Classical Conditioning

Dog with empty food bowlClassical conditioning—often referred to as Pavlovian conditioning or Pavlovian learning—is a form of learning in which a neutral stimulus is paired with a stimulus that elicits a response. After a period of conditioning, the neutral stimulus then elicits the response when it is not paired with the response-generating stimulus.

Classical Conditioning… That Rings a Bell

Psychologist Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning when he was studying digestion in dogs. He noticed that his dogs began to salivate when they heard sounds normally associated with getting meat. He then designed an experiment to test this phenomenon. He began ringing a bell immediately before giving the dogs meat. After the dogs had heard the bell and associated it with the meat several times, they began salivating only at the sound of the bell.

Types of Stimuli

Classical conditioning relies on three elements:

  • Conditioned stimulus: The conditioned stimulus is the stimulus that elicits the reaction after a period of conditioning; in Pavlov’s experiment, this was the bell.
  • Unconditioned stimulus: The unconditioned stimulus is the item that elicits the response without training—the meat in the case of Pavlov.
  • Conditioned response: The conditioned response is the response that occurs when the conditioned stimulus is presented—the salivation at the sound of the bell.

Conditioning and Learning

Classical conditioning is considered a rudimentary, reflexive form of learning and has been demonstrated in a variety of organisms. Classical conditioning works with babies, dogs, and other animals, but highly intelligent adults can also be conditioned using classical conditioning. Many forms of animal training use forms of classical conditioning. For example, in dog clicker training, dogs are conditioned to associate a clicker with getting a treat reward. After a period, the dogs begin to respond to the clicker even when they are not given the treat.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Classical Conditioning (Pavlov). (n.d.). Learning theories. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-4-2015

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  • Christian

    May 3rd, 2016 at 9:13 AM

    I was when younger sexually assaulted by a group of white /Hispanic males on which caused my fear of sex or being in a group of males naked as well as made me unable to be after a much recent event be close to either sex please help

  • The Team

    May 3rd, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    Dear Christian,

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  • J

    December 4th, 2019 at 3:08 AM


  • Lucy

    October 13th, 2022 at 3:35 PM

    Unfortunately, this isn’t right about the discover of classical conditioning, so overlooks the important work of many people.
    Please have a look at these research articles:
    Josef Breuer and Edwin B. Twitmyer: Tales of Missed Opportunity
    Pavlov’s Reflex before Pavlov: Early Accounts from the English, French and German Classic Literature

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