Don’t you know that there is science behind your cravings for your favorite restaurant food or sweets when you think about them?

This science is also responsible for your excitement when you go out to work. It’s also the reason why you’re probably scared about the idea of hiking if you have fear of heights.

It’s even responsible for people’s urge to smoke cigarettes or drink coffee if they are addicted to nicotine and/or caffeine, respectively. This science what we call as classical conditioning, and you will realize here that it’s actually a part of our everyday reactions.

Classical conditioning is a type of learning that acquires new information and behavior based on associating a certain stimulation.

Many experts believe that classical conditioning deals with our reaction based on our experience. It’s also believed that classical conditioning refers to a learning process based on a paired stimulus. It’s where a strong stimulus is paired with a neutral-level stimulus in order to create a response.

The basics of classical conditioning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov. Several factors which employ classical conditioning were soon discovered after he discovered it.

These will be explained later on.

Firstly, let us take a look at Ivan Pavlov’s life and how he was able to develop classical conditioning.


Ivan Pavlov (September 14, 1849 – February 27, 1936) was the physiologist who discovered the learning process.

His childhood days in a church school in Ryazan showed a curiosity at a highly intellectual level that he calls his “instinct for research”. He got his ideas when he based Dmitry Pisarev and Ivan Sechenov’s ideals in physiology.

As a result, Pavlov started to focus on science and physiology and left he church school to attend a natural science course at the University of Saint Petersburg.

From this moment, until his discovery of classical conditioning, Pavlov was able to comfortably study his passion to the point where he became known as one of the most successful physiologists of his time.

Classical conditioning was actually his main focus throughout his career and he devoted his life in developing various theories about it.

He was able to grab various rewards in his career, such as gold medals when he got his degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences in 2875. He even won a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1904; the first Russian to receive the Nobel prize.

He is highly regarded and respected for his talents even up to this day.

A Dog, a Bell and Some Food: The Discovery of Classical Conditioning

Pavlov’s discovery of classical conditioning occurred in the 1900s where he experimented with his dog Circa. Pavlov’s experiment was the foundation of the learning process as it shows the very basics of the study.

The very first experiment undergone two phases. The first one was conducted by Pavlov when the dog was placed in a box with a harness. The dog was left alone in the box for a few hours. This procedure was repeated many times on different days.

However, this phase didn’t prove much of the study. However, the second phase proved the most basic result of the experiment.

It was conducted by observing how Circa will salivate based on two different but paired stimulus.

A salivary gland was attached to the dog to measure the amount of saliva produced upon stimulation. Pavlov rang a bell (which he called as the neutral stimulus or NS) and then gave food (Pavlov called this as the unconditioned stimulus or UCS) to Circa afterwards.

The process was repeated every time Circa receives food.

At the first few days, the dog salivated (labeled initially as an unconditioned response or UCR only at the sight of the food.

But when the experiment was repeated further for multiple days, the dog seemed to salivate (now called as the conditioned response or CR) at the sound of the ring – without the food being seen.

This caused the neutral stimulus (the ringing) to become a conditioned stimulus (CS) through the support of the unconditioned stimulus (the food). This caused the dog to instinctively think that the ringing of the bell means mealtime.

Author’s Note: I also had the same scenario with my cats. When we first go them, they don’t respond on the sound of the plastic bag when I shake it before feeding them with the ca food in it. After a few months, they respond quickly and approach me whenever they hear the rusting of the plastic bag. They even meow for food when they hear us eat during mealtime because they got used to getting fed right after our meals. It just shows that classical conditioning is purely based on experience and instinct combined.

The graph below serves as the blueprint of the experiment and the very basic example of classical conditioning:


Source: Psychstudy


Classical conditioning’s was also found out to be applicable to humans, as classical conditioning is a form behavioral pattern.

There are numerous proofs where classical conditioning is applied to our everyday lives.

It has played an important role in generating various responses. The field of behavioral science has also accepted classical conditioning as a basis for numerous researches that studies mental health as well.

More advanced conditioning studies such as fear conditioning and taste aversion learning also rooted from trials conducted from classical conditioning.

According to Morsella (Psychological Review, 2005), people have the ability to suppress behaviors but cannot suppress the urges that connects the stimulus of their behaviors.

Morsella also states that the circuits in the brain that conducts classical conditioning are different from the circuits that develop our conscious memories.

She also stated that classical conditioning is different from operant conditioning as it’s based on stimulating the person in exchange of a certain reward – which she called as “voluntary” conditioning.

On the other hand, Morsella dubs classical conditioning as “involuntary”. She also credited Pavlov for the development of her review.

Daily experiences from any type of stimulation can be conducted to humans as well, such as what this scene from The Office shows:

In the video shown above, Jim classically conditions Dwight by giving him some mints whenever Jim’s computer plays an error sound. Jim repeatedly did It to the point where Dwight is instinctively asking for the mints even if Jim doesn’t have any at the moment.

The Little Albert Experiment: A Case Study In Developing Phobia

One of the milestones that made classical conditioning more noticeable to humans is the Little Albert Experiment. It was done by John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner on a 9 month old infant named Albert.

He was tested on his reactions by introducing stimuli based on animal interaction.

Albert was able to touch and see white rats and monkeys. He was also introduced to objects such as masks. The infant didn’t respond to the animals and objects.

However, Little Albert began to cry when these objects and animals were shown, followed by a loud sound of a hammer hitting a steel bar. The noise startled Little Albert to tears.

Two months later, Albert was conditioned to fearing the rat by presenting it in front of the baby, followed by the noise of the hammer striking the steel bar.

This was done seven times within seven weeks, resulting in Albert crying all the time.

Afterwards, physiologists observed that Little Albert starts to experience fear upon the sight of the white rat even if no hammer is stroke against the steel bar.

The conditioned response of fear is often conditionally stimulated by everything white from this point; even a white fur coat or a white dog scared the child.

Watson and Rayner labeled this learning process as generalization, which is linked to various applications of classical conditioning in a human’s everyday life and activities.


Our conditioned stimulus can come from different aspects of life that we have developed over the years.

This is what Morsella has stated whenever we deal with involuntary reactions based on a certain stimuli that we expect or unexpectedly encounter in our everyday lives. Here are the following applications of classical conditioning that we may or may not be aware of in our daily lives:


Advertising techniques are also heavy associated with classical conditioning.

Some businesses even conduct research with physiologists to observe the behavior of the people within their market. Companies employ different personalities for advertising.

For example, animated character are often used as commercial models for kids’ products. On the other hand, beautiful women are often used for beauty product advertisements and apparels.

The field of advertising can also use a certain daily scenario as a way to classically condition the market into purchasing their product. For example, a child or adult having a terrible cough is shown in commercials for cough medicines. In turn, the market to purchase on the company’s end when they suffer from a terrible cough.


The study of addiction to humans and its treatment was further advanced through the use of classical conditioning.

Rehabilitation centers also employ classical conditioning to their treatments to drug and alcohol addicts.

Addiction is an easy example of classical conditioning as people addicted to a certain substance can feel relaxed even before intaking what they crave for.

For example, caffeine addicts may experience relaxation upon smelling or thinking about coffee.

Author’s Note: I was addicted to cigarettes two years ago. When I first started to smoke in 2009, I suddenly adopted a trait where I suddenly crave for cigarettes just by smelling the smoke from other smokers. I even became conditioned to smoking whenever I feel stressed years later when I started working.

Doctors also got help from physiologists when treating addiction. Smoking cessation can now be accomplished through medication.

Varenicline is one of those products as it weakens a patient’s nicotinic receptor. This results in reduced cravings for nicotine and can decrease the satisfaction felt from smoking tobacco. Varencline’s notable side effect is nausea; it Is even induced when the patient starts smoking again.

This is called as conditioned taste aversion – an advanced form of classical conditioning in tasting food and substances. This also results the patient to instinctively remember themselves to intake Varencline whenever they feel the urge to smoke – completely breaking the habit.

Author’s Note: Classical conditioning is also applicable for breaking addiction without the need for drugs. However, it is through experience. I suffered from bronchitis two years ago, where I finally became a heavy smoker. Ever since I got cured from it, I always remembered that horrible experience whenever I think about smoking cigarettes – prompting me to avoid it. It shows that you can conditionally become stimulated in quitting to smoke if you experienced something that negatively impacted you.

Emotional Response

There are two types of emotional response that can be generated through classical conditioning: negative and positive responses.

Negative responses such as fear can be stimulated by associating it with what the person hears. For example, if they are afraid of dogs, a nearby bark of the dog can make them nervous even if they can’t see the dog yet. Phobias such as fear of water can also occur to hydrophobic patients when they go to a beach resort or a swimming pool.

Positive responses such as relaxation can also occur when a person thinks of traveling or a massage when they badly need one. Excitement is also a response based on classical conditioning if you feel like something good’s going to happen soon, like a planned trip or a date.


Cravings are one of the by-products of classical conditioning as they become hungry when they think about a dish they are craving, resulting in its immediate purchase or preparation.

Their cravings happen as they were able to experience something satisfying when they ate the dish out of hunger in the past.

Some people walking or driving around town can feel hungry after they spot a restaurant or a popular fast-food chain. This happens because people are conditioned with the fact that restaurants provide the food they want to eat.

Past Experiences

People can also associate anything with a past experience.

A soundtrack that you listened during your travels might make you remember those relaxing moments whenever you hear the song again on the radio.

The scent of a perfume similar to what you girlfriend worn during a memorable date can make you reminisce those sweet moments if you smell if again in the mall.

Post-traumatic disorders is also a by-product of classical conditioning for people who experienced something traumatic such as a war or an accident.

The anxiety produced by PTSD may occur if a soldier who returned from combat hears fireworks during Independence Day or New Year, even if they enjoyed it before experiencing combat. Some worse scenarios involve the soldier being enraged or hysterical when they hear fireworks.

Classical Conditioning in School and Work

Strict teachers, bullying, and school policies can induce fear to children when they attend their classes.

A strict teacher who hates noise can silence the whole class if she arrives inside the room. It’s because they might have experienced the teacher’s scolding or punishments when one or more of the students produced unnecessary noise during class.

Workplaces can produce more disciplined employees by implementing strict compliance and attendance policies. Friendly work environments or a workmates close to you can induce a feeling or attraction and urge to become productive at work.

Drug and Food Intake

Drugs can also cause a conditioned response to our bodies and minds depending on what we felt when we first tried the medicine.

For example, a bad tasting medicine can induce vomiting the next time you take it again.

Some extreme cases even induce vomiting when the patient hears the name of the drug. On a positive note, some patients may feel relaxed when they are about to intake a medicine that relieved the symptoms of their illness.

The same conditional response also goes for food. A person who hates vegetables may feel disgusted upon seeing or even hearing it. But cravings and hunger may occur to a person when they hear about their favorite dish.

There are numerous examples of classical conditioning used in our daily lives. The following mentioned above are the most commonly experienced events. For sure this will keep you conscious about classical conditioning whenever you experience one of the following applications.


Classical conditioning can impact our lives positively or negatively.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a choice in improving our lives using classical conditioning.

Here are some nice tips that you can follow if you want to improve your life using the learning procedure:

Breaking Bad Habits

You can use classical conditioning in reversing your bad habits.

For example, you can quit from smoking by diverting the way you spend cigarette smoking into saving money.

So instead of going to a convenience store to purchase a pack, you will just place it on a piggy bank. If you condition yourself in saving money whenever you feel the urge to smoke, you may turn that into a saving habit whenever you have spare change on your wallet.

Facing Your Fears

Facing your fears can be temporarily or permanently be done when you have to face your fear often.

A lot of experienced hikers say that mountain climbing can be the ultimate way to remove your fear of heights.

At first, you just have to think about the fact that you need to go up and down the mountain because your hiking buddies are going to leave you behind. If you always think about that, you will focus more on the goal rather than your fears.

With enough traveling to the mountains, you will soon realize that you’re more oriented towards your goals while not minding your fears anymore as your mind is finally conditioned in catching up with your buddies.

Teaching Children The Right Manners

Educating children the right manners nowadays is very crucial. Kids are growing smarter nowadays, and some of them can reason out with their parents.

Conditioning your children by portraying good manners in exchange of your comfort and attention can be a good way. At first, your children will always comply just to get your attention and the rewards behind it.

But eventually as they grow up, they will start performing good manners even if you occasionally give them rewards. It’s because your kids will start to think that doing the right manners grants them proper approach from other people.

Training Your Pet

You can train your pet in classical conditioning to perform a wide variety of tasks. Even pet tricks can be learned through classical conditioning.

You just have to use the neutral stimulus as the objective or the task/trick that you want to train to your pet. Use food as the unconditioned stimulus just like what Pavlov did to his experiment.

Do this for a few days to the point where your pet can perform the task just by ordering them to do it even without the food. To maintain the skill that you trained them to do, be sure to occasionally reward them with food.

Becoming Good At Work

If you’re a lazy person and you want to change for the best in your career life, classical conditioning can be your ally in becoming a committed professional.

Use your drive to work as the neutral stimulus over a long-term goal that you want to attain (which will be the unconditioned stimulus).

Short term goals are not applicable as it might give you the risk of inconsistency at being a good professional that will keep you from working hard for a long time until you become a hardworking person even if your goal is already accomplished.

Now that’s a good mindset to consider!


We should be thankful for Pavlov’s discovery as it helped us notice about the different responses that we can make based on certain scenarios. We can use this as an evolutionary tool in predicting the outcome of our actions.

It can also be used as a way to treat negative traits such as addiction. Fears can also be analyzed by observing the neutral and unconditioned stimuli of our fear so then we can come with a solution to overcome it.

If we can’t do it, always remember that physiologists are also there to aid us, especially now that you have an idea how classical conditioning works.

Classical conditioning isn’t just something that physiologists should understand. Even commoners who aren’t versed in the field of behavioral studies should understand the simply basics of this learning procedure. It’s one of the many things that helps us respond in the many events that can impact our lives.

That’s why it’s worth learning about.

Classical Conditioning: Learn How to Create Habits for Success

Comments are closed.