Q. Evaluate the explanations of contiguity, contingency and blocking for why classical conditioning works. 10 marks

6 thoughts on “Learning”

  1. Pavlov believed that classical conditioning is the learning of simple associations. But later researchers have shown that it involves cognitive processes.


    Cognitive explanation of CC differs from traditional explanation in that it holds that CC works not because of the inherent ability of stimulus to evoke response in the organism but because of the organism’s UNDERSTANDING of the relation between CS & US.

    (I) CONTIGUITY THEORY: The traditional explanation that associative learning develops due to temporal proximity between CS & US has been disproved by various studies.

    Ex: 1. Ineffectiveness of Backward Conditioning as compared to forward conditioning despite CS & US being contiguous in time. This is because once US is presented, CS which follows it provides no additional or useful information.

    2. Pavlov classically conditioned a dog to the ticking of a metronome. When it stopped, the dog whined at it. Organism responding even when there’s no stimulus shows the role of cognition in even lower order organisms.

    (II) CONTINGENCY THEORY: It says that CC occurs when organism learns that US is contingent on CS, ie, there’s a likelihood of reward following the cue.

    Ex: Rescorla & Wagner showed that pairing of CS with US creates an EXPECTANCY that CS heralds the coming of US. It also explained effect of blocking.

    (III) BLOCKING THEORY: Conditioning of one CS prevented by previous conditioning to another CS.

    This is because CC occurs when CS provides some useful information about US, in the absence of which organism does not respond.

    Ex: Kamin’s study on rats using 2 CS, light & tone, showed blocking of 2nd CS.

    Thus, for classical conditioning, it is not enough for CS to be just contiguous with US, it should also provide some useful information that creates expectancy of US in the organism.

  2. After Ivan pavlov’s explaination few new theories got added in classical conditioning as follows;

    1. Contiguity theory- It refers to the proximity or nearness. It says that CS and US must be contiguous in time.
    e.g- After ‘bell’ food must be presented in minimum possible time to build strong association.

    2. Contingency- It says that CS is a good signal for US , which creates expectancy for US and US works as reinforcement for response on CS
    e.g – the beep sound of microwave provides signal and expectancy of hot delicious food , which is reinforcement in itself.

    3. Blocking- CS providss useful information about US anf if not, then previous conditioning blocks the new one.
    e.g- an experiment done in 2 phases;
    Phase1- hissing sound + electric shock
    ( CS) (US)
    leads to fear (UR), after few trials hissing sound alone produces the fear.

    Phase 2- light + hissing sound + shock
    (Simultaneously)(CS) (US)
    but light alone , couldn’t produce fear because it couldn’t provide information of electric shock when presented alone, and
    Hissing sound blocks its way.

    Hence , conditioning couldn’t occur without contiguity, contingency and useful information which shows that learning is purposive.

  3. The theories of contiguity, contingency and blocking focus on the role of cognition in learning due to Classical conditioning(CC)

    • Theory of contiguity emphasizes that the only condition necessary for the association of stimuli and responses is that there be a close temporal relationship between them.
    ‌- It successfully explains the involuntary responses shown towards stimuli such as  food, attractive person, etc.
    ‌- It however fails to explain the learning that happens in the absence of temporal proximity. Eg: nauseating feeling in the morning after having alcohol in the night.

    • Theory of contingency states that CS acts as good signal for US.
    -‌ Points out at US being a reinforcer for CS-CR combination
    ‌- Explains the concept of extinction of CR when US is not followed by CS.
    ‌- It however, fails to explain the blocking effect of stimulus.

    • Blocking theory emphasizes that CS acts as good signal for US and also provides non-redundant information on the occurrence of US, due to which blocking of another stimulus (compounded to initially conditioned stimulus) takes place.
    ‌- It also explains why backward conditioning doesn’t work.

    Each of the theories explains learning due to CC and holds true in different cases. However, explanation to selective nature of learning due to conditioning in higher order beings is not available in these theories.

  4. Model answer outline :
    Continuity occurs when two stimuli are experienced close together in time and as a result an association may be formed.
    Psychologists believed that classical conditioning occurs because CS and US are presented in succession and contiguity .
    Later research studies by Robert Rescorla showed that contiguity alone does not guarantee conditioning.
    Classical conditioning occurs only when CS has informational value or is a good predictor of the US. This is contingency. Support for contingency assumption was provided by experiment in which occasional CS – US pairing produced no response.
    Other researchers suggested that Roscorla’s explanation did not go far enough. Blocking was introduced to explain that not only must CS and US be contingent but must also provide non- redundant information about the occurance of US in order for conditioning to occur.
    A dog which has been conditioned with the bell. Now is paired with light too. Logically light should also get conditioned but the result is not so. The dog is found to be indifferent to light as tone has already predicted coming of the meat powder.
    We therefore can say that all three factors are involved in the classical conditioning. Their relative importance however is yet to be clarified from more controlled studies.

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