Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Harry Potter and Classical Conditioning do mix!

I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a few nights ago, and I came across a part that rung a bell in my head.  Talking about classical conditioning, this part followed the model perfectly. 

In HP, Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are breaking into Gringotts, the magical bank that is supposedly impenetrable.  Harry uses a forbidden curse to force a goblin to take them down to a specific vault, where they are trying to steal a goblet that is really a Horcrux. 

Anyway, the goblet has to grab the "clankers" because that is the only way to get past the dragon.  What are the clankers, ask all you non-HP fans?  Well, the clankers are simply the tool used to stimulate the classical conditioning of the dragon.  The clankers are a bag of metal shapes that make a specific tone when shaken.  They are the neutral stimulus.  The unconditioned stimulus is a red-hot sword that is used to slash the dragon in the face.  This, of course, scares the dragon and delivers severe pain (unconditioned response).  Then, the neutral stimulus (clankers) were introduced with the sword to deliver pain.  After the dragon exhibited acquisition of the desired behavior, the unconditioned response was taken away.  Then, the conditioned stimulus (clankers) created the conditioned response (pain and fear).  Here's a visual...

sword-----> pain and fear
sword + clankers------> pain and fear
clankers------> pain and fear

In the story, the clankers immediately force the dragon back, and Harry and friends all get to the vault unscathed.  Side note: the story revealed that they had not used the sword in a long time.  This would result in extinction and the dragon would eventually ignore the clankers.

In this case, the goblins used a positive punishment because they gave a red-hot sword slash to the face of the dragon.  Also, the schedule probably started at a fixed ratio and then turned into a variable ratio.


  1. haha you are such a nerd. Just kidding, this was an interesting way to relate to conditioning.

  2. I have to say this made my day ^^, semi-frantically revising learning theory today, I'm sure if I remember your post, I think I'll have conditioning cracked. Cheers :P

  3. I love this!! I feel a certain excitement when I find real life examples of classical conditioning. Well, Harry Potter is real enough for me. ^_^