Classical conditioning  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Classical Conditioning (also Pavlovian or Respondent Conditioning) is a form of associative learning that was first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov. The typical procedure for inducing classical conditioning involves presentations of a neutral stimulus along with a stimulus of some significance. The neutral stimulus could be any event that does not result in an overt behavioral response from the organism under investigation. Pavlov referred to this as a Conditioned Stimulus (CS). Conversely, presentation of the significant stimulus necessarily evokes an innate, often reflexive, response. Pavlov called these the Unconditioned Stimulus (US) and Unconditioned Response (UR), respectively. If the CS and the US are repeatedly paired, eventually the two stimuli become associated and the organism begins to produce a behavioral response to the CS. Pavlov called this the Conditioned Response (CR). Classical conditioning has been demonstrated in numerous species using a variety of methodologies. Popular forms of classical conditioning that are used to study neural structures and functions that underlie learning and memory include fear conditioning, eyeblink conditioning, and Classical Conditioning of Aplysia gill and siphon withdrawal reflex.

In popular culture

One of the earliest literary references to classical conditioning can be found in the comic novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) by Laurence Sterne. The narrator Tristram Shandy explains how his mother was conditioned by his father's habit of winding up a clock before having sex with his wife:

My father [...] was, I believe, one of the most regular men in every thing he did [...] [H]e had made it a rule for many years of his life,—on the first Sunday-night of every month throughout the whole year,—as certain as ever the Sunday-night came,—to wind up a large house-clock, which we had standing on the back-stairs head, with his own hands:—And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of age at the time I have been speaking of,—he had likewise gradually brought some other little family concernments to the same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby, to get them all out of the way at one time, and be no more plagued and pestered with them the rest of the month. [...]
[F]rom an unhappy association of ideas, which have no connection in nature, it so fell out at length, that my poor mother could never hear the said clock wound up,—but the thoughts of some other things unavoidably popped into her head—& vice versa:—Which strange combination of ideas, the sagacious Locke, who certainly understood the nature of these things better than most men, affirms to have produced more wry actions than all other sources of prejudice whatsoever.

In the 1932 novel Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, conditioning plays a key role in the maintenance of social peace, especially in maintaining the caste system upon which society is based. Children are conditioned, both in their sleep and in their daily activities, to be happy in their Government-assigned social role as Alphas, Betas, etc., as well as in adopting other "socially acceptable" types of behaviour, including consuming manufactured goods and transport, practicing free sex, etc. For example, early on in the book, the Director of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre shows his young visitors how a group of toddlers of the Delta caste is conditioned to avoid books and flowers, by using shrill noises to terrorise them and applying "mild electric shocks". Also, in a later explanation by Resident World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond of how their society really works, he explains how early conditioning is an essential part of how social harmony among the different castes is maintained. Lower-caste members like Epsilons are as happy as upper-caste Alpha-Pluses, in large part due to their conditioning.

Another example is in the dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange in which the novel's anti-hero and protagonist, Alex, undergoes a procedure called the Ludovico technique, where he is fed a solution to cause severe nausea and then forced to watch violent acts. This renders him unable to perform any violent acts without inducing similar nausea. Unintentionally, he also forms an aversion to classical music.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Classical conditioning" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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