CLASSICAL CONDITIONING is basic biology (also known as Pavlovian conditioning). When stimuli predict “meaningful” events, the result may be classical conditioning. The event, the unconditioned stimulus (UCS), elicits an unconditioned response (UCR). A version of this response attaches to the predicting stimulus. When this happens, the stimulus is said to be a conditioned stimulus (CS), and the response to this stimulus, becomes a conditioned response (CR). An example is aversion conditioning, where alcohol is associated with a drug (the UCS), that results in vomiting (the UCR). The taste of this alcohol (CS) now produces nausea (CR). Presentation of the alcohol (CS), however, without the drug (UCS), ultimately results in extinction of nausea (CR).
classical conditioned physiology include blood sugar regulation (insulin
production by the pancreas), drug tolerance, withdrawal responses associated
with addiction to drugs, immune system suppression, organ rejection, single
cell learning, and many others.
Emotional classical conditioning, negative and positive, includes
conditioned fear, anxiety, panic, sexual arousal, hunger, sleep, wakefulness
(alertness), and likes and dislikes of all kinds (e.g., places, people, and activities). Breathing reflexes, like salivation in
Pavlov’s dog studies, can be easily and quickly classically conditioned to
stimuli, such as specific emotional, social, and physical experiences.
Classical conditioning of emotions plays an important role in the development of phobias about “getting your breath,” which may develop at an early age, or at any time, as a result of conditions such as asthma. The time interval itself between breaths, for example, may become the conditioned stimulus triggering fear, anxiety, or panic. The experience of the physical sensations of breathing itself may also serve as a conditioned stimulus (CS) that triggers emotional responses, e.g., the experience of fast breathing may trigger anxiety (or “worry”) not only about breathing but also badly exacerbate the stressful challenge at hand.
Stimulus generalization, basic to classical conditioning, means that although overbreathing may be learned under one set of circumstances, i.e., triggered by very specific conditioned stimuli, it will also “generalize” to similar but different sets of circumstances. The same is true of classically conditioned fear and other emotions involved in maladaptive breathing. This may be true not only perceptually but also metaphorically, where maladaptive breathing behaviors and related emotions may become embedded in seemingly unrelated complex patterns of coping behavior.
Behavioral Physiology Institute,