Psychology Learning Resources
Ivan Pavlov and Pavlovian Conditioning

Concept Definition: Pavlovian Conditioning

Important characteristics of Pavlovian Conditioning:

  • Stimulus A (US) reliably produces a response (UR) regardless of past consequences of that response.
  • Stimulus B (NS) is paired with Stimulus A (US).
  • Because Stimulus B is paired with Stimulus A, Stimulus B (CS) reliably produces a response (CR) regardless of past consequences of that response.

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #1

(The response to be analyzed is in bold. You may find it helpful to diagram your answer as we did in Figure 1.)

Nonexample

Sometimes it is very hot on the pool deck. When it is, this causes Greg's metabolism and oxygen consumption to increase.

Example

Greg is in the change room getting ready for swim practice. It is always very hot on the pool deck. Greg's metabolism and oxygen consumption increase while he is on the pool deck. Because of this sequence of events, over time Greg's metabolism and oxygen consumption also increase while he is in the change room even though it is not hot there.

Analysis

The first item is not an example of Pavlovian Conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: a hot pool deck (US) elicits elevated metabolism and oxygen consumption (UR). However, no stimulus is paired with the presentation of the US.

The second item is an example of Pavlovian conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: a hot pool deck (US) elicits elevated metabolism and oxygen consumption (UR). Being in the change room (NS) is paired with the hot pool deck (US). Consequently, being in the change room (CS) elicits elevated metabolism and oxygen consumption. (cf., Catania, 1998, p. 201)

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #2

(The response to be analyzed is bolded. You may find it helpful to diagram your answer as we did in Figure 1.)

Nonexample

When young Jillian gets anywhere near the vicinity of their family cat, she first smiles and then squeals loudly in delight. This startles the cat. Immediately afterwards, Jillian smiles a second time, causing the cat to startle again.

Example

When young Jillian gets anywhere near the vicinity of their family cat, she first smiles and then squeals loudly in delight. This startles the cat. As a result, now, any time Jillian smiles, the cat startles.

Analysis

The first item is not an example of Pavlovian Conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: a loud squeal (US) elicits a startle response (UR). Jillian's smile (NS) is paired with the loud squeal (US). However, the second startle response probably does not occur because the smile had been paired with the loud squeal. More likely, the cat startles to any innocuous stimulus presented immediately after the loud squeal (e.g., the squeak of a door closing). This is an example of pseudoconditioning.

The second item is an example of Pavlovian Conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: a loud squeal (US) elicits a startle response (UR). Jullian's smile (NS) is paired with the loud squeal (US). Consequently, the Jillian's smile (CS) elicits the startle response (CR).

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #3

(The response to be analyzed is bolded. You may find it helpful to diagram your answer as we did in Figure 1.)

Nonexample

Lately, Donna has been repeatedly exposed to a commercial in the course of her daily TV viewing. In that commercial, a new type of exercise machine is flashed on the screen, followed by people laughing and having a good time while working out with it. Before ever watching the commercial, Donna had seen this same machine during her exercise classes at her local gym. Seeing people laughing and having a good time makes Donna feel good.

Example

Lately, Donna has been repeatedly exposed to a commercial in the course of her daily TV viewing. In that commercial, a new type of exercise machine is flashed on the screen, followed by people laughing and having a good time while working out with it. Seeing people laughing and having a good time makes Donna feel good. Donna's local gym has just purchased that same machine. Because of Donna's exposure to the commercial, when Donna sees the machine for the first time at the gym, she feels good.

Analysis

The first item is not an example of Pavlovian Conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: people laughing and having a good time (US) elicits feeling good (UR). In the commercial, the exercise machine (NS) is paired with people laughing and having a good time (US). The bolded response is a UR, and no response (CR) to the exercise machine is specified.

The second item is an example of Pavlovian Conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: people laughing and having a good time (US) elicits feeling good (UR). In the commercial, the exercise machine (NS) is paired with people laughing and having a good time (US). Consequently, the exercise machine (CS) elicits good feelings (CR).

You may wonder why the exercise machine elicited feeling good only in the second item. There are many factors that influence Pavlovian Conditioning (e.g., see Grant & Evans, 1994, Chapter 13; Klein, 1987, Chapter 2). One possibility is that Donna's earlier exposure to the exercise machine (CS preexposure) in the first item attenuated the conditioning effect of the commercial.

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #4

(The response to be analyzed is bolded. You may find it helpful to diagram your answer as we did in Figure 1.)

Nonexample

Mike's boss seems to show his face at the worst times. On a few occasions when Mike screwed up at work, his boss suddenly appeared and yelled at him. This caused Mike to feel tense all over. As a result, Mike frequently tells his coworkers that he does not like his boss.

Example

Mike's boss seems to show his face at the worst times. On a few occasions when Mike screwed up at work, his boss suddenly appeared and yelled at him. This caused Mike to feel tense all over. Consequently, Mike feels tense all over whenever he sees his boss.

Analysis

The first item is not an example of Pavlovian Conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: yelling (US) elicits feeling tense (UR). The sight of the Mike's boss (NS) is paired with yelling (US). While this sequence of events may affect what Mike says about the boss, there is no identifiable CR. The act of saying he does not like his boss is an operant response. For example, Mike will likely continue to express his feelings about the boss to coworkers who provide sympathy (reinforcing consequence) and stop expressing his feelings to coworkers who tell him to stop being such a whiner (punishing consequence).

The second item is an example of Pavlovian Conditioning. There is an unconditioned reflex: yelling (US) elicits feeling tense (UR). The sight of Mike's boss (NS) is paired with yelling (US). As a result, the sight of Mike's boss (CS) elicits feeling tense (CR).