Conditioning is a training technique that takes one of two forms: Classical/Pavlovian conditioning or Operant/Instrumental conditioning.
Classical and operant conditioning are two important concepts central to behavioral psychology. While both result in learning, the processes are quite different. In order to understand how each of these behavior modification techniques can be used, it is also essential to understand how classical conditioning and operant conditioning differ from one another.
- First described by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist
- Involves placing a neutral signal before a reflex
- Focuses on involuntary, automatic behaviors
- First described by B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist
- Involves applying reinforcement or punishment after a behavior
- Focuses on strengthening or weakening voluntary behaviors
The Differences Between Classical and Operant Conditioning
One of the simplest ways to remember the differences between classical and operant conditioning is to focus on whether the behavior is involuntary or voluntary. Classical conditioning involves making an association between an involuntary response and a stimulus, while operant conditioning is about making an association between a voluntary behavior and a consequence.
In operant conditioning, the learner is also rewarded with incentives, while classical conditioning involves no such enticements. Also remember that classical conditioning is passive on the part of the learner, while operant conditioning requires the learner to actively participate and perform some type of action in order to be rewarded or punished.
How Classical Conditioning Works
Even if you are not a psychology student, you have probably at least heard about Pavlov's dogs. In his famous experiment, Ivan Pavlov noticed dogs began to salivate in response to a tone after the sound had been repeatedly paired with the presentation of food. Pavlov quickly realized that this was a learned response and set out to further investigate the conditioning process.
Classical conditioning involves pairing a previously neutral stimulus (such as the sound of a bell) with an unconditioned stimulus (the taste of food). This unconditioned stimulus naturally and automatically triggers salivating as a response to the food, which is known as the unconditioned response. After associating the neutral stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus, the sound of the bell alone will start to evoke salivating as a response. The sound of the bell is now known as the conditioned stimulus and salivating in response to the bell is known as the conditioned response.
Some key concepts in classical conditioning
Acquisition is the initial stage of learning when a response is first established and gradually strengthened. For example, imagine that you are conditioning a dog to salivate in response to the sound of a bell. You repeatedly pair the presentation of food with the sound of the bell. You can say the response has been acquired as soon as the dog begins to salivate in response to the bell tone. Once the response has been acquired, you can gradually reinforce the salivation response to make sure the behavior is well learned.
Extinction is when the occurrences of a conditioned response decrease or disappear. In classical conditioning, this happens when a conditioned stimulus is no longer paired with an unconditioned stimulus. For example, if the smell of food (the unconditioned stimulus) had been paired with the sound of a whistle (the conditioned stimulus), it would eventually come to evoke the conditioned response of hunger. However, if the unconditioned stimulus (the smell of food) were no longer paired with the conditioned stimulus (the whistle), eventually the conditioned response (hunger) would disappear.
- Spontaneous Recovery
Spontaneous Recovery is the reappearance of the conditioned response after a rest period or period of lessened response. If the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are no longer associated, extinction will occur very rapidly after a spontaneous recovery.
- Stimulus Generalization
Stimulus Generalization is the tendency for the conditioned stimulus to evoke similar responses after the response has been conditioned. For example, if a child has been conditioned to fear a stuffed white rabbit, the child will exhibit fear of objects similar to the conditioned stimulus.
Discrimination is the ability to differentiate between a conditioned stimulus and other stimuli that have not been paired with an unconditioned stimulus. For example, if a bell tone were the conditioned stimulus, discrimination would involve being able to tell the difference between the bell tone and other similar sounds.
How Operant Conditioning Works
Operant (or instrumental) conditioning focuses on using either reinforcement or punishment to increase or decrease a behavior. Through this process, an association is formed between the behavior and the consequences for that behavior. For example, imagine that a trainer is trying to teach a dog to fetch a ball. When the dog successful chases and picks up the ball, the dog receives praise as a reward. When the animal fails to retrieve the ball, the trainer withholds the praise. Eventually, the dog forms an association between his behavior of fetching the ball and receiving the desired reward.
Some key concepts in operant conditioning
- Reinforcement is any event that strengthens or increases the behavior it follows. There are two kinds of reinforcers:
- Positive reinforcers are favorable events or outcomes that are presented after the behavior. In situations that reflect positive reinforcement, a response or behavior is strengthened by the addition of something, such as praise or a direct reward.
- Negative reinforcers involve the removal of an unfavorable events or outcomes after the display of a behavior. In these situations, a response is strengthened by the removal of something considered unpleasant.
In both of these cases of reinforcement, the behavior increases.
- Punishment, on the other hand, is the presentation of an adverse event or outcome that causes a decrease in the behavior it follows. There are two kinds of punishment:
- Positive punishment, sometimes referred to as punishment by application, involves the presentation of an unfavorable event or outcome in order to weaken the response it follows.
- Negative punishment, also known as punishment by removal, occurs when an favorable event or outcome is removed after a behavior occurs.