Examples of Spontaneous Recovery: Psychology in Daily Life

, Staff Writer
Updated December 7, 2020
example of spontaneous recovery dog lay down
    dog spontaneous recovery example lay down
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    Used under Getty Images license

Spontaneous recovery is the reemergence of a response that had been previously conditioned using classical or operant conditioning. Find some spontaneous recovery examples seen in everyday life.

Spontaneous Recovery: Operant and Classical Conditioning

Spontaneous recovery is a theory of learning and memory associated with two types of conditioning: classical and operant.

  • classical conditioning - This is the most well known of the two types since it was the type of conditioning Pavlov explored in his famous experiment regarding dogs' salivation when food and a bell were associated. It includes either positive or negative conditioning.
  • operant conditioning - This is highly complex conditioning that includes both positive and negative conditioning.

Everyday Examples of Spontaneous Recovery

Explore spontaneous recovery examples seen in the world every day.

  • A rat is taught to push a lever when a light is flashed. Later, he is taught to push the lever when the bell is rung. He stops pushing the lever when the light is flashed. Months later, when the light is flashed he begins to push the lever again.
  • A child is taught to go to sleep when the light is turned off. However, for many months the child no longer falls asleep when the light is turned off. Then, the child begins to fall asleep when the light is turned off again.
  • A dog responds to the command "lay down." One day, he stops listening when told to lay down. Days later, he begins to lay down again.
  • A cat stops eating a plant when sprayed with water until one instance when the cat is sprayed and she continues to eat the plant. Eventually, weeks later, the cat once again responds to being sprayed with water and stops eating the plant.
  • A parrot is taught to repeat after its owner when a tapping noise is made and does so. However, the parrot stops responding to the tapping, but one day begins to talk again after hearing the tapping.
  • A baby learns to stop crying when her mother comes into the room. Then, even when her mother does come into the room, she continues to cry. Eventually, the original response of stopping the crying when the mother enters the room returns.
  • A neighborhood cat automatically runs when a door to a house is opened. Then, the cat stops running and remains where it is. Spontaneous recovery occurs when the cat begins to run again when the door opens.
  • A student immediately stops talking during instruction when his teacher purses her lips and shakes her head. However, the student changes this behavior by not responding to the teacher's expression. Then, he begins to once again respond.
  • A dog immediately runs to the food bowl after taking her morning walk. One day she starts to just go back to her dog bed. Then, weeks later, she begins to resume her normal response of running to the food bowl.
  • A cat meows when hearing a bell because she associates that bell with food. However, the cat stops meowing when the bell is rung without the presence of food. After a few weeks, a bell is rung and the cat meows.
  • Pepperoni makes a child sick every time they eat it. That child grows up and moves past their food allergy. However, at a pizza restaurant, the smell of pepperoni suddenly make that person feel nauseous.
  • When a child hears the music of the ice cream truck, they run to the door because their parent usually buys them ice cream. After a few weeks of not getting ice cream, the child stops running to the door. A month later, they hear the ice cream truck jingle and run to the door.
  • Every day a dog is fed, his food bowl bangs against the ground. The bang makes the dog excited about food. For several weeks, the food bowl is banged against the ground with no food. The dog stops getting excited to be fed. A few weeks later when a food bowl is banged on the ground, the dog gets excited.

Understanding Spontaneous Recovery

Now you can see different examples of spontaneous recovery. This will help you to better understand how this type of behavior is exhibited. With spontaneous recovery under your belt, you can check out examples of positive punishment.