conditioning (also called Pavlovian conditioning, after Ivan
Pavlov, the physiologist who first studied it) is a simple
form of learning
in which the subject learns that one stimulus predicts that
an important event will occur. For example, in Pavlov's initial
studies, dogs were trained that the first stimulus, ringing
of a bell, predicted that food would arrive. Once the dogs
had learned this association between bell and food, Pavlov
found that ringing the bell could cause the dogs to salivate
in anticipation of the food.
by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain
There are many other forms of classical conditioning, in which
various stimuli such as lights, sounds, and smells can be
used to predict various salient events such as food rewards,
electric shocks, and loud noises. Classical conditioning has
been very broadly studied because the same rules appear to
govern learning of these associations in a variety of species
including rats, rabbits, sea slugs, birds and humans.
In humans, classical conditioning is often considered to be
an example of non-declarative learning or
implicit learning -- which can occur without
conscious awareness. Human patients with damage to the hippocampus,
a brain structure important for new declarative (fact-based)
learning are often able to condition as well as healthy people.
However, there is recent evidence suggesting that if the contingencies
are more complex (e.g., one combination of lights predicts
an electric shock but a second combination does not) the hippocampus
may indeed be critical for classical conditioning.