Eyeblink Classical Conditioning In Humans

It was previously noted that different types of classical conditioning paradigms can be distinguished on the basis of the measures response. By the early 1930s, successful classical conditioning had been reported in 23 different response systems (e.g., eyeblink response, skin conductance response, pupillary response, leg flexion response, and salivary response). Of these numerous preparations, the majority were explored for only short periods before being, for the most part, abandoned for one reason or another. For example, the salivary preparation in humans or other experimental animals never flourished because of many methodological difficulties.

Classical conditioning of the skin conductance response has had a long history dating back to the late 19th century. However, skin conductance conditioning failed to flourish in the 1930s-1950s because the physiological basis of the response was poorly understood and difficult to measure accurately with the equipment of the day. A renewed interest occurred in the 1960s due to a better understanding of the physiology of the response and better and more readily available equipment for measuring and quantifying the response. Today, this paradigm still enjoys some popularity with researchers studying cognitive factors of classical conditioning and the neural mechanism underlying conditioned emotional responses.

By the 1940s the human eyeblink classical conditioning paradigm had surpassed all other conditioning paradigms in terms of number of articles published primarily because it was methodologically superior to all other classical conditioning paradigms. From the 1940s through the 1960s, studies of human eyeblink conditioning remained the dominant paradigm for studying the processes and variables that related to classical conditioning. During this time, methodological improvements that included precise measurement of the eyeblink response allowed investigators to explore the effects of such variables as the intertrial interval, interstimulus interval, CS intensity, US intensity, and variable reinforcement schedules. Additionally, cognitive factors were also extensively explored. For example, subjects were asked about the information they acquired during the conditioning session. This information was then compared to how well the subjects acquired the CR. Other studies explored how instruction sets affected CR acquisition rates: that is, how different verbal instructions given to subjects before conditioning affected CR acquisition rates.

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