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The Process of Conditioning

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Florida Sahay Professor Griffin Psychology 1101 Fall 2009 The Conditioning Process It was raining when Sarah was driving home from work. Both she and the driver of the car in front of her were speeding. The car in front of her had immediately braked.

There was not enough distance between that car and her own car to safely slow to a stop, so she had quickly switched lanes to avoid a car accident. Instead, the slick pavement caused her car to swerve out of control. When her car finally skidded to a stop, it was inches away from colliding into a tree.Two weeks later, Sarah noticed that she had become anxious every time she had to drive in the rain.

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Believe it or not, Sarah’s anxiety is due to an associative learning process called conditioning. According to Weiten (2008), conditioning involves learning associations between events that occur in an organism’s environment (p. 169).

Although psychology has a grasp on how we learn through classical and operant conditioning, it is impaired by biological constraints.Classical conditioning, also referred to as Pavlovian conditioning (Weiten, 2008), was discovered by a Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov. This form of learning presents how an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), or a neutral event, is initially unable to evoke an unconditioned response (UCR), or a reflexive response, but attains the ability to do so by pairing with another stimulus that can elicit such a response. Sarah’s situation would be an example of classical conditioning. The UCS would be Sarah’s near-death experience. The UCR from Sarah was anxiety and fear.Now that she feels anxiety and fear every time she must drive when it rains, even if there is no chance of another accident, her reaction has become a conditioned response (CR) to the rain, which is now the conditioned stimulus (CS).

Another type of conditioning is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning (Weiten, 2008) can be distinguished from classical conditioning in that classical conditioning explains how manipulations by events occur before the reflexive response, whereas operant conditioning explains how the response is influenced by the following result of an event.The response in operant conditioning is not reflexive, but rather, voluntary. Therefore, according to Weiten (2008), operant conditioning is a form of learning in which voluntary responses come to be controlled by their consequences. Operant conditioning occurs on an everyday basis. It can be identified when a child studies hard to earn good grades, an employee works hard to earn a raise in his/her salary, or even a dog performing tricks to earn a treat.Conditioning was assumed to be applied to any species that could respond to a stimulus.

On the contrary, discoveries in recent decades have shown that there are limits to conditioning. These limits are due to an organism’s biological heritage (Weiten, 2008). Instinctive drift is one of the many biological constraints. Instinctive drift was first described by the Brelands who were operant psychologists in the business of training animals for commercial purposes (Breland & Breland, 1966 as cited in Weiten, 2008).This occurs when the conditioning process is hindered by an animal’s response due to innate predispositions. For example, a dog can be trained to fetch a stick, but if the dog is presented with a bone, the dog would most likely run off somewhere to bury the bone. This is because of the dog’s innate food- preserving behavior.

As stated by Michael Domjan (2005 as cited in Weiten, 2008), organisms have developed distinctive response systems to deal with vital tasks and survival skills over the course of evolution.The principal view of psychologists today on learning is that learning mechanism among different species are analogous, but some of these mechanisms have been altered due to the demands of the organism’s environment. Theories of conditioning did not allocate the role of cognitive processes until recent decades. Edward C. Tolman and his colleagues (Tolman & Honzik as cited in Weiten, 2008) developed an experimentation in which they used three groups of rats. All three groups were to run through a complicated maze. Group A was rewarded food daily when they were able to get to the end of the maze.

Group B did not receive any food and group C was rewarded food on their 11th trial. Group A showed a much improvement in a short course of time (approximately seventeen days) due to the reinforcement. Group B and C, however, showed little improvement over the course of 10 days. After the 11th trial, group C showed a drastic improvement and even exceeded group A. Tolman determined that the rats in group C have been learning the maze just as much as group A. The motivation of the reward seemed to increase group C’s potential.He termed this as latent learning, which is dormant knowledge that an organism has, but does not express until it is needed.

Later on in the study of psychology, cognitive factors were integrated into the study of conditioning. A major theme during the study of conditioning was nature vs. nature (Weiten, 2008). Behavioral traits were thought to be explained through environmental factors, but the recent decades of evidence from the study of classical and operant conditioning has proved that the process of conditioning is impaired by biological constraints.Heritage and the environment once again challenge the theories of nurture when influencing behaviors in organisms. Child-care facilities, schools, factories, and major businesses have all been applied with principles of conditioning in order to improve. Classical and operant conditioning has been a significant contribution and has had a major influence to society.

References Weiten, W. (2008). Psychology: Themes & variations briefer version (7th ed. ). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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