The Power Of Classic Conditioning In Psychology

Do you know that there is a fascinating psychological concept behind how you start thinking of your grandmother’s home when you smell freshly baked cookies? 

This concept is also responsible for the excitement you feel when you hear the sound of waves because it takes you right back into your childhood home. It is probably the reason why the idea of hiking terrifies you, or you have a deeply ingrained fear of water.

It is also the reason behind people’s addiction to cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol, etc. This psychological concept that is defined as classic conditioning is the cause behind many aspects of your everyday life. 

Classic conditioning in psychology is a type of learning that is based on acquiring new behaviors in response to certain stimuli. At the core of classic conditioning lies the power of association between humans and their external environment. 

In short, whether you realize it or not, your mind is unconsciously controlled and conditioned by the things and situations around you. By learning how these associations and conditionings work, you can find ways to rewire them and help them work in your favor.

On that note, let us dive deeper into the concept of classic conditioning in psychology, understand how it came into existence, and learn more about its application in our daily lives.

Classic Conditioning In Psychology

What is classic conditioning in psychology?

The term conditioning comes from the field of behaviorism. It is a form of learning that uses rewards and punishments to internalize or detach certain behaviors. Conditioning is often used to explain why people behave or act in the way they normally do. 

The field of behaviorism believes that all forms of human behavior arise as a result of their interactions with the environment. Classic conditioning is a learning process in which a neutral stimulus gets associated with a specific stimulus from the environment, resulting in a particular behavior or action. 

Origin of classic conditioning in psychology

The concept of classic conditioning in psychology was first introduced by physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov discovered the process while studying the digestive process of dogs. During the experiment, he noticed that dogs began to salivate the moment they heard sounds about receiving food. Intrigued by the behavior, Paplov designed an experiment to sediment the process. He started ringing a bell right before giving the dogs food. Initially, the dogs salivated only at the sight of the food. However, when the dogs eventually associated the ringing of the bell with food, they began salivating just at the sound of the bell. 

In this case, the neutral stimulus (NS) of ringing the bell became associated with the specific or unconditioned stimulus (US) of sight of food. 

The initial response of salivating only at the sight of food was the unconditioned response (UR). The association between the bell ringing and the sight of food resulted in the dog salivating at the sound, which was termed a conditioned response (CR). This way, a neutral stimulus, like the ringing of the bell, became a conditioned stimulus (CS). 

Though Pavlov was not a psychologist, his initial works built the foundation of a new discipline of learning in learning. His work was later carried forward by psychologist John B. Watson who also popularized the field of behaviorism. 

Read more: Dream Theories – The Reasons Behind Why Do We Have Dreams

Using Classic Conditioning In Our Daily Life

Now that you know about the basic functioning of classic conditioning, let us dive deeper into how it can be used in our daily lives. 

1. Mental Health

Classical conditioning can be used in mental health and well-being-related applications where it can be useful to determine and treat various disorders. As per research by Nees F, classic conditioning is helpful in treating disorders like:

  • panic disorders,
  • phobias,
  • substance use disorders,
  • anxiety disorders, and
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders.

2. Education

Using classic conditioning in classrooms can help students find positive associations through learning. For instance, if a student feels anxious while giving a presentation in class, the teacher can associate positive stimuli with the situation that can later be related to public speaking. 

3. Advertising

Advertisers often use classic conditioning to direct their attention and influence their buying decisions. For instance, when commercials show people using a product and having good experiences, they are feeding their target audience the notion that the concerned product is associated with positive feelings and outcomes. This association can significantly alter how people think of the product. 

Commercials also use lively and upbeat music with product visuals. This is another example of classic conditioning. Joyful and vibrant beats help the viewers associate feelings of happiness with the product. 

Read more: Understanding And Utilizing The Primacy And Recency Effect 


Pavlov’s dogs helped discover and add the concept of classic conditioning to psychology. It is defined by the association between neutral and unconditioned stimuli to produce a conditioned response. There are multiple real-life applications of classic conditioning in everyday life, including mental health, education, and advertising. 

Apart from classic conditioning, another concept of psychology has been widely used in our daily lives. Positive reinforcement in psychology is a concept that aims to encourage favorable behaviors through rewards. To learn more about it, click here.

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