How Organism Learn: Classical and Operant Conditioning


There are two main explanations of how organisms learn. The first
explanation is known as classical conditioning. The second explanation is known
as operant conditioning. These two types of learning are exhibited in our
everyday lives through our home, school, and school.
Classical conditioning was discovered by Iran Petrovich Pavlov. He was
originally a physiologist whose main focus was the digestive system (Gazzaniga
230). His discovery was made during a study on the salivation of dogs when
given food. Pavlov observed that the dogs began salivating at the sound of the
scientists footsteps and at their appearance into the room (231). This led
Pavlov to study the phenomenon further.
The experiments that Pavlov was originally observing were based on the set
of unconditioned stimulus and its unconditioned response. What is meant by
conditioned is that the response is automatic and based on instinct. To
compliment this name the stimulus is known as the unconditioned stimulus (Myers
260). With Pavlov\'s new observations a new set of stimulus and response was
found. This new set is known as the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned
response. What is meant by conditioned response here is that the response was
learned. The stimulus begins as neutral and causes no conditioned response.
However, if the neutral stimulus can be associated with another stimulus, then
it becomes a conditioned stimulus.
Classical conditioning can be exemplified in the home, school, and school.
In the home a child could smell brownies baking in the kitchen which makes her
mouth water. The brownies are the unconditioned stimulus, the smell is the
conditioned stimulus, and the watering of the mouth is the conditioned response
(Myers 267-68). In work a man may be waiting to be fired. When he sees his
boss he begins to sweat. The unconditioned stimulus is getting fired, the
conditioned stimulus is the sight of the boss, the conditioned response is the
sweating. In school a boy may be in class when suddenly the fire alarm goes off
at which time the boy walks to exit the building. The unconditioned stimulus is
fear of a fire, the conditioned stimulus is the sound of the alarm, and the
conditioned response is the exiting of the building.
Operant conditioning is an organism\'s learning an association between how
it behaves and what happens as a result of that behavior (Gazzaniga 244). There
are some differences between classical and operant conditioning. First, the
operant response has to occur completely spontaneously. In classical
conditioning the conditioned response is drawn from an organism. In operant
conditioning the response is delivered by the organism which then awaits the
consequences. Second, in classical conditioning the conditioned response is
usually a "very well-defined muscular movement or glandular response" (244).
In operant conditioning the response is a set of actions that bring about an
essentially equal result. Third, in classical conditioning reinforcement is
dictated by the scientist or instructor. In operant conditioning reinforcement
is dictated by the organism (245).
Edward L. Thorndike was the first person to formally address the affects of
reward and punishment in learning. He came up with the positive law of effect
which stated that when a behavior is rewarded that behavior will be more likely
to be repeated (Myers 269). F. B. Skinner later elaborated on this theory.
Skinner observed there are different types of operant conditioning. There
is punishment which decreases the probability of a behavior being repeated.
There is positive reinforcement which the giving of a reward for a behavior
(Myers 270). An example of this in the home would be the giving of a cookie to
a child for picking up all his toys. There is negative reinforcement which is
the taking away of something undesirable (Myers 270). An example of this in
work would be a man at work who is allergic to flowers, but must sit near them
since his boss likes them. The boss says that she will take away the flowers if
he gets his report done early.
This reinforcement can be divided into two categories; primary and
secondary. Primary reinforcers are things that are required by an organism such
as food, warmth, water, sleep, and sex (Gazzaniga 252). Secondary reinforcers
are things that are associated with primary reinforcers and therefore have their
own reinforcing properties. An excellent example of this today is money which
can be used to obtain many primary reinforcers (252).
Reinforcement fits into one of five main schedules. There is partial
reinforcement or the irregularity of reinforcement. Continuous reinforcement is
the repetitive reinforcement given after completing a task. Fixed ratio
reinforcement is when a certain