Why do you still think of your ex? ‘Classical Conditioning’ helps you to explain it

Have you ever caught a whiff of an ex’s perfume and been reminded of them? Perhaps such a memory can elicit a tear or a smile.


Why is it that an action as simple as this elicits a response from us? The answer points to classical conditioning.

What is classical conditioning?

Classical conditioning refers to learning a new response when two stimuli are combined. It entails assessing a natural response to a neutral stimuli and linking it with a learned stimuli to elicit this once naturally occurring response.

This concept was first explored by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov in the late 19th century, who conducted experiments with dogs to observe their behavioral changes. His work involved dogs and their feeding patterns. It was noted that dogs naturally salivated upon receiving their food.

He decided to ring a bell whenever they were fed, and over time, the dogs learned to associate the ringing of the bell with their feeding. This learned behavior reached the point where their once natural response of salivation was produced upon hearing the bell’s ringing, even if there was no food.

This associative behavior and pattern of stimulus and response underlined classical conditioning theory. Nowadays, his experiment has been linked with behaviorism.

Basically, it boils down to learning by association, and this is sometimes seen in our daily lives.

How is this exemplified in our daily lives?

Patterns of stimulus and response are thought to constitute everything, from speech to emotional responses. This concept of classical conditioning is evident and occurs when repeated behaviors become associated with a certain condition or situation.

For example, Pavlov’s dogs were conditioned to salivate when being fed. If you have pets, think about their behavior whenever you perform certain actions, like putting on your shoes or picking up your keys before leaving the house.

Notice your pet’s reaction and behavior when they notice this. Perhaps they have already conditioned your actions to mean that you’re leaving the house or taking them on a walk.

Traces of conditioning can also be witnessed in the classroom. For example, when one struggles with exams or bullying, they can harbor negative emotions towards school, and a school phobia is thus created.

The underlying idea is that before “learning”, the stimuli that have come to be associated with a certain mood or emotion were once neutral, but after repeated pairings, they became conditioned stimuli.

Thus, it’s important to try to evaluate our responses and see how they play into our emotions or experiences.

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