In this article we will discuss about the conditioned response theory of learning.
Conditioning means modification of the natural response. Natural stimulus results in natural response. But natural stimulus may sometimes be substituted by an artificial stimulus (or conditioned stimulus as it is called). In this way, a new connection of artificial stimulus and natural response is created.
This is explained through the following experiments:
(i) Pavlov’s experiment on dog. Pavlov, a Russian psychologist conducted an experiment. He placed a dog in a soundproof room, which had a small window that permitted observation from outside. When he presented meat powder to the dog, there was automatic secretion of saliva from the mouth of the dog just at the mere sight of the meat. Every time, the meat was presented a bell was rung. So ringing of the bell and sight of meat got inter-connected. Next time only the bell was rung but no meat presented.
This time, although the natural stimulus (meat) was absent, the artificial stimulus (bell) was alone responsible for the natural response, i.e., the secretion of saliva. We may illustrate it by the following diagram.
The technical terms used are: stimulus, response, unconditioned stimulus or natural stimulus, conditioned stimulus or unnatural stimulus, natural learning conditioned response.
Food is the stimulus, as it motives the dog to respond. His response is secretion of saliva. Food is natural or unconditioned stimulus, as it produces the response in a natural manners. Ringing of the bell is artificial or conditioned stimulus. The response of the dog when the conditioned stimulus alone is presented, is conditioned response.
(ii) Skinner s Experiment on rat. Skinner made a similar experiment on a rat. A white rate is placed in a 12″ square box, with a level at one end, or a bar that projects from the wall. When the bar is pressed, food is dropped. The rat is conditioned to the pressing of the bar, which acts as an artificial stimulus.
(iii) Watson’s Rabbit-baby Experiment. The experiment was made on a baby of 11 months. The baby was given a rabbit to play. The rabbit fur gave pleasure to the baby while be touched it. During the experiment, a loud noise to frighten the baby was produced, the moment he touched the rabbit. The baby was frightened. This was repeated several times, till the baby got frightened by the rabbit, even without the frightening noise.
(iv) Klassmeier mentions a number of other experiments.
A person first hears a bell. The stimulus (S1,) causes curiosity (R1,) in the mind of the person. Immediately after the bell is rung, a beam of light (S2) is directed towards the eye of the subject. His pupils contract, as a response to light (R2): After a number of such presentations, the ringing of the bell alone is presented (and no light), but still the pupils contract.
This is diagrammatically explained below:
Conditioning in Home and School Environment:
Examples of conditioning at home and school are not un-wanting.
When a parent slaps a child every time the child touches the radio or electrical appliances (for the risk involved in getting electric shock) the child gets conditioned, and is afraid of all electrical appliances. Or if the child gets an electric shock once, he will be afraid of any electric wire whether charged or uncharged. It is said, a burnt child dreads fire. This is an old example of conditioning.
When a teacher appreciates good handwriting of a student, he says ‘that is fine’ and writes A on the note-book. ‘That is fine’ is the natural stimulus to be pleased. But next time, when the child sees only A written on the note-book, and does not hear the remark, he still feels pleased. A, the artificial stimulus substitutes the natural stimulus.
All punishment and reward at home or school lead to conditioning. Transference of love or hatred from one object to another also is due to conditioning. Suppose a child is treated unsympathetically by the geography teacher. When the geography (teacher enters the class, the pupil feels restless and uncomfortable. Later on when another teacher enters to teach geography), still the pupil feels restless. The hatred of the teacher is transferred to the subject.
A mother goes to the doctor’s clinic for the treatment of his child who is suffering from high fever. After a thorough check of the child, the doctor advises the mother to get him injected. During injection, as the child feels the prick of the needle, he starts crying due to pain. The doctor advises the mother to come next day for another check-up of the day. This time also doctor injects the child and again the child cries due to pain.
This process is repeated for a few days more. A day comes when the child starts crying merely at the sight of the doctor or at the sight of clinic or even one day the use of word ‘doctor’ at home may be sufficient to make the child cry. Thus the response of fear towards doctor develops in the baby.
In the above illustration two stimuli have affected the behaviour of the child:
(i) Prick of the injection needle:
It is the stronger stimulus. It becomes the natural stimulus.
Doctor is considered as the weaker stimulus. It becomes the artificial or the neutral stimulus.
When the child develops fear towards the doctor, it means that the response of the stronger stimulus has been substituted by the artificial or mental stimulus. Thus conditioning means modification of natural response. It means attachment or association of original response with the new stimuli.
John Watson (1878-1958), the father of behaviourism supported Pavlov’s ideas on conditioned responses. Through his experiments Watson tried to demonstrate the role of conditioning in producing as well as eliminating emotional responses such as fear. His Rabbit Baby experiment is famous.
Watson’s Rabbit-Baby Experiment:
The experiment was made on a baby of 11 months. The baby was given a rabbit to play. The rabbit fur gave pleasure to the baby while he touched it. During the experiment, a loud noise to frighten the baby was produced the moment he touched the rabbit. The baby was frightened. This was repeated several times, till the baby got frightened by the rabbit, even without the frightening noise.
Properties of Conditioned Response:
Conditioned response is specific i.e., it can be evoked only with which it is conditioned. Other stimulus will not have any effect on it.
Conditioned response is temporary and unstable i.e., it is not permanent activity. Its influence decrease after some time.
Conditioned response is based on summation i.e., if C.R. is conditioned with many stimuli and when all are presented simultaneously then the strength of conditioned response will increase.
4. Dies through disuse:
Conditioned response dies through disuse.
Conditioned response can be established more easily in case of children than in case of adults.
If conditioned response is established with many stimuli then the extinction of any one will not make any effect on conditioned response.
Principles of Conditioning:
1. Presentation of two stimuli:
In classical conditioning two stimuli are presented in quick succession i.e., one followed by the other immediately i.e., conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus.
2. Presentation of unconditioned stimulus:
Unconditioned stimulus must be presented after the conditioned stimulus otherwise there will be no conditioning.
3. Strength of unconditioned stimulus:
Unconditioned stimulus must be stronger than the artificial stimulus.
4. Repetition of the stimuli:
Both conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus must be presented many times in order to establish conditioning.
5. Relevant consistency:
There should be relevant consistency between the presentation of conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus i.e., they must be given at the uniform rate.
6. Reinforcement of unconditioned stimulus:
The natural (unconditioned) stimulus must be reinforced after a certain times i.e., if conditioning is established and for some trials unconditioned stimulus is not given, the strength of the conditioned stimulus will decrease.
7. Extinction of CR:
After conditioning, if ringing the bell is not followed by presentation of meat (food) on several occasions, the dog may stop salivating. Pavlov named this process as ‘extinction of CR’ (conditioned response). Extinction may be defined as temporary forgetting of conditioned response.
8. Spontaneous generalisation:
Pavlov discovered that if the dog is conditioned to one particular sound of bell, it would also give the response of salivation more or less to all sorts of bells. A child who develops a conditioned fear response in the school to a particular teacher may generalise this fear response towards other teachers also.
9. Spontaneous recovery:
Pavlov brought the dog out of the experimental laboratory after extinction. After a gap of a few days, he again put the dog in the same experimental laboratory. Surprisingly, Pavlov found that there was spontaneous recovery of the extinguished response i.e., the dog once again salivated to the ringing of the bell.
10. Stimulus differentiation:
If the dog is presented food (meat) after a particular sound of bell and is not presented food (meat) to other sounds of bell, the dog may develop stimulus differentiation i.e., it may salivate to a particular sound but will not salivate to other sounds of bell. Both stimulus generalisation and stimulus differentiation are contrary to each other.
Less intelligent children can be easily conditioned in comparison to more intelligent children. Pavlov advocated that intelligence and conditioning never go side by side. If intelligence works, conditioning will not take place and if conditioning takes place, intelligence will not work.
Conditioning takes place easily in case of girls in comparison to boys.
Conditioning takes place easily in case of children in comparison to adults.
Factors influencing Conditioning (Conditioned Reflex or Response):
Conditioning (Conditioned reflex or response) is highly influenced by motivation. If the subject is motivated for conditioning, he will be conditioned easily. All learning is motivated learning. Hence motivation is essential for all types of learning. In Pavlov’s experiment of dog, food is motivation for the dog. If the dog is not kept hungry, he will not bother for the bell and even much for the food. Hence the individual should be properly motivated for learning.
In the words of Prof. Dashiell, “Repetition is essential for the establishment of the conditioned response.” If there are more repetitions of the conditioning process, there will be better conditioning. In Pavlov’s experiment, the bell is rung again and again before giving food to the dog so that he may understand the necessary relationship between the bell and the food. If the bell is rung only once then the dog may not understand the relationship between the bell and the food. Moreover, the process of ringing the bell and giving food to the dog was repeated several times.
Conditioning is influenced by immediacy. In the words of Prof. Murphy, “Immediacy is necessary between the natural and artificial stimulus.” In Pavlov’s experiment the food is the natural stimulus and the bell is artificial stimulus.
Food is given immediately after ringing the bell. If the time interval between the bell and the food is too much then the dog may not understand the relationship between the bell and food. Hence there may be no conditioning. Hence if artificial and natural stimuli are not given simultaneously, the conditioning may not take place.
Children may be conditioned easily than adults.
5. Mental health and intelligence:
Good mental health and high level of intelligence help in conditioned response or conditioning.
6. External barriers:
Conditioning or the conditioned response will be delayed if there are external barriers (e.g., noise).
Just as repetition of the pairing of the conditioned stimuli and the unconditioned stimuli strengthens the connections, similarly the presentation of the conditioned stimulus without its being followed by the unconditioned stimulus results in progressive diminution of the response. The dog no longer salivates at the sound of bell after the bell has been rung a certain number of times without being followed by food.
Deconditioning (Extinction of Conditioned Reflex or Response):
Deconditioning means removing conditioned reflex or response. With the help of deconditioning, many irrational fears can be removed from the minds of children.
The following points should be noted for the extinction of conditioned reflex or response (Deconditioning):
1. Lack of motivation:
If there is no motivation, there will be no learning by conditioning. If no food is given to the dog after ringing the bell, then the dog will not care for ringing the bell.
2. Lack of repetition:
Conditioned response dies through disuse or lack of repetition. Lack of repetition causes deconditioning.
3. Increase the time interval:
Conditioning will be removed if the time interval between the natural and the artificial stimulus is increased. In Pavlov’s experiment, if the food is given after a long interval of ringing the bell, the dog may not establish link between ringing the bell and getting food.
4. Removal of natural stimulus:
If natural stimulus (say food) is not given after the artificial stimulus (say ringing of the bell) then the strength of conditioned stimulus will decrease and there may be no conditioning.
Educational Implications of Classical Conditioning Theory:
1. Language learning and concept formation:
Language can be learnt with the help of conditioning. Concept formation, during the early childhood period takes place as a result of conditioning. The techniques of using dolls, balls, cubes, pictures posters, flash cards, etc., for language learning and concept formation are based on conditioning.
A picture of an elephant or a camel is presented before the learner and the teacher speaks out the word. But the child comes to recognise birds, animals, vegetables and fruits by their names on the basis of concept formation and learning.
2. Theory of reward and punishment:
Theory of reward and punishment is based on conditioning i.e., bad deed should be associated with punishment and good one with relevant reward or praise. Rewards strengthen the behaviour and punishment weakens the behaviour. The desired behaviours of the learners should always be associated with the rewards and their undesired behaviour should be associated with the punishment. Moreover, reward or punishment, should be given at the right time i.e., immediately after the desired or undesired behaviour.
3. Formation of attitudes and sentiments:
Positive attitudes, sentiments values and beliefs can be formed and developed with the help of conditioning. Most of the conditioning takes place in social environment. Therefore, parents and teachers should create healthy and favourable situations so that the children may develop positive and favourable attitudes and sentiments towards them and society.
4. Formation of good habits:
Good habits can be formed with the help of conditioning. Habits of industriousness, punctuality, obedience, co-operation, sincerity, respect for elders and self-discipline etc. can be developed among children by using the procedure of conditioning.
5. Elimination of negative attitudes and bad habits:
Unhealthy attitudes and bad habits like drinking, smoking, gambling can be broken with the help of ‘Deconditioning.’
6. Superstitions and phobias:
Superstitions and phobias can be deconditioned. For example, a child has developed superstition that by conditioning that when he sees a cat crossing the street, he gets punishment. Such superstitions can be removed through further conditioning (deconditioning). Let the child get no punishment on a number of times when a cat is made to cross his path. Thus superstitions, fears, phobias, anxiety, nervousness among children can be removed or minimised with the help of deconditioning.
7. Liking and disliking for teacher and subject:
An individual may like or dislike an object or a person, if it is associated with good or bad effects. A teacher with un-psychological method of teaching or authoritative (harsh) behaviour may be disliked by the students. Students may develop a feeling of hatred towards the teacher as well as the subject due to conditioning.
On the other hand, a teacher with effective and psychological methods of teaching and affectionate and friendly behaviour may be liked by the student. The students will develop a feeling of love, affection and liking towards the teacher.
8. Principles of association:
Laws of association (contiguity or nearness, similarity and contrast, etc.) get practical application in the process of conditioning.
9. Repetition (practice):
Repetition helps in conditioning. Had the food not been repeated no learning would have taken place. Learning of physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences mathematics language and skills need repetition or practice. Therefore, students must be given ample opportunities to revise and repeat their lessons.
10. Use of audio-visual aids:
Conditioning emphasies the use of audiovisual aids in the teaching-learning process. The use of audio-visual aids can be made effective through conditioning. For example, if a word ‘crow’ is to be taught to the children in the class, then the picture of the ‘crow’ must be shown to them along with the word written on the blackboard. Children will speak that word after looking the picture. Then the picture is removed and the children will repeat only the written word. Thus the children could learn to speak the word ‘crow’ as a result of conditioning.
11. Treatment of delinquent, problem and maladjusted children:
The theory also helps in the treatment of delinquent, problem and many other types of maladjusted children. This theory helps the teachers and psychologists to study the conditioned response of fear, phobia, anxiety or emotionally unstable children. Thus the teacher can prepare a case and understand the morbid actions of the child.
12. Useful in mental hospitals:
The mental cases and emotionally unstable children can best be treated with the process of conditioning. Conditioning plays an important role in the treatment of mental patients. Moos Ward Atmosphere Scale is pioneer in this regard. It states that on account of love, affection and good treatment many complexes and fears can be removed from the minds of such patients and such type of conditioning helps in their early recovery.
13. Useful in adjustment:
Conditioning method is very useful for helping the children in making adjustment with the environment. The beginning of this takes place with the adjustment of the child in classroom conditions and school circumstances. Later on, he applies all this to make adjustment in real life challenging situations. It is the conditioning only that enables the child to make way in difficult and odd circumstances.
No child or adult escapes conditioning of some sort or the other. An adult patient was operated upon by doctors clothed in white gowns and white masks covering their face. The patient was afraid of the operation. Later on he had a subconscious fear even at the sight of doctors in uniform. Another person met an accident on the road-side near a Persian wheel (Rahat). Later on he would always abhor the presence of a Persian wheel.
(i) Rewards and Punishments:
These are closely associated with conditioning. Rewards strengthen the bond and punishments weaken. Hence rewards and punishments may be given right at the time of the act and not delayed.
(ii) Love and hatred:
A child may love an object or hate it, if it is associated with another object which is in reality the object of love or hate. The child may hate geography not because geography is a difficult subject, but because the geography teacher is an object of hatred. A child may avoid a corner of a street, or the sight of a particular object or person, as he has some bitter experience before.
A child may develop superstitions by conditioning. He saw a cat crossing the street, and later on he got punishment in the school. So cat’s crossing is ominous. Thus superstitions are harboured. Such can again, he removed through further conditioning. If an artificial situation is created in which the old artificial stimulus does not give the previous type of response, the old conditioning can be removed. Let the child get no punishment on a number of times when a cat is made to cross his path. In the absence of any punishment he will not rely on the previous superstition. Thus the superstition can be de-conditioned.
(iv) Repetition and habit formation:
Repetition helps conditioning, and thereby habits are formed. Learning of history, geography and other subjects need repetition.
Continuity, similarity and contrast which are three factors of association get practical application in the process of conditioning.
(vi) Attitude formation:
Children often form attitudes through conditioning. The teacher and the parents should create situations that the children love them and have favourable attitude towards them.
(vii) Psychological Therapy:
The teacher and the psychologist can get a wealth of information regarding the maladjusted child, problem child or the delinquent by studying the morbid fears and conditioned reflexes. He can prepare a complete case and understand the actions of the child which have been conditioned in the past.
Not only can be psychologist discover the causes of fears, aversions, neurotic behaviour of the child, he can also de-condition these by utilising the ‘Experimental extinction principle’. The example of cat superstition explained above makes it clear.
Cases of enuresis (bed-wetting) have been reported as cured, through conditioning. The child’s bed when wetted causes ringing of a bell through a short circuit. The moment, the child begins to urinate, the bell rings and he wakes up to urinate. Later on he habitually wakes up to urinate, even without ringing of the bell.
(viii) Language Learning:
The most modern method of using flash cards, dolls, pictures and cubes for learning alphabet is after the process of conditioning. The child speaks out parrot when the picture of a parrot is presented, and the word also is spelt by the teacher. Later on the picture is not presented, only the symbol is presented, and the child associates the symbol with bird and the sound of the word.