Studies have shown that animals can quickly learn specific associations. This skill is also easily learned by humans. Even animals at the lower levels of the hierarchy can learn specific associations. The specific associations they learn tend to be the most important in shaping their behavior. Many practical applications of classical conditioning have been discovered in addition to the scientific understanding. This article examines some of the applications of classical conditioning. We also discuss how it can be used to prevent animal suffering.
Rats are especially adept at learning how to press a button to get food. If they have to press a button, pigeons will not be able to avoid electric shocks. They can jump to avoid the shock and peck at a specific spot to get food. Pigeons can learn to hop on a trowel to get food. The reason is that some behaviors are already programmed into the animal’s DNA.
For example, dogs do not naturally salivate in response to the sound of a bell, even when it’s in the same environment. Only when the conditioned stimulus is presented – a bell – does their salivation respond. This prevents them from eating other stimuli, such as a bell or light. Similarly, an animal cannot naturally salivate in response to footsteps, but it learns to respond to certain stimuli.
Most animals are programmed to learn in certain ways. This makes sense in evolutionary terms. Nonetheless, the specifics associated with learning are not completely clear, but we can generalize about the characteristics of learning. For example, bees should be able associate the shape of a bell with that of a flower. But this does not mean that a bell and a flower are unrelated.
Dogs can also be trained to salivate when they hear a bell. The same goes for whistles. A dog’s salivation response can be trained through repetitive exposure to a whistle or the sound of a bell. The more these two factors are combined, the more likely an animal will learn the associations that support its behavior. And this happens with a lot of things.
The principles of operant conditioning have been widely studied for decades. Operational conditioning is a theory that any animal can learn to perform any behavior. In other words, it is possible to teach an animal any behavior by pairing it with an appropriately shaped stimulus. In some experiments, animals can be taught to respond to anything that triggers the same reaction. This method requires some initial shaping.