Classical conditioning (respondent conditioning) deals primarily with smooth muscles and is associated with reflexes and instincts. Classical conditioning is a very important element of any training program. It’s through classical conditioning that we can use and/or understand conditioned reinforcement. Understanding classical conditioning is especially helpful in dealing with problems relating to fear.
Respondent behavior is part of an animal’s inherited biological structure. It is something the animal was born with and for the most part is not something the animal had to learn. Respondent behaviors are elicited by stimuli that come before and causes the behavior. The stimuli that originally causes or elicits a respondent is called an eliciting stimulus. One gets respondent behavior by presenting an eliciting stimulus before the behavior, and not by controlling the consequences of what happens after the behavior occurs.
An example of an eliciting stimulus is a bright light that is shined into an animal’s eye. An example of the corresponding respondent behavior is the animal’s pupils constricting. From this example we can see that the animal did not need to learn to constrict its pupils in the presence of a bright light. Pupil constriction is part of the animals biological structure or function.
The frequency at which respondents occur are fairly predictable, in that they regularly occur when their eliciting stimuli are presented.
Respondent conditioning takes place when stimulus that does not elicit a response (neutral stimuli) is presented at the same time or slightly before an eliciting stimulus. When the new stimulus is able to elicit the respondent, the new stimulus is called a conditioned stimulus. Respondent conditioning has occurred when a neutral stimulus becomes able to elicit the respondent.
Respondent conditioning does not deal with increasing the number of responses or the frequency of responses, or teaching new behaviors. Respondent conditioning is concerned with turning neutral stimuli into conditioned stimuli that can elicit respondent behavior.