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Psychological Approaches – Learning Theories

1. Classical Conditioning

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In this module, we think about classical conditioning, a form of learning by association. We begin by exploring the research of Ivan Pavlov who showed that dogs can be conditioned to salivate at the presentation of a particular stimulus through a process of associative learning. Next, we move on to a definition of four key terms in classical conditioning first coined by Pavlov: (i) the unconditioned stimulus, (ii) the unconditioned response, (iii) the conditioned stimulus and (iv) the conditioned response. We then discuss how these terms can be applied to other forms of classical conditioning, focussing in particular on the ‘Little Albert Study’ by Watson and Rayner (1920) and the use of classical conditioning techniques in advertising. Finally, we think about how the salience of a stimulus (e.g. the amount of food presented) impacts how quickly associative learning occurs.


In this course, Mr Martyn Quigley (University of Nottingham) discusses some classic psychological theories of learning. We begin, in module one, by thinking about the research of Ivan Pavlov and his theory of classical conditioning as a form of associative learning. The second module takes a closer look at factors affecting classical conditioning, focussing in particular on the processes of extinction and generalisation. In module three, we move on to discuss operant or instrumental conditioning and the research of Edward Thorndike. In module four, we think about the mechanisms of reinforcement and punishment in operant conditioning, while module five takes a closer look at how the rate at which reinforcement occurs can influence learning. Module six concludes the course with a discussion of Social Learning Theory as an alternative to the behaviourist approach to learning.


Martyn Quigley is a Teaching Associate in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. His research interests include the mechanisms which underpin learning in a whole manner of circumstances, and how these can be linked to applied settings (e.g. educational and medical settings). He is also interested in the philosophy of science and how this relates to psychology and the replication crisis.

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APA style

Quigley, M. (2019, September 27). Psychological Approaches – Learning Theories - Classical Conditioning [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Quigley, Martyn. "Psychological Approaches – Learning Theories – Classical Conditioning." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Sep 2019,

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