10 Classical Conditioning Examples in Everyday Life

, Content Lead
Updated April 19, 2021
10 Classical Conditioning Examples in Everyday Life
    Shiba inu to practice pushing a bell
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Have you heard of Pavlov’s dogs? That’s the experiment conducted by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov wherein his dogs started to salivate when he rang a bell. This is the best-known example of classical conditioning, when a neutral stimulus is paired with a conditioned response. Did you know there are many classical conditioning examples in everyday life, too? Let’s explore 10 of them.

1. Smartphone Tones and Vibes

If you've ever been in a public area and heard a familiar notification chime, this classical conditioning example will certainly ring true for you. You hear that tone and instinctively reach for your smartphone, only to realize it's coming from someone else's phone.

The chime or tone is a neutral stimulus. Through classical conditioning, you've come to associate it with the positive feeling of reading a message. It's the same reason why you might reach for your phone when you think you feel it vibrating in your pocket, even if it isn't.


2. Celebrities in Advertising

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. Advertisers are taking advantage of our positive associations with these celebrities in order to sell more products and services. Michael Jordan doesn't have anything to do directly with Nike shoes, just as Jennifer Aniston isn't inherently linked to Smartwater.

Potential customers then see a bottle of Smartwater and start to experience the same positive feelings as when they see Jennifer Aniston.

3. Restaurant Aromas

Many real-world classical conditioning examples are near perfect parallels for Pavlov's original experiment. When you're greeted with the familiar smell of pizza fresh out of the oven, you might already start salivating, even before you take your first bite. The aroma of the food to come serves the same role as Pavlov's ringing bell.


4. Fear of Dogs

As a child, let's say you walked the same route to school each day. As you passed a particular house, a dog in the yard would bark loudly at you, bearing its teeth. This is a frightening experience, particularly as a young child. Prior to this, dogs were a fairly neutral stimulus.

Years later, you may experience a case of spontaneous recovery. You may not even remember the childhood dog specifically, but as you walk past a similar-looking house with a "beware of dog" sign on the fence, you get unnerved and start to tremble.

5. A Good Report Card

The report card that you get from school, on its own, is nothing more than a piece of paper. It's also true that the fundamentals of behaviorism can be used to improve academic performance. Maybe each time you brought home a great report card, your parents would take you out for dinner at your favorite restaurant. Or, they'd shower you with praise.

Then, the next time you receive a good report card, you already well up with happy emotions, even before you bring it home to show your parents. That's because you're already anticipating those positive consequences.


6. Experiences in Food Poisoning

Just like the negative experience with the barking dog above, the principles of classical conditioning can apply to so many other areas of everyday life. Any individual dish or type of food, if you've never eaten it before, is a blank slate for possible associations.

If the first time you eat sushi, you get terrible food poisoning, then it's possible that almost anything to do with that sushi experience could gain negative associations and give you food aversion. Perhaps just the smell of sushi rice could make you want to gag, or the sight of raw fish could make you feel sick to your stomach.

7. Excited for Recess

Playing outside with your friends is an inherently happy experience. It's a source of great joy. The bell used to indicate the beginning of recess is neutral, if not even a little negative if it's too loud or harsh. It can even hurt your ears!

But, as that recess bell accurately predicts the beginning of recess, you may get really excited and happy each time you hear it. Even outside of school, when you hear a similar-sounding bell, you may well up with the same positive emotions.


8. Exam Anxiety

The pencil, the printed sheets of paper, the desk, the chalkboard, and all the other inanimate objects that surround writing a test or exam in school are all neutral stimuli in and of themselves. It's only because students come to associate them, along with the dead silence of the room or the nervously-ticking wall clock, to the stress of writing a test that they elicit a negative response.

An often overlooked aspect of SAT practice is gaining a comfort level with exam conditions. If you can try to replicate those conditions and provide positive associations, you won't feel as nervous or stressed when you're writing the actual test.

9. Routine Immunizations

When a child goes in for a routine immunization, they may not know exactly what to expect. After they feel the slight pain of the shot, they may start to cry and get upset at just the sight of the needle on subsequent visits.

This type of classical conditioning can even happen vicariously. If there is a lineup of children, the kids further back in the line can start to get upset when they see other children crying after receiving their immunizations.


10. Holiday Music

The hope for many retail stores is that you have positive associations with Christmas music. That's why they play the holiday classics over the speakers. This "festive spirit," they hope, will lead you to purchase more items. This is somewhat similar to how advertisements pair celebrities or depictions of positive experiences with their products.

Classical Conditioning vs. Operant Conditioning

Classical conditioning examples are all around us. Otherwise neutral things in our lives take on positive and negative associations over time. For a different type of learning that rewards and punishes certain behaviors, check out these operant conditioning examples. Do you know about positive and negative reinforcement? Do those terms ring a bell?