Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are two concepts of learning that are integral to behavioral psychology. Although the processes differ to quite an extent, they tend to complement one another, and the ultimate result of both concepts is learning. Although both conditioning practices were pioneered by different individuals, both believed in the general principle that investigating behaviors through experiments should be the basis of psychology.
Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, was the one who unintentionally discovered the concept of classical conditioning while carrying out research on canine digestive patterns. According to his findings, His findings supported the idea that we may develop unnatural responses to some stimuli (Pavlov, 1927). B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist coined the term operant conditioning based on his belief that examining at the causes and consequences of an action reveal a lot about behavior (Skinner, 1953). Thus, in classical conditioning a neutral stimuli is placed before a reflex and it focuses on automatic, involuntary behaviors, while in operant conditioning punishment or reinforcement is applied after a behavior and it focuses on voluntary behaviors.
How Does Classical Conditioning Work?
In Pavlov’s famous experiment, Pavlov observed that repeatedly pairing the sound of bell while presenting his dogs with food caused them to salivate (Pavlov, 1927). In classical conditioning, a stimulus in the learning process that was previously neutral is paired with a stimulus that is unconditioned. The unconditioned stimulus triggers a natural response, for instance, the dog had always salivated whenever the food was presented to them. However, when the neutral and unconditioned response is paired, it triggers an unnatural response; for instance, eventually the dogs began salivating merely to the sound of the bell.
How Does Operant Conditioning Work?
In operant conditioning a behavior is encouraged or discouraged by using either punishment or reinforcement. This process ends up establishing a bond between the behavior and its consequences. For instance, a trainer who is trying to teach a dog how to fetch a ball praises the dog as a reward whenever it successfully chases and brings back the ball. The trainer does not praise the dog whenever it is unsuccessful in bringing back the ball. Ultimately, the dog understands that the praise it is receiving is somehow associated with its behavior of fetching the ball successfully.
How Are Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning Different From Each Other?
Whether the behavior is involuntary or voluntary is the major aspect that distinguishes classical and operant conditioning from each other. According to classical conditioning, we tend to pair certain stimuli (Pavlov, 1927), for instance, a song to a person or a situation, and listening to the song may trigger unintentional response, in the form of perhaps happiness or sadness, merely based on the person or situation it was associated with. According to operant conditioning, we learn from our consequences in our everyday life and they shape our voluntary behavior (Skinner, 1953). For instance, we often make mistakes in life, but we usually do not voluntarily make the same mistake again because of the consequence that had occurred as a result of that mistake.
These days, classical and operant conditioning are employed for numerous purposes, such as animal training, parenting, psychology, teaching, etc. While training an animal, a trainer may make use of classical conditioning by pairing the taste of food with the sound of a clicker, almost like Pavlov did. Eventually, the dog will began responding to the clicker just as it would to the taste of food. In a classroom, a teacher may use operant conditioning reward students that behave well by giving them tokens. Students will learn that they can earn behavior by behaving properly and will be encouraged to do so. A recent breakthrough in classical conditioning include that animals, especially invertebrates such as fish, use classical conditioning for reproduction and survival ("Psychologist Karen Hollis"). A major breakthrough in operant conditioning is the discovery that affective disorders, such as borderline personality disorder and reactive attachment disorder, can be treated using operant conditioning (Othmer, 2002).
Despite their differences, both classical conditioning and operant conditioning are psychological theories that are often used in behavioral therapy. In both theories, the focus is to learn associations to behaviors, whether involuntary or voluntary. Certain stimuli in the environment always control the responses. Reinforcement of both types of conditioning is necessary because neither is capable of lasting forever. Both classical and operant conditioning allows new behaviors to be built on ones that are previously established.
Othmer, S. (2002, Feb). On the use of EEG operant conditioning as a treatment for affective disorders, including reactive attachment disorder and borderline personality disorder. Retrieved from http://www.eeginfo.com/research/articles/general_12.htm
Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes. Mineola, New York: Courier Dover Publications.
Psychologist Karen Hollis "goes fishing" and nets a research breakthrough. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/csj/970221/hollis.html
Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York, NY: Free Press.