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Classical conditioning: (Some) new examples from FailBlog

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Are you getting tired of your classical conditioning examples? Here are some new ones from FailBlog. You won’t be surprised to see that while the FailBlog post is called “29 people share the Pavlovian (reflex) responses they’ve developed,” not all of these are actually examples of classical conditioning. The key is that the response has to be involuntary. In several of these, the behavior is voluntary. For example, #21: “TV commercial, look at phone.” Since looking at phone is a voluntary behavior, this is operant conditioning where the TV commercial is a discriminative stimulus. There is negative reinforcement (removing the commercial) and positive reinforcement (something more interesting than a commercial on the phone). And #23 is a reference to The Office “mouth tastes bad” scene – which is still not an example of classical conditioning. (What’s the involuntary response? Now, if he salivated to the ding…)

After covering both classical and operant conditioning, if your students are up for the challenge, ask them to work in pairs or small groups to identify the examples that are classical conditioning and the ones that are not. Read through all 29 of these before giving them to your students. The language and content of some may not be appropriate for your student population. Make sure you are comfortable explaining the classical conditioning behind the classical conditioning examples and explaining why the other are not examples of classical conditioning. Use only the ones you want.

After the groups have had time to do their identifications, go through each example in turn. “Number 1: classical conditioning, which groups say yes?” You can do a show of hands, clickers, or some other polling method. Spend time discussing the ones that are not classical conditioning that students thought were.

If time allows, or as a take-home assignment, assign each student group one or more of the classical conditioning examples. Their task is to identify the unconditioned stimulus, conditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned response in each of their assigned examples.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.