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Classical Conditioning - More Concepts

Discovered by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, classical conditioning is a type of unconscious or automatic learning. This learning process creates a conditioned response through associations between an unconditioned stimulus and a neutral stimulus. Do read our previous blogpost to get to know the concept in depth!

In Pavlov's classic experiment with dogs, the neutral signal was the sound of a tone and the naturally occurring reflex was salivating in response to food. By associating the neutral stimulus with the unconditioned stimulus, the sound of the tone could produce the salivation response.


Acquisition is the initial stage of learning when response started establishing . During the acquisition phase of classical conditioning, a neutral stimulus is repeatedly connected with an unconditioned stimulus.

For example, when you get a new phone whose ringtone you are not familiar with, you may not even realise that it is your phone that is ringing. When you repeatedly check your phone when you hear the new ringtone you are in the acquisition phase. After a few days, you will check your phone without thinking whenever you hear the ringtone.

An example from dog training: when you are conditioning a dog to sit when they hear the word "sit". You repeatedly pair the word "sit" with the action of the dog putting their bum on the ground. You can say the response has been acquired as soon as the dog puts their bum on the ground in response to hearing the word "sit".

Once the response has been established, you can gradually reinforce the sitting action response to make sure the behaviour is well learned.


Extinction is when the occurrences of a conditioned response reduced. In classical conditioning, this happens when a conditioned stimulus is no longer connected with an unconditioned stimulus.

Example: Many dogs start barking when they hear the doorbell ring. This barking is a conditioned response to the neutral doorbell. They associate their barking with the opening of the door and the subsequent appearance of a stranger from the door. For extinction to occur, we create a situation in which the doorbell rings but the door is not opened by anyone regardless of the dog barking or not. Eventually, the dog stops barking at the ringing of the doorbell.

Spontaneous Recovery

When learned response can suddenly reemerge, even after a period of extinction. Spontaneous recovery is reappearance of the conditioned response even after period of lessened response.


For example, the dog no longer barks...After a rest period during which the conditioned stimulus is not presented, you suddenly ring the bell and the animal spontaneously recovers the previously learned response.


Stimulus generalization is the tendency for a conditioned stimulus to elicit similar responses after the response has been conditioned.

For example, if a dog has been conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, the animal may also exhibit the same response to stimuli that are similar to the conditioned stimulus.


Discrimination is the ability to differentiate between a conditioned stimulus and other stimuli that have not been paired with an unconditioned stimulus.

For example, if a bell tone were the conditioned stimulus, discrimination would involve being able to tell the difference between the bell tone and other similar sounds. Because the subject is able to distinguish between these stimuli, they will only respond when the conditioned stimulus is presented.

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