Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov

During the early 1900's, a Russian physiologist by the name of Ivan Pavlov was studying the digestive tracks of dogs. Pavlov was interested in saliva's role in the digestive process, and dogs proved to be quite effective subjects for the study of this topic.

To get his dogs to salivate, Pavlov would present them with food, placing the target morsel on the canine's tongue. After working with a given dog for a few days, Pavlov noticed that the dog would salivate before being presented with food. The dogs drooled when Pavlov entered the room. They slobbered at the sound of his approaching footsteps!

Now, what do Russian scientists and drooling dogs have to do with fetishists? We'll get to that in a moment.

You dog owners reading this page might be thinking, "Yeah, dogs slobber when you feed them; so what?" I'm sure you've noticed that you don't have to show your dog food, just hint that food might be a possible event in the near future, and you'll find Fido ensconced in the kitchen, happily wagging his tail in a puddle of anticipatory precipitation. Dogs drool when they think they're going to eat. And that's of major importance to psychology?

It was to Pavlov. What got Pavlov's attention was the fact that salivation is a reflex and the dogs were displaying that reflex in the absence of a natural stimulus. This idea, that a natural reflex could be affected by learning, so interested Pavlov that he abandoned his studies of digestion and spent the next 30 years -- the remainder of his career and life -- investigating this phenomenon.

Pavlov's Classical Conditioning was the first model of learning to be studied in psychology. Classical Conditioning investigated the capacity of animals to learn new stimuli and connect them to natural reflexes; allowing non - natural cues to elicit a natural reflex. Pavlov developed categories and terminology to study and describe the results of his experiments.

In one set of experiments, Pavlov would ring a bell, what he referred to as a neutral stimulus. The dogs could care less about the bell and nothing happened. Then Pavlov would feed his dogs, food being the unconditioned stimulus, and the dogs would drool, presenting the unconditioned response, salivation. Nothing unusual here, just a framework in which to describe change. But after this procedure was repeated, the dogs would start to salivate at the sound of the bell alone. At this point, Pavlov referred to the dogs as being classically conditioned to salivate to the bell. Pavlov's bell now became a conditioned stimulus because it elicited salivation, the conditioned response.

The point here is that the dogs had learned to display a reflexive behavior to a new association, one that need have no connection to the original stimulus. Any fetishist who doesn't see the connection here should stop right now and go get coffee.

After conditioning his dogs, Pavlov would study how long the new associations would persist and what might modify them. Pavlov noticed many factors that affected the conditioned stimulus and response relationship.

  • Frequency of conditioned and unconditioned stimulus pairings.