Classical conditioning has been a fundamental concept and practice throughout the history of psychology. While classical conditioning traditionally seeks to elicit target behaviors in correlation to specific stimuli, we sought to do the same with cognitive states in place of behaviors. Specifically, we wanted to determine the effectiveness of conditioning states of cognitive arousal in human participants in conjunction with cues presented in a designed learning task. We designed a cognitive task specifically for this research, referred to as “the Tone Pitching Task”, which utilized a combination of working memory and mental processing in order to elicit cognitive arousal and focus in participants. By presenting participants with cognitive tasks designed to elicit arousal, we aimed to create associations with the induced cognitive state and the neutral cues presented throughout the conditioning. By recording pupil dilation via eye tracking technology as well as EEG data, which served as measures of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity, we were able to determine the intensity of the induced cognitive state. In this initial study we sought to test the effectiveness of the “Tone Pitching Task” as an unconditioned stimulus for cognitive arousal. While this study suggests that the tone pitching task requires adjustments to serve as a robust unconditioned stimulus, we did observe within trial effects on pupil size as well as a negative correlation between pupil size and delta brain wave activity in the frontal cortex, as well as trends that suggest changes could be made to the tone pitching task in an attempt to improve future research.
Burns, Arthur, "Classical Conditioning of Cognitive States" (2022). Neuroscience Honors Papers. 16.