Classical Conditioning: Benefits and Weaknesses | Free Essay Example

Classical Conditioning: Benefits and Weaknesses

Words: 831
Topic: Psychology


Classical conditioning was coined by Ivan Pavlov, the renowned Russian psychologist. The phenomenon’s main objective is to identify the connection between the two stimuli. In this regard, experiments on how the association between two stimuli derive a common response are integral in classical conditioning. Classical conditioning involves both neutral and reflex stimuli (Pavlov 2003, p. 31). In addition, there are basic processes integral to the psychological phenomenon. In this regard, acquisition, generalization, discrimination, extinction, and spontaneous recovery are considered basic classical conditioning procedures. This paper examines the benefits and weaknesses of generalization and discrimination from an evolutionary perspective.


Generalization is a process that involves a conditioned response initialized after a stimulus is evoked from another stimulus. Precisely, the activity derived from an association between two stimuli is referred to in this case as a conditioned response. However, evoking similar responses from the conditioned stimulus is similar to stereotyped tendencies. For example, a dog can be conditioned to sit down upon hearing the sound of a whistle. In this regard, the dog may respond similarly by hearing a sound similar to that of the whistle. A conditioned response is perceived to be strong if the similarity between a newly evoked and the conditioned stimulus is greater.

Advantages of generalization

The evolution narrative heavily borrows its ideology from adaptation benefits (Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart & Roy 2007, p. 199). In this regard, the survival of animal and mankind depend on how they react to different scenarios. For example, mankind is likely to avoid rotten vegetables for fear of getting sick. In addition, mankind understands that survival tactics during the drought and winter seasons are necessary. In this regard, acquiring enough food stock is perceived as a necessary survival tactic to avoid hunger, malnutrition, and death. Generalization has been a critical factor in the transfer of behaviors across generations in both man and animals. Generalization behaviors are notable among men and animals living in different regions as a way of adapting to internal and external stimulus. For example, a tendency to wear warm clothes during the winter is a generalized behavior that is sometimes exhibited by hibernating animals.

Weaknesses of generalization

It is disadvantageous to learn that generalization can inhibit further thought. Mankind has survived over the years to establish a civilized society out of critical thinking. However, this cannot be achieved with the generalization of ideas, personalities, and cultures. In this regard, stimulus generalization inhibits innovation and creativity. For example, conditioned stimuli of a dangerous lion can be detrimental to an individual who sees a picture or reads about the same. The continued generalized of certain behavioral traits can be detrimental if critical factors such as cultural and socioeconomic conditions change with time.


Stimulus discrimination entails the process of distinguishing between similar stimuli by responding to a distinctive stimulus (Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart & Roy 2007, p. 200). However, discrimination is only manageable after a period of prolonged stimulus generalization. For example, conditioning dogs to distinguish between whistle commands to sit down and run is referred to as stimulus discrimination. However, this is possible after the dog is conditioned to sit at the sound of the whistle. In addition, with a little change in the stimulus, the dog learns to run. A simple experiment on dogs discriminating against the stimuli from different conditions explains the mechanism of stimulus discrimination. The experiment conditions the dogs to distinguish the difference between a circle and meat. In this context, the dog stops salivating at the mere gesture of a circle.

Benefits of stimulus discrimination

Stimulus discrimination is integral to the development of new adaptive behaviors. In this regard, the concept of learning is introduced to control behavior. Therefore, this is beneficial to mankind and animals that require behavioral management in relation to the condition. Behavioral control is integral in adapting to external factors or stimulus. Both mankind and animals have evolved using survival tactics that oversee domination of distinctive behaviors and characteristics.

Weaknesses of stimulus discrimination

Stimulus discrimination requires constant training to achieve a desired conditioned response. Sometimes, this causes frustration and undesired emotional distress or behavior. Making a mistake during stimulus conditioning or operant conditioning is easy, causing a disruption of the process.

Essay plan

Essay task

To discuss the benefits and weaknesses of generalization and discrimination from an evolution perspective.

Main purpose

Generalization and discrimination are major characteristics of classical conditioning. In this regard, the essay reviews the benefits and weaknesses attached to both elements from an evolution perspective.


  • Classical conditioning: A process involving both neutral and reflex stimulus.
  • Generalization: A process resulting in a conditioned response initialized after a stimulus is evoked from another stimulus.
  • Discrimination: The process of distinguishing generalized stimuli by responding to a distinctive stimulus.

Benefits and weaknesses


  • Benefits: The adaptation benefits include those of survival and transfer of behaviors across generations.
  • Weaknesses:  Inhibit innovation and creativity.


  • Benefits:  Development of new adaptive behaviors and behavioral control.
  • Weaknesses: Constant training, frustration, and undesired emotional distress or behavior.


Bernstein, D, Penner, L A, Clarke-Stewart, A & Roy, E 2007, Psychology, Cengage learning, Boston. Web.

Pavlov, I P 2003, Conditioned reflexes, Courier Dover Publications, New York. Web.