors. But most behavior particularly the complex behavior of individuals in organization is emitted rather than elicited. It is voluntary rather than reflexive. For example, employees choose to arrive at work on time, ask their superiors for help with problems. The learning of these behaviors is better understood by looking at operant conditioning.

For example: 
Stimulus --> Response

For Example:
Surprised by an electric shock --> Jumps/ Screams

Implications of Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is also called respondent conditioning or reflexive conditioning because the conditioned responses are innate reflexive responses. Classical conditioning has some important implications for understanding human behavior. Since higher-order conditioning for learning by human beings is important, its implications must be recognized. For example, higher order conditioning can explain how learning can be transferred to stimuli other than those used in the original conditioning. However, the existence of higher-order conditioning shows the difficulty of tracing the exact cause of certain behavior as direct cause-effect relationship for a behavior, is difficult to establish. Another implication of higher-order conditioning is that the reinforcement can be acquired. A conditioned stimulus becomes reinforcing under higher-order conditioning. This shows the importance of secondary rewards (higher-order conditioning) in organizations. Classical conditioning, though offers explanation for learning, fails to explain total behavior of human beings.

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