Classical Conditioning Experiment Ideas

Ivan Pavlov first demonstrated classical conditioning, also known as Pavlovian respondent conditioning, when he noticed dogs could be “conditioned” to salivate to a stimulus when it became associated with food. Today, “Pavlov’s dog” is a phrase commonly used when a person or animal has developed a conditioned response to a particular stimulus. So if you are looking to investigate the concept of classical conditioning and Pavlov’s theories, what classical conditioning experiment ideas are out there?

During the course of a research study into digestion in dogs, Pavlov noticed the animals started to salivate when they saw the technician who routinely fed them, even when food was not present. From this observation, Pavlov concluded that a new stimulus could be introduced when the dogs were fed, which would, in time, cause the dogs to salivated without the presence of food.

Pavlov decided to try using a bell to signal to the dogs that it was dinnertime. It only took a few repetitions of hearing the bell when food was presented for the dogs to start salivating when the bell was rung but no food was present. However, over time, without the presence of food, the salivation response decreased and the dog returned to its unconditioned state.

Since classical conditioning is basically teaching the subject to associate a certain event with a particular outcome, there are a million ways you can devise classical conditioning experiments, either as a bit of harmless fun, or as an excellent way to train an animal to behave in a certain way.

What are some classical conditioning experiment ideas to try?

The brilliance of Pavlov’s experiment lies in its absolute simplicity, so in order for similar classical conditioning experiments to work, they need to be kept as simple as possible. Classical conditioning is often used in advertising: a man sees a billboard with an image of a bikini clad babe next to a sporty car and before long he begins to associate the same car brand with a feeling of warm erotic pleasure.

Using the same principle, if you own a bar, it makes sense to employ nubile and sexy female bar staff. It will only take a couple of visits before your patrons associate your bar with sexy women, and instinctively choose your venue over rival bars nearby.

But even without actively trying to invent classical conditioning experiment ideas to test the theory, classical conditioning is part of everyday life. When you visit the dentist for a filling and you hear the high pitch whining sound of the drill, you inevitably associate the noise with pain. Away from the dentist, if you hear a similar sound, your heart rate rises and your body responds to the stimulus in exactly the same way as it does if you are sitting in the dentist’s chair, nervously anticipating the pain of a filling.

Other common associations include the smell of a certain brand of perfume that reminds us poignantly of an ex lover, or a particular song on the radio catapulting us back into the past.

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