Classical conditioning was originally discovered by Ivan Pavlov as a means of learning in dogs. He discovered that he could condition dogs to salivate in response to a buzzer with no food present. Since that time, many studies have examined the application of classical conditioning in humans. Research for classical conditioning in humans has looked at both conditioned and unconditioned responses.
Classical Conditioning in Humans
In the early 1900's, John B. Watson carried out a 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. Watson took little Albert when he was just an infant and introduced him to a number of items such as a white rat, a bunny, and a dog . Little Albert was 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 banged the hammer on the bar. Watson was able to successfully condition Albert to fear the rat. At the sight of the rat, Albert would become extremely distressed. Additionally, Albert's fear extended to other similar animals and items such as fear of the rabbit.
Unconditioning Responses in Humans
Watson's experiment did not attempt to uncondition the fear response in little Albert. Other researchers, however, have examined the unconditioning of fear in humans by methods such as exposure to the object of fear. Desensitization and flooding are two forms of therapy that are aimed at eliminating fear or anxiety toward a stimulus. Classical conditioning has also found success in treating substance abuse problems such as smoking and alcoholism.