This essay will first explore what classical conditioning is by using Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiment with dogs to explain how it works. It will then go on to describe how classical conditioning led to more research by Edward L. Thorndike and B.F. Skinner in the study of instrumental behaviour (Gleitman et al. 2011). It will also mention briefly what similarities can be found between operant and classical conditioning before explaining in detail what operant conditioning is (Skinner’s experiment with the operant conditioning chamber will be used to illustrate this explanation), and, finally, why and in what way it is different to classical conditioning.
Classical conditioning is what takes place when there is an association between a conditioned stimulus (CS) and an unconditioned stimulus (US) in order to obtain a conditioned response (CR) (Gleitman, Gross, Reisberg, 2011).
For example, imagine someone felt a puff of air hit their face. Their natural reaction would be to blink – this is called an unconditioned response (UR). But if they were to hear a horn just before they felt the puff of air, after repetition, they would blink when they heard the horn, to prepare themselves for the puff of air. In this scenario, blinking to the sound of the horn is the CR to the pairing of a CS (the horn) and an US (the puff of air) (Coon, 2005).
These terms (CS, US, CR, UR), as well as the word “conditioning”, were first employed by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936), who originally studied the digesti...
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...nner: behaviour changes voluntarily in order to gain a reward (Gleitman, et al. 2011).
That being said, modern theorists have claimed that although there is a distinction to be made between the two, operant and classical conditioning are actually quite common, as “both involve learning about relationships among simple events (stimuli or responses)” (Gleitman et al. 2011, p281). Regardless of their differences or similarities however, both have played an important part in the study of learning. With operant conditioning allowing to condition more complex behaviours that can be done with classical conditioning, and with classical conditioning being what helped discover operant conditioning in the first place, it can be argued here that the two are complementary. Indeed, one cannot speak of operant conditioning without mentioning classical conditioning, and vice versa.
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