Learning is a very important part of Psychology and it has been
defined as ‘any relatively permanent change in behaviour, or behaviour
potential, produced by experience’ (Baron, p.169). Learning is a key
process in human behaviour; it can play an important role in most of
the activities we do.
Even though the effects of learning are extremely diverse, most
psychologists believe that learning occurs in several basic forms:
conditioning – classical and operant and observational learning.
Myers defined conditioning as ‘the process of learning associations’.
Classical conditioning is where the stimulus serves as a signal for
the occurrence of a second stimulus. (Learning to associate two
stimuli’s together). In classical conditioning we are able to acquire
information about the relations between various stimuli and not just
simple associations between them.
The most famous research for classical conditioning comes from Ivan
Pavlov in 1927.
During Pavlov’s research into salivary secretion in dogs he noticed
that when he put food into a dog’s mouth it would salivate. He then
found that if he worked repeatedly with the same dog it would salivate
to stimuli associated with food such as the sight of food, the food
dish or the presence of the person who brought the food.
Because of what Pavlov found he then chose to study learning, which he
hoped might enable him to better understand what was happening.
Pavlov and his assistants began work by pairing various neutral
stimuli such as sound when food was present in the dog’s mouth to see
if the dog would eventually learn to salivate to the just the sound on
To get rid of extraneous stimuli, they kept the dog in isolation,
secured it into a harness and measured its saliva with a special
After several times of placing the food in the dog’s mouth and the
sound occurring at the same time, the dog began to salivate to just
the sound, in anticipation of the food being brought.
Using this procedure, Pavlov was able to condition the dog to salivate
to many different stimuli such as a buzzer or a touch on the leg.
Firstly, the dog salivated for the food and this behaviour was natural
and an unconditioned response and because food being placed in the
dog’s mouth automatically meant the dog would salivate the food was
called the unconditioned stimulus.
After the dog had learnt that a particular sound meant the food would
follow shortly after, the dog would begin to salivate and he called
this the conditioned response. Pavlov found that even if food was not
brought the dog would still salivate to the sound and this was called
the conditioned stimulus.
Pavlov’s experiment generated much research as they identified many
conditioning processes such as acquisition, extinction, spontaneous