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Applications of Classical Conditioning to Human Behavior
Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of classical conditioning in altering human behavior.
Apply the theories of classical conditioning to daily life
Classical conditioning was initially discovered to be an effective method of learning in dogs. Since that time, numerous research studies have found classical conditioning to be effective in humans as well.
John B. Watson conditioned a fear response in "Little Albert" by banging a hammer on a metal pole every time Albert touched a white rat. Albert soon developed a conditioned fear response to rats as well as other similar furry objects.
As an adaptive mechanism, conditioning helps shield an individual from harm or prepare them for important biological events, such as sexual activity.
Classical conditioning is effective in a number of therapeutic treatments in humans, such as aversion therapy, systematic desensitization, and flooding.
Classical conditioning is used not only in therapeutic interventions, but in everyday life as well, such as by advertising agencies.
Since Ivan Pavlov's original experiments, many studies have examined the application of classical conditioning to human behavior.
Watson's "Little Albert" Experiment
In the early 1900s, John B. Watson carried out a controversial classical conditioning experiment on an infant boy called "Little Albert." Watson was interested in examining the effects of conditioning on the fear response in humans, and he introduced Little Albert to a number of items such as a white rat, a bunny, and a dog. Albert was originally not fearful of any of the items. Watson then allowed Albert to play with the rat, but as Albert played, Watson suddenly banged a hammer on a metal bar. The sound startled Albert and caused him to cry. Each time Albert touched the rat, Watson again banged the hammer on the bar. Watson was able to successfully condition Albert to fear the rat because of its association with the loud noise. Eventually, Albert was conditioned to fear other similar furry items such as a rabbit and even a Santa Claus mask. While Watson’s research provided new insight into conditioning, it would be considered unethical by the current ethical standards set forth by the American Psychological Association.
The influence of classical conditioning can be seen in responses such as phobias, disgust, nausea, anger, and sexual arousal. A familiar example is conditioned nausea, in which the sight or smell of a particular food causes nausea because it caused stomach upset in the past. Similarly, when the sight of a dog has been associated with a memory of being bitten, the result may be a conditioned fear of dogs.
As an adaptive mechanism, conditioning helps shield an individual from harm or prepare them for important biological events, such as sexual activity. Thus, a stimulus that has occurred before sexual interaction comes to cause sexual arousal, which prepares the individual for sexual contact. For example, sexual arousal has been conditioned in human subjects by pairing a stimulus like a picture of a jar of pennies with views of an erotic film clip. Similar experiments involving blue gourami fish and domesticated quail have shown that such conditioning can increase the number of offspring. These results suggest that conditioning techniques might help to increase fertility rates in infertile individuals and endangered species.
Classical conditioning has been used as a successful form of treatment in changing or modifying behaviors, such as substance abuse and smoking. Some therapies associated with classical conditioning include aversion therapy, systematic desensitization, and flooding. Aversion therapy is a type of behavior therapy designed to encourage individuals to give up undesirable habits by causing them to associate the habit with an unpleasant effect. Systematic desensitization is a treatment for phobias in which the individual is trained to relax while being exposed to progressively moreanxiety-provoking stimuli. Flooding is a form of desensitization that uses repeated exposure to highly distressing stimuli until the lack of reinforcement of the anxiety response causes its extinction.
Classical Conditioning in Everyday Life
Classical conditioning is used not only in therapeutic interventions, but in everyday life as well. Advertising executives, for example, are adept at applying the principles of associative learning. Think about the car commercials you have seen on television: many of them feature an attractive model. By associating the model with the car being advertised, you come to see the car as being desirable (Cialdini, 2008). You may be asking yourself, does this advertising technique actually work? According to Cialdini (2008), men who viewed a car commercial that included an attractive model later rated the car as being faster, more appealing, and better designed than did men who viewed an advertisement for the same car without the model.