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Classical Conditioning In Animal Behaviour Study

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In psychology there are many different perspectives and they all study humans and animals in very different ways. For example, there is the biological approach, the cognitive approach, psychodynamic approach, and the humanistic approach. Finally, there is the behaviourism approach which was developed within the 20th century. Behaviourism has many weaknesses because when it was studied it showed that animals and humans learnt how to behave from the environment rather than being told direct that they need to follow a certain structure on how they must behave, this means that this is in relation to the nurture side. In addition, the behaviourism approach is a one-dimensional approach and the theories that were carried out did not include the properties of free will and they did not consider the client’s moods, thoughts or feelings.

Pavlov (1902) was a Russian psychologist and he was famous for classical conditioning research. Classical conditioning is when either an animal or object learns through an association, it is a type of learning in which an existing involuntary reflex response is associated with a new stimulus presented. There would be a new stimulus introduced to another type of stimulus that would have already produced a response. After a while when the two have been paired together frequently, the new stimulus should have produced the response regardless if the original stimulus is present or not. Classical Conditioning was first exemplified by Pavlov. When Pavlov conducted his experiment, he noticed that when dogs were introduced with food (unconditioned stimulus) they automatically salivated (unconditioned response). During Pavlov’s experiment, he rang a bell (neutral stimulus) before he presented the dog with food (unconditioned stimulus) which resulted in salivation (unconditioned response). After completing the study, dogs salivated (conditioned response) at the sound of the bell (conditioned stimulus). Pavlov concluded that the dogs had been conditioned by learning through the associated that every time the dogs heard the bell they would automatically pair it with food which will cause the dogs to salivate. (Simply psychology). A few strengths of this research are that it can be found to be very reliable because he measured the dog’s saliva in the measuring tube attached to the dog’s mouth, he ensured that nothing on the outside of the sealed room would jeopardise the controlled environment, they conducted this study for over 25 years. Lastly, it was very well documented, there are many articles, videos and reports on this research. A few weaknesses within this study is that it was very unethical because of how mistreated the dogs were, there is no possibility on generalising animals to humans as they are both completely different species, their brains function differently, and they will also behave in different ways. Also, dogs would be more likely to be motivated by food more than humans. One strength of classical conditioning theory is that it is scientific. This is because it is based on real life experiments, for example, Pavlov’s dogs. One weakness on the classical conditioning theory is that it is limiting to describe behaviour solely in terms of either nature or nurture and it does this by underestimating the complexity of the human and animal behaviour.

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Classical conditioning had a crucial impact on the behaviourist approach within psychology. Pavlov showed that classical conditioning demonstrated how non-human animals was conditioned during his study with his dogs. However, Watson and Raynor (1920) wanted to analyse children to see if they could apply classical conditioning to them by conducting a study. Their aim was to see if they could condition a 9-month-old baby boy to have a fear response associated to a white rat. Watson and Raynor first presented Albert with a white rat, a rabbit, cotton wool (neutral stimuli) to see if he had a fear reaction this was not the case. During the experiment, they presented the rat (neutral stimuli) then they strike an iron bar (unconditioned response which developed fear (unconditioned response). In the final analysis when Albert was presented with the rat (conditioned response) it would cause Albert to have a fear (conditioned response). Watson and Raynor concluded that they had successfully conditioned Albert to have a fear of a white rat and that further down the line he grew his fear response to other white objects. A few strengths of this research are that they tested Albert a month later to check if his responses were the same and this was the case, so they had conditioned him to have a fear. The results and the procedure were consistent. This research was also high internal validity as it was carried out with a scientific approach and is was very well controlled. This would also be easy to replicate. A few weaknesses of this research are that it is low in external validity because Albert had an abnormal childhood as he was bought up in a hospital setting from birth. Furthermore, this research was only carried out using a single child, they did not unconditioned Albert after they had finished the study. One strength of classical conditioning is that it has led to successful therapies and treatments. For example, systematic desensitisation, flooding, aversion therapy, phobias and addiction. One weakness is that it is deterministic theory because it sees people as a product of their environment, external forces and individual experiences and it does not allow for any free will within an animal or human.

Classical conditioning has led to a large amount of research and study on animals and learnt helplessness. In the 1960’s Seligman et al discovered learned helplessness within an animal when it is repeatedly exposed to an aversive stimulus so that it is not able to escape. They wanted to observe helplessness behaviour within the dogs that were classically conditioned after they had learnt to expect an electrical shock after hearing a specific tone. During this experiment Seligman and Maier worked with a group of dogs and they tested what their reactions were like to electric shocks. The dogs were placed within shuttle boxes which was partitioned with two chambers that was separated by a low barrier, they included one side of the shuttlebox floor to be electrified but the other side was normal. The dogs that had been previously subjected to classical conditioning had made no attempts to escape from the shuttlebox, so they completely escaped being shocked by jumping straight over the small barrier. and they were place in three different groups into this experiment and the first group they secured dogs into harnesses for a little while and then they were released. In group two they placed the dogs back into the same harnesses, but they needed to press a panel with their noses otherwise they would have received an electrical shock. Lastly, in group three they dogs would randomly receive an electric shock which was entirely out of their control. (Verywell mind) The results from this study had concluded in that the dogs from the first and second group had learnt that by jumping over the barrier they would not receive a shock. However, from the dogs in group three did not make any attempts to escape because they had learnt that no matter what they did they would not have been able to escape from the shocks. A few strengths of this research are that it would be easy to replicate, it was carried out within a laboratory environment, so it would have followed set variables this would make it a reliable and scientific study. A few weaknesses of this research are that there would be no likelihood that they would be able to generalise dogs to humans. The dogs were also physically and mentally harmed throughout this research. An advantage of classical conditioning is that it can help individual’s modify behaviours. It can make them see and understand the choices they make and if they want or need to approach it in a different way. A disadvantage of classical conditioning is that individuals will respond in different way to the stimulus they come across within the environment around them. (connectusfund, 2015).

Thorndike (1898) is famous for his work as it led to the development of operant conditioning as he claimed that all behaviour is learnt as a result of consequences within our environment. Consequences could be a positive or negative response.

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Classical Conditioning In Animal Behaviour Study. (2021, September 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“Classical Conditioning In Animal Behaviour Study.” Edubirdie, 29 Sept. 2021,
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