Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Classical Conditioning

In the 20th century, prior to the birth of artificial neural networks (McCulloch & Pitts, 1943), empiricism was the province of experimental psychology.  Detailed study of classical conditioning (Pavlov, 1927) explored the subtle regularities of the law of contiguity.  Pavlovian or classical conditioning begins with an unconditioned stimulus (US) that is capable, without training, of producing an unconditioned response (UR).  Also of interest is a conditioned stimulus (CS) that when presented will not produce the UR.  In classical conditioning, the CS is paired with the US for a number of trials.  As a result of this pairing – which places the CS in contiguity with the UR – the CS becomes capable of eliciting the UR on its own.  When this occurs, the UR is known as the conditioned response (CR).  Although classical conditioning is usually seen to be part of behaviorism or animal learning theory, it has important contact with cognitive science.  For instance, Dawson (2008) examined the relationship between animal learning models and perceptron models of classical conditioning, and discovered some paradoxical findings that required an appeal to the tri-level hypothesis of cognitive science in order to be disentangled.


  1. Dawson, M. R. W. (2008). Connectionism and classical conditioning. Comparative Cognition and Behavior Reviews, 3 (Monograph), 1-115.
  2. McCulloch, W. S., & Pitts, W. (1943). A logical calculus of the ideas immanent in nervous activity. Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics, 5, 115-133.
  3. Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned Reflexes. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

(Added April 2011)