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Spontaneous Recovery

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Definition:

In classical conditioning, the reappearance of the conditioned response after a rest period or period of lessened response. If the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are no longer associated, extinction will occur very rapidly after a spontaneous recovery.

For example, in Ivan Pavlov's classic experiment, dogs were conditioned to salivate to the sound of a tone. Pavlov also noted that no longer pairing the tone with the presentation of food led to extinction of the salivation response. However, after a two hour rest period, the salivation response suddenly reappeared when the tone was presented.

Spontaneous recovery demonstrates that extinction is not the same thing as unlearning. While the response might disappear, that does not meant that it has been forgotten or eliminated.

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