Last Updated 25 Mar 2020

Learning and behavior

Category Behavior, Behaviorism
Words 641 (3 pages)
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1. Define classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Identify the basic procedures of both types of conditioning. Identify and discuss the similarities and differences between the two types. Traditionally, theories of conditioning have come to mean that learning takes place when two or more events are associated because they occur together.

Scientific references to classical conditioning are commonly associated with Ivan P. Pavlov (1849-1936) as he was the first person to discuss issues related to classical conditioning with others in the scientific community.  Classical conditioning is a form of learning in which two stimulus events are associated.  Typically, a conditioned stimulus (CS) is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (US) that naturally produces an unconditioned response (UR).  The result is that the conditioned stimulus acquires the capacity to elicit a new response (the conditioned response, or CR) that is similar in form to the unconditioned response.

On the other hand, Skinner (1953) developed the method of conditioning through what has been termed operant or instrumental conditioning. Skinner’s version of instrumental conditioning, called operant conditioning, is a technologically based model that has generated a great deal of research.   Operant conditioning involves voluntary behavior emitted by the learner which may be reinforced by its consequence.  In operant conditioning, whether a response occurs in the future depends upon the nature of the contingency.  If a response makes life better for the individual, it will likely occur in the future.  If it makes life worse, it will likely not occur again in the future.  Thus, operant conditioning makes use of reinforcements.

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The basic theory of both conditioning is behaviorism, which was formulated by the American behaviorists John B. Watson.  This theory has been described as an evolutionary, psychological doctrine developed to support the evolutionistic theories of knowledge.  It holds that all man’s behavior, mental states and processes have a purely physiological origin and function consisting of neurological, glandular, and other bodily responses to sensory stimuli; and that under proper stimulation can be appropriately conditioned to produce any desired response.

Both classical and operant conditionings involve acquisition, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, and discrimination.   Yet their difference is straightforward: Classical conditioning involves respondent behavior- reflexive behavior that occurs as an automatic response to some stimulus.  Operant conditioning on the other hand, involves voluntary (nonreflexive) action, called operant behavior because the act operates on the environment to produce rewarding or pushing stimuli.

2. Identify two real-life experiences in which learning principles can apply. Discuss each experience and the principles of learning that are applicable. Be sure to fully explain each of the learning concepts that apply to these two experiences. Identify ways in which learning in the two experiences can be inhibited and improved.

Pavlov’s principles of classical conditioning apply to human health and well-being.  For example, former crack cocaine apply often feel a craving when they again encounter cues (people, places) associated with previous highs.  Thus, drug addicts are advised to steer clear of settings associated with the euphorbia of previous drug use.  Classical conditioning even works upon the body’s disease-fighting system.  When, say, a particular taste accompanies a drug that influences immune responses, the taste by itself may come to produce an immune response.

Everyday applications of operant conditioning are the experiments comparing computer-assisted instruction (CAI) to traditional classroom instruction suggest that, for some drill and practice tasks, the computer can indeed be more effective.   According to Skinner, “Good instruction demands two things,” he said.  “Students must be told immediately whether what they do is right or wrong and, when right, they must be directed to the step to be taken.”


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Prentice Hall.

Domjan M. (1998). The principles of learning and behavior (4th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA:


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