Sample Psychology Paper on Classical and Operant Conditioning

Human behavior is influenced by learning to a great extent. However, learning does not identify a specific method through which people gain or acquire knowledge as the process occurs in many ways. Two of these ways, as mentioned in psychology, are classical and operant conditioning. This paper examines the components and compares and contrasts classical and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning was first explored by a Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, in the 1920s. In his experiment, he noticed that a dog learned to respond to a repeatedly sounded bell when paired with the performance of food. According to that, he argued that the unconditioned response of the dog (salivation), to a large extent depended on the sound of the bell (neutral stimulus) when paired with the presentation of food (unconditioned stimulus). Based on this experiment, classical conditioning can be defined as a way of learning in which an organism associates with multiple stimuli. The response of an organism is usually triggered by an unconditioned stimulus in association with a neutral stimulus (Henton, Wendon and Iver 36).

On the other, operant conditioning was first established by an American psychologist, Burrhus Frederic Skinner, in the 1930s. He relied on Edward Thorndike’s’ “trial and error learning” to develop the Skinner box that he used to study the behavior of animals in a controlled environment (Henton, Wendon and Iver 42). The chamber contained one key or bar that an animal could easily manipulate. In the laboratory experiment, he placed a rat in the box, and as soon it accidentally hit the bar, it could be reinforced with food. The rat began to hit the bar intentionally as the experiment was repeated several times, to receive food. Subsequently, Skinner used another rat to perform a similar laboratory experiment in which he used positive punishment such as electric shocks to weaken the rat’s voluntary response. From this, Skinner proved that animals’ behavior could be increased or decreased based on different types of reinforcement or positive punishments used in a controlled environment. Thus, operant conditioning is a type of learning in which a behavior of an organism is associated with a consequence, and various strengthening dimensions.

Classical and operant conditioning are two most important ways of learning the behavior of organisms. To understand how each of these can be used, it is essential to understand their similarities and differences. Concerning similarities, they both form a method of associative learning and are all based on historical views as they were discovered by theorists (Henton, Wendon and Iver 52). Another similarity can be seen in the underlying phenomena of conditioning. Both scientists identified that neutral stimulus is associated with an unconditioned stimulus in order to elicit a response (classical conditioning), accordingly, a response is related to a consequence and various strengthening dimensions (operant conditioning).

The two learning types differ in various ways. Classical conditioning involves the association of involuntary response with a particular behavior. Contrarily, operant conditioning associates voluntary action and its consequence. Cognitive process in the learner’s brain is another distinct feature between the two learning types. In classical conditioning, an organism tends to develop the expectation that conditioned stimulus signals the arrival of the unconditioned stimulus. In operant conditioning, an organism tends to develop the expectation that their voluntary response will be reinforced.



Works Cited

Henton, Wendon W, and Iver H. Iversen. Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning: A Response Pattern Analysis. New York, NY: Springer New York, 2012.,