The differences and similarities between Classical and Operant Conditioning
Human behaviour is influenced by learning to a great extent. But the term learning does not describe a specific method of gaining knowledge because learning can occur in various ways. Two of these ways often mentioned in psychology are classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning was first observed by the russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the late 1920s. In his famous experiment he noticed that a dog began to salivate in response to a bell after the sound had been repeatedly paired with the presentation of food. He discovered unin- tentionally that the pairing of a neutral stimulus (the sound of the bell) with an unconditioned stimulus (the presentation of food) lead to an association of these stimuli so that ultimately even the former neutral stimulus presented alone elicited the unconditioned response (saliva- tion). The dog had learned to associate the sound of the bell with the presentation of food. The former neutral stimulus became a conditioned stimulus and the previous unconditioned re- sponse a conditioned response. According to that, classical conditioning could be defined as a type of learning in which an organism associates multiple stimuli. A response naturally trig- gered by one stimulus comes to be triggered by a second and formerly neutral stimulus (My- ers 2008: p. 223; Feldman et al. 2005: p. 156).
Opposed to this is the theory of operant conditioning which was fist introduced by the ameri- can psychologist and behaviourist B. F. Skinner in the 1930s. Based on Edward L. Thorn- dike´s “trial-and-error learning” he developed the Skinner-Box to study the behaviour of ani- mals in a controlled environment. This laboratory instrument can be described as a chamber that includes at least one bar or key that the animal can manipulate. Skinner placed a rat in that box and as soon as it accidentally hit the bar food was provided as reinforcement to the animal. After repeating that procedure for several times the rat began to intentionally hit the bar to receive food. The voluntary response was successfully strengthened by reinforcement. Subsequently he did the same experiment with a different rat but instead of reinforcing the response he used punishment (such as electric shocks) to weaken the voluntary response. To describe this phenomena he coined the term operant response (as a contrast to Pavlov´s condi- tioned response) to indicate that the subject operated on its environment in order to produce or reduce a particular effect (Myers 2008: p. 232; Feldman et al. 2005: pp. 162-173).
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- Christopher Hahn (Autor), 2013, The differences and similarities between Classical and Operant Conditioning, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/263085