Classical Conditioning Project Ideas

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Educate your high school students about classical conditioning with these helpful project ideas, which will emphasize cooperating together and using analytical skills.

Why Classical Conditioning?

Ivan Pavlov and John Watson were two famous psychologists who brought classical conditioning to the forefront of the scientific field. Two stimuli are paired together, and eventually, they create a conditioned response. The studies have been considered controversial at times, but in the end, many scientists believe they will help to better understand the actions and motivations of animals and humans. The following projects to be completed in pairs and groups will assist your high schoolers as they cooperate together to accomplish their goals and learn about classical conditioning.

Classical Conditioning and Phobias Science Fair Booths

Materials: colored markers, construction paper (one large sheet and two small sheets per pair of students), glue, Internet device, scissors, tape

Science fair booths are ideal ways to showcase the concept of phobias. In addition, your students can work together in pairs and compete for small prizes.

  • For this project, your students will work in small groups of 4-6 to create science fair booths devoted to studying various phobias and ways to cure them.
  • Students will research phobias and classical conditioning. This will be how classical conditioning plays into phobias or cures them. One example would be if you were wearing a bright green shirt when you got chased home by a large dog. Another day when you went to put on that shirt, wearing it or even just seeing it might cause you anxiety. In reverse, some psychologists utilize a type of classical conditioning known as systematic desensitization to cure people of phobias. They might have someone get closer and closer to a harmless garden snake until they were no longer afraid of it.
  • Phobias could include:
    • acrophobia - fear of heights
    • aerophobia - fear of flying
    • astraphobia - fear of thunder and lightning
    • autophobia - fear of being alone
    • claustrophobia - fear of confined spaces
    • hydrophobia - fear of water
  • To build their projects, have the students place the large sheet of construction paper in a vertical position, and the two smaller sheets to either side at angles. Have each pair demonstrate one phobia and its relationship to classical conditioning.
  • Award three small prizes for the three best science fair booths. As an option, students can create accompanying videos about phobias.

Discussion Question: Which phobia is the most rational, and which phobia is the most irrational? Justify your answers.

Create Your Own Classical Conditioning Experiment

Materials: candy (no peanuts), Internet access, paper, writing instruments

  • In this project, your students will work in small groups of 3-5 to design their very own Ivan Pavlov classical conditioning experiment. However, this is the fun catch. Their projects will be designed for humans instead of animals. For example:
    • A student claps and hands another student a small piece of candy at the same time. Later the student claps without giving the piece of candy. How will the other student react this time?

Discussion Question: How do you compare the way animals are classically conditioned to the way in which people are classically conditioned?

Classical Conditioning Experts

Materials: Internet capability, paper, writing utensils

For these projects, break your students into small groups of 3-5. Have them go online or to the school library to research as much as they can about classical conditioning.

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