The study of mental processes and behavior, Psychology, is a rapidly growing field. Until recently Psychology was not accorded the importance it holds in our lives and in some parts of the world the importance of psychology is still largely under-rated. However psychology has time and again proved its effectiveness in cases where it has been used to correct mental problems and also improve lives. In a world where people are subjected to the pressure of achieving and where there are a lot of stress factors psychology is of great importance.
Classical conditioning, a type of conditioning whose originator is Ivan Pavlov, involves pairing a conditioned stimulus with a natural occurrence or unconditioned stimulus in order to get a conditioned response. It also involves pairing an unconditioned stimulus with a certain behavior so as to get a conditioned response or reflex. Pavlov used a series of experiments to explain this one of the well-known ones being his dog salivation experiment. Pavlov noted that dogs would salivate when they saw a person in a lab coat specifically a white one walk in towards them even before they were presented with food. This is because the dogs associated the white coat with food. Thus the white coat is a conditioned stimulus eliciting a response (salivation) from the dogs. The same salivation experiment has been carried out in a different way whereby a certain sound (of a vibrating tuning fork) is made before dogs are presented with food. This goes on for some period of time. The dogs therefore learn to associate that particular sound with food. This sound is a conditioned stimulus. After sometime, even when the sound is made without food the dogs still salivated. This showed that the dogs had been conditioned to associate the sound with food provision. Thus the sound led to a conditioned response from the dogs (salivation).
Operant conditioning is a type of conditioning whereby a certain type of behavior is paired with its consequences. In this type of conditioning reward or punishment is used to elicit a specific type of response. A behavior is either reinforced by a reward or punished. The originator of operant conditioning is B.F. Skinner. Skinner used a box which came to be known as the Skinner box or chamber in order to determine what sort of reinforcement worked best. This box was a chamber where an animal would be put for example a rat and the chamber contained a button. Pressing of the button resulted in some type of reinforcement (food, water or even electric shock it the floor of the chamber). This way skinner could determine which type of reinforcement was most effective (Garrison, 2003).
Both operant and classical conditioning fall under the school of behaviorism which was founded by J.B Watson. The school of behaviorism as the name suggests deals with behaviors. Classical and operant conditioning both have important applications in our day to day lives. Both types of conditioning are often confused the main differences between the two is that, in operant conditioning, reinforcement and punishment is used while in classical conditioning a conditioned stimulus is used. Operant conditioning deals with voluntary actions whereas classical deals with involuntary actions.
For instance, classical conditioning has been used in aversion therapies. Aversion therapy is used when a person wants to get rid of some unwanted behavior which he/she enjoys doing. For example smoking. The person is made to think of that behavior and while at it an unpleasant stimulus such as electric shock or a bad smell is paired with it. Repetition of this leads to the person associating the behavior with the unwanted and unpleasant response thus the behavior eventually ceases. Aversion therapy has been used to get rid of addictions such as smoking and alcoholism. It has also been used to eliminate gambling and anger issues. A taste aversion experiment was done whereby some children were given a sweet after they had eaten just before their chemotherapy session. It was found that when those children who were given the sweet they had a high likelihood of eating that food again than when they weren’t given the sweet (Lilienfeld, Woolf & Shmaltz, 2011).
Classical conditioning has been of great use in getting rid of phobias. An experiment known as “little Albert” experiment has been used to explain whether phobias are innate, that is, whether we are born with them. In another setting, a rabbit was brought into a room when a child was eating milk and cookies. In this case the rabbit is the conditioned stimuli and the milk and cookies the unconditioned stimuli. The rabbit which would cause anxiety to the child was placed at a distance at first. This was repeated severally with the rabbit being brought closer each time the child was having the milk and cookies. Finally the rabbit was placed on the child’s lap. This shows that phobias can be eliminated using classical conditioning. In this case counter-conditioning was used to get rid of the phobia. Other techniques used in the elimination of the phobias include; systematic desensitization. Classical conditioning has been used to get rid of public speaking phobia, snake phobias, height phobias among others (Baldwin, 1999).
As a life coach, I would help a client rid of his laziness and achieve his objective of exercising for 30 minutes 5 times a week using operant conditioning as a basis. I would make the client create a timetable for his exercise and for every time he exercised he would be required to put a tick. I would then tell the client to get a jar and for every time he exercised he would put a dollar in there. The client would them treat himself at the end of every month with the money from the jar. Failure to exercise would obligate him to remove a dollar. In this case the ticking on the timetable every time he exercises and the dropping of a dollar into the jar are both rewards he gets for exercising. Removal of a dollar on the other hand is a punishment for having not exercised. The client would then find himself slowly adapting to the exercise routine he wanted to have.
In order to assist a client with a nail biting problem, I would first establish under what conditions the client bites her nails most. In most cases people who bite their nails do it when they are faced with situations that arose their anxiety e.g. when doing an exam or when thinking deeply about something. Nail biting may not have any serious effects but it is a nuisance and disgusting to many people. Excessive nail biting can lead to skin infections. Using operant conditioning, I would help the client, who in this case is a female as suggested by the question, reduce her nail biting by introducing an aversive stimulus. Aversive stimulus is whereby a stimulus creates a different and opposite reaction to the one expected. I would encourage the client to apply some distasteful non-toxic nail polish on her nails such that every time the client attempted to bite her nails she would encounter a terrible taste. In this case the nail polish acts as an aversive stimuli. Soon enough the client would learn to avoid biting her nails.
Importance of operant and classical conditioning principles in everyday life
Both operant and classical conditioning are used greatly in classroom settings. They are important in learning. The reinforcement and punishment principle of operant conditioning is often used to modify behavior in classroom settings. In classrooms teachers use rewards and punishments so as to either encourage behavior or shun it. However corporal punishment is not allowed. Drug addictions have also been eliminated using principles derived from classical and operant conditioning. Through the help of a therapist, drug addicts have been able to get rid of their addictions by the use of classical conditioning techniques (Rothbaum, 2006).
Operant and classical conditioning principles have been used to provide psychotherapy to troubled clients. They have also been used in animal training. E.g. dogs trained to work in the police force or to lead blind people. Police dogs have been trained on how to detect illegal drugs and current science experiments are underway to see if dogs can detect certain fatal diseases in their caretakers. Some birds have also been trained to detect drugs. Principles of classical and operant conditioning have been used to help people achieve their objectives as can be seen in the client who wanted to start exercising. Operant conditioning principles are often used by parents as they bring up their children in modifying behavior. For example if a parent wants a child to learn to always clear the table after having supper, the parent can ensure that every time the child does clear the table after supper he/she compliments her.
In conclusion, psychology is an important aspect of our day to day lives whether we acknowledge it or not. Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are only a small part of psychology yet their uses in our lives are greatly significant. It has been argued that psychology is not 100% effective but this is not a plausible reason to ignore it. Psychology continues to make great strides in people’s lives and therefore should be embraced all over the world.
Baldwin, J. D. (1999). Behavior Principles in Everyday Life. 4th Edition. New York: Mc Graw
Garrison, J. (2003). Aversion Therapy. Healthline. Retrieved from
Lilienfeld, S. O., Woolf, N. J., Shmaltz, R. (2011). Psychology: from inquiry to understanding.
3rd Edition. Canada: Pearson Education Canada.
Rothbaum, O. B. (2006). Pathological anxiety; emotional processing in etiology and treatment.
New York: Guilford Press.