30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
Thoughts & Language
Ivan Pavlov was the Russian scientist who first described this fundamental law of learning. His famous demonstration involved consistently ringing a bell before feeding dogs in his laboratory. After this training, the dogs would salivate merely at the sound of the bell. This experiment demonstrated that the dogs had learned an association between two stimuli — the bell and the food. Learning this kind of association is called ’classical’, or Pavlovian, conditioning. Classical conditioning doesn’t just occur in dogs. It has been shown in everything from sea slugs to humans. It is important because it is one of the simplest forms of learning, but one that allows us to predict or anticipate what we’re going to experience. It has also been a valuable starting point for neuroscientists interested in the biological basis for memories. Theories of classical conditioning describe how the association between two stimuli strengthens or weakens depending on how often they are presented together, how quickly one is presented before the other and whether any other stimuli are presented.
If two things repeatedly co-occur, our brains learn to predict one to follow from the other.
Note that classical conditioning doesn’t account for what an animal does — it describes a situation where the stimuli are experienced regardless of how the animal acts. ’Operant conditioning’ is the counterpoint to classical conditioning and describes situations in which the occurrence of stimuli (e.g. the food) is contingent on the behaviour of the animal (e.g. whether it begs or not). Operant conditioning arguably describes a broader range of learning phenomena than classical conditioning.
Dog training depends on the principles of classical and operant conditioning. The animal will obey various commands if it expects a reward to follow.