Classical conditioning

  • Learning of the association between two stimuli by capitalising on instinctive responses.
  • Pavlov paired ringing of bell and the appearance of meat powder to see if dogs could acquire the association, ie salivate.
  • Meat powder was the unconditioned stimulus. Salivating to the meat powder was the unconditioned response.
  • Ringing the bell was the conditioned stimulus. Salivating to the bell was the conditioned response.
  • It takes three things to acquire associations
    1. Repetition
      • Being exposed multiple times to pair the two stimuli
    2. Temporal contiguity
      • Two stimuli should happen close enough together in time
    3. Differential contingency
      • When the conditioned stimulus occurs, the unconditioned stimulus will come


  • Very little attention to the idea that people may actively try to learn something
  • No attention to the idea of feedback
  • The idea of rewards and punishment are important aspects of how we learn is not addressed

Common myths about learning

  1. Learning is aware and purposeful
  2. People, especially intelligent people already know how to maximize learning
  3. When learning is going well, when we’re really learning, we feel confident, successful and clear
  4. Emotion is a problem for rationality and therefore, getting emotional messes up learning
  5. If someone doesn’t find something interesting, he won’t or cannot learn it
  6. People learn from getting rewarded and punished
  7. Intelligent people learn more easily and better than others
  8. Learning is like opening up your brain and having stuff dumped into it
  9. People of all ages learn basically the same way
  10. You can’t teach old dog new tricks