Pavlov’s Dog

Pavlov's Dog

Explanation of the experiment and conditioning of Pavlov’s dog

Pavlov’s dog turned out to be one of the most fundamental experiments in all of psychology for its findings on conditioning. The findings on conditioning led to a whole new branch of psychological study.

Ivan Pavlov began with the simple idea that there are some things that a dog does not need to learn. Specific to his study he observed that dogs do not learn to salivate when they see food.

This reflex is “hard wired” into the dog. In what became “behaviorist terms,” this is an unconditioned response (a stimulus-response connection that required no learning).

Pavlov outlined that there are unconditioned responses in the animal by presenting a dog with a bowl of food and then measuring its salivary secretions. In the experiment, Pavlov used a bell as his neutral stimulus (meaning it does not elicit any innate response).

Whenever he gave food to his dogs, he also rang a bell. After a number of repeats of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own.

What he found was that the bell on its own now caused an increase in salivation. The dog had learned to associate the bell and the food and this learning created a new behavior, the dog salivated when he heard the bell.

Because this response was learned (or conditioned), it is called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus has become a conditioned stimulus.

This theory came to be known as classical conditioning (further developed by experimenter and psychologist John Watson) and involves learning to associate an unconditioned stimulus that already brings about a particular response (i.e., a reflex) with a new (conditioned) stimulus, so that the new stimulus brings about the same response.

See also  The Sleeper Effect

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