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Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a critical factor in both human and animal psychology. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) classical conditioning can be viewed as a transdiagnostic mechanism (maintenance factor) with client difficulties often the result of conditioned responses. Once formulated in this way it can be seen that many difficulties may respond to a process whereby they are extinguished. This worksheet includes a simple one-page description of classical conditioning and why it is important in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Examples of common difficulties to which this might apply include phobias or other anxieties, which respond to exposure-based (i.e. extinction) treatments.

This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:

  • Client handout - use as a psychoeducation resource
  • Discussion point - use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
  • Therapist learning tool - improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
  • Teaching resource - use as a learning tool during training
  • Pavlov, I. P. (1897/1902). The work of the digestive glands. London: Griffin.
  • Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158–177
  • Watson, J. B., & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3(1), pp. 1–14.



Classical Conditioning