Classical Conditioning Classroom Exercises

Any student who takes a psychology class is familiar with the principles of Ivan Pavlov's classical conditioning learning models. In classical conditioning, a subject learns a behavior through subconscious stimuli. Classical conditioning exercises in the classroom help reinforce lessons presented about both conditioned and unconditioned stimuli and their effects on learned behaviors.

Conditioned Buzzer Response

The conditioned buzzer responses is an exercise that demonstrates how quickly a group can be conditioned to perform a specific activity. In this exercise, the teacher reads a paragraph that has certain words in bold. Students are instructed to tap their pencils every time "the" is read. While reading all bold words, some of which are "the," a bell is tapped. Students will become conditioned to tap the pencil at the bell, increasing the number of pencil taps to all bold words, not just the word, "the."

Pulse Conditioning


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Pair students together. Have one student sit and relax for two minutes. After the two minutes, have the relaxed student take his pulse. After the pulse reading, the partner taps a pencil on the desk five times. At this point, the relaxed student needs to stand up and hop on one leg for 30 seconds before re-taking the pulse. Repeat the procedure four times, having the partner record all data. At the fifth time of relaxing, the partner will tap the pencil five times, and the relaxed student will take his pulse without jumping. See if the pulse goes up based on conditioning.


With a volunteer sitting at a desk in the front of the class, stand behind the student, tap the desk three times with a yardstick then tap the student on the head once. Repeat this three times. On the last repetition, tap the desk four times instead of the three times and one on the head. A conditioned responses shows the student expecting the tap on the head. The class should be able to see the response.

Understanding Conditioning


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Most classroom exercises will work on conditioned stimuli. This means you are using a specifically introduced stimuli like the bell or yardstick to illicit a response over the conditioning time. An unconditioned stimulus is something like smelling a food that made you sick might illicit feeling nauseated. There are also conditioned and unconditioned responses that students should learn to identify. A conditioned response is the result of a specific stimulus being used to invoke a specific response, like giving a punishment makes someone feel bad. An unconditioned is one of association. For example, if a student was playing with a puppy when a conditioned stimulus was set to startle him, the student may associate the puppy with being startled and become afraid of the puppy.