Classical Conditioning Activity Experiments

Ivan Pavlov famously taught a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell.

Classical conditioning refers to involuntary behavior that occurs due to experience. This method of learning begins with an unconditioned stimulus and an unconditioned response, a behavior that occurs naturally. An example is salivating when you smell food. Throughout an experiment, the subject is trained to produce a conditioned response to a conditioned stimulus. This behavior does not occur naturally. Examples include salivating at the sound of cooking utensils or at the sight of a McDonald's bag.

1 Pavlov's Experiment

Classical conditioning is often referred to as “Pavlonian” conditioning because its significance in psychological studies are credited to an experiment performed by the Russian researcher Ivan Pavlov. His experiment demonstrated that instinctual behaviors can be reinforced by a generally neutral stimulus. His famous model taught a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell. Each time Pavlov presented the dog with food, he rang a bell. After the dog associated the sound with the presence of food, he eventually salivated solely at the sound of the bell.

2 Make a Hampster Stand Upright

You may conduct an experiment similar to Pavlov's using a caged hamster and a bell. Present the hamster with a treat on a ledge high enough that it is nearly out of reach. The hamster should have to stand on its hind legs to get the food while you simultaneously ring a bell. Repeat this process every day until the hamster stands upright at the sound of the bell alone.

3 Ask a Friend to Help

Ask two friends to participate in your experiment. Gather two sound-making objects such as a whistle and a buzzer. While Friend 1 sits in a chair, you and Friend 2 stand behind him. Instruct Friend 2 to make a sound every three seconds using one of the objects, switching between them in no particular order. When he chooses to blow the whistle, do nothing. At the buzzer sound, however, tap Friend 1 on the head – not hard enough to hurt, but just enough to startle him so that he cringes slightly. Eventually, Friend 1 will cringe at the sound of the buzzer without any tapping.

4 Make a Child Laugh

Recruit an infant sibling, niece or nephew as the subject of an experiment. Perform an activity that the infant finds funny and laughs at consistently. Examples may include playing peekaboo, doing an unusual dance or making a silly face. While doing this activity, hold a squeaky toy in your hand. Each time you cause the infant to laugh, squeak the toy. After repeating this a few times the sound of the squeaking itself will exert a laugh.

Alison Datko is a professional editor with experience as a journalist, writer and blogger. She contributes to a variety of print and online publications, specializing in music, food, art, fashion and culture.