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Classical and operant conditioning

There are two main explanations of how organisms learn. The

first explanation is known as classical conditioning. The second

explanation is known as operant conditioning. These two types of

learning are exhibited in our everyday lives through our home,

school, and school.

Classical conditioning was discovered by Iran Petrovich

Pavlov. He was originally a physiologist whose main focus was

the digestive system (Gazzaniga 230). His discovery was made

during a study on the salivation of dogs when given food. Pavlov

observed that the dogs began salivating at the sound of the

scientists footsteps and at their appearance into the room (231).

This led Pavlov to study the phenomenon further.

The experiments that Pavlov was originally observing were

based on the set of unconditioned stimulus and its unconditioned

response. What is meant by conditioned is that the response is

automatic and based on instinct. To compliment this name the

stimulus is known as the unconditioned stimulus (Myers 260).

With Pavlov's new observations a new set of stimulus and response

was found. This new set is known as the conditioned stimulus and

the conditioned response. What is meant by conditioned response

here is that the response was learned. The stimulus begins as

neutral and causes no conditioned response. However, if the

neutral stimulus can be associated with another stimulus, then it

becomes a conditioned stimulus.

Classical conditioning can be exemplified in the home,

school, and school. In the home a child could smell brownies

baking in the kitchen which makes her mouth water. The brownies

are the unconditioned stimulus, the smell is the conditioned

stimulus, and the watering of the mouth is the conditioned

response (Myers 267-68). In work a man may be waiting to be

fired. When he sees his boss he begins to sweat. The

unconditioned stimulus is getting fired, the conditioned stimulus

is the sight of the boss, the conditioned response is the

sweating. In school a boy may be in class when suddenly the fire

alarm goes off at which time the boy walks to exit the building.

The unconditioned stimulus is fear of a fire, the conditioned

stimulus is the sound of the alarm, and the conditioned response

is the exiting of the building.

Operant conditioning is an organism's learning an

association between how it behaves and what happens as a result

of that behavior (Gazzaniga 244). There are some differences

between classical and operant conditioning. First, the operant

response has to occur completely spontaneously. In classical

conditioning the conditioned response is drawn from an organism.

In operant conditioning the response is delivered by the organism

which then awaits the consequences. Second, in classical

conditioning the conditioned response is usually a "very well-

defined muscular movement or glandular response" (244). In

operant conditioning the response is a set of actions that bring

about an essentially equal result. Third, in classical

conditioning reinforcement is dictated by the scientist or

instructor. In operant conditioning reinforcement is dictated by

the organism (245).

Edward L. Thorndike was the first person to formally address

the affects of reward and punishment in learning. He came up

with the positive law of effect which stated that when a behavior

is rewarded that behavior will be more likely to be repeated

(Myers 269). F. B. Skinner later elaborated on this theory.

Skinner observed there are different types of operant

conditioning. There is punishment which decreases the

probability of a behavior being repeated. There is positive

reinforcement which the giving of a reward for a behavior (Myers

270). An example of this in the home would be the giving of a

cookie to a child for picking up all his toys. There is negative

reinforcement which is the taking away of something undesirable

(Myers 270). An example of this in work would be a man at work

who is allergic to flowers, but must sit near them since his boss

likes them. The boss says that she will take away the flowers if

he gets his report done early.

This reinforcement can be divided into two categories;

primary and secondary. Primary reinforcers are things that are

required by an organism such as food, warmth, water, sleep, and

sex (Gazzaniga 252). Secondary reinforcers are things that are

associated with primary reinforcers and therefore have their own

reinforcing properties. An excellent example of this today is

money which can be used to obtain many primary reinforcers (252).

Reinforcement fits into one of five main schedules. There

is partial reinforcement or the irregularity of reinforcement.

Continuous reinforcement is the repetitive reinforcement given

after completing a task. Fixed ratio reinforcement is when a

certain number of responses must be given to obtain a reward.

Fixed interval reinforcement is when a response must be given for

a certain amount of time to obtain a reward. Finally, variable

ratio reinforcement is when a certain number of responses are

required for the first reward, but different numbers of responses

are required for different rewards.

In closing, classical and operant conditioning are two

explanations of an organisms learning. These two explanations

are valid and existent. This can be seen through our experiences

in the home, work, and school.

Works Cited

Gazzaniga, Michael S. Psychology. Philadelphia: Harper & Row

Publishers, 1980.

Myers, David G. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers, 1995.

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