Operant and Classical Conditioning





Operant and Classical Conditioning

Burrhuss Fredrick Skinner had this exceptional belief that individuals had a unique way of thinking, and found it reasonable to study behaviors that are easily observed rather than the actions that take place in the mind of an individual. Skinner thought that the greatest way to comprehend behavior is to find out the causes of an individual action, and the consequences. He termed this kind of ideology operant conditioning. He mainly based his work on Thorndike’s law of effect.  Skinner came up with a new expression into the Law of Effect which was reinforcement.  Behavior that is reinforced is likely to be repeated by an individual, as well as behavior that is not reinforced is weakened and discouraged (Weiten pg 125).

In the year 1948, Skinner studied operant conditioning by undertaking experiments that involved placing animals in boxes he termed as Skinner box that was the same as Thorndike’s puzzle box. This brought out the idea that operant conditioning was a method of learning that involved rewards and punishments to change a person behavior. One of the characteristic aspects of the theory is attempts to present behavioral explanations for a wide range of the daily behaviors of an individual. Skinner accomplished this by explaining the motivation in terms of depriving and reinforcing schedules.

In 1975, Skinner tried to justify oral learning and language in the operant conditioning model, even though this idea was discarded by linguists together with psycholinguists. Operant conditioning is used mostly in a clinical environment, classroom situation and instructional programmes. The major components of operant conditioning are reinforcement. This can either be positive or negative (Weiten pg324).

One significant type of learning termed, Classical Conditioning, was discovered by a Russian psychologist named Ivan Pavlov. He discovered this fact when doing a study on digestion. This was aimed to understand the digestive patterns in dogs clearly. During these experiments, he placed meat powder in the dog’s mouth that had long tubes inserted into a variety of organs to assess bodily responses. The discovery was, dogs started to salivate before they were presented with the meat powder as this started when the person feeding the dogs came into the room. He started gaining interest in this incident, and deserted his digestion study to look into the now well-known Classical Conditioning study (Nicholas pg 398).

In essence, the findings hold up the suggestion that people develop responses to stimuli that do not occur naturally. When an individual touches a burning stove, one reflex pulls the hand away from heat emanated by the stove. This action takes place instinctually, as there is no learning in the whole process. It is just a survival instinct. This is the main reason why people tend to pull their hands away after getting burnt, as much as the stove is switched off. Pavlov outlined that people make associations that lead to generalizations of responses to stimuli paired with neutral stimulus. The stimulus does not naturally draw out the already conditioned response (Nicholas pg289).

Pavlov started blending the sound of the bell with the meat powder, and realized that as much as the meat powder was not given to the dog, in time it started to salivate after the sound of the bell. This is because the meat powder resulted in salivation of the dogs. The two variables are termed as the unconditioned stimulus, as well as unconditioned response. The sound of the bell and salivation of the dogs do not occur naturally, as the dog is conditioned to respond to the bell. Consequently, the bell is well thought-out as the conditioned stimulus, and the salivation of the dogs to the bell as the conditioned response. Many of people’s behaviors today is shaped by the coupling of stimuli. Individuals make associations all the time, not realizing the influence that these connections impact on an individual. Basically, individual have all undergone classical conditioning.

Work cited

Nicholas, Lionel. Introduction to Psychology. London: Cengage Learning , 2009.

Weiten, Wayne. Psychology:Themes and Variations. New York: Juta and Company Ltd, 2009.