Classical Operant and Conditioning Theories

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Operant and Classical Conditioning Theories


The purpose of this paper is to explain why classical conditioning theory better appeals to the author as compared to the operant conditioning theory. Pavlov conducted an experiment with a dog to determine the effect of a learning response. His aim was to prove that we develop behavior by responding to stimulus. He paired food with a bell sound which he rang every mealtime. Skinner used a rat in the Skinner Box to demonstrate that punishing wrong behavior and rewarding good behavior, as a learning experiment, may contribute to the development of behavior. Both theories stipulate that people develop behavior through learning. They further indicate that exposure to certain environmental conditions determines our character development. However, classical conditioning ties the process to natural response while operant conditioning only relies on the external environment. Pavlov believed that mental and cognitive responses control how we develop character. Skinner, on the other hand, argued that the mind is not the ultimate determinant of behavior.

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Among the major theories in psychology, behavior theories are fundamental. These theories are founded on the idea that behavior is a result of our nature. This means that whatever behavior we end up with as adults is a result of the continuous learning process in the environment where we live. In this paper, we will talk about two theories under this category that have had an impact on our understanding of the process of behavior development. This includes the classical conditioning theory by I. Pavlov and the operant conditioning theory by B.F. Skinner. Pavlov rang the bell anytime he was feeding the dog. This went on for some time and reached a stage where the dog would salivate at the sound of the bell. Skinner developed the operant conditioning behavior theory through his experiment of a rat in the Skinner Box. The box had food placed in specific locations to encourage the rat to take that direction. It also had electric heating to restrain the rat from wondering in some areas of the box. This theory stipulates that when we reward people for good behavior, they are more likely to behave the same way in the future. On the other hand, when we punish people for wrong behavior, they are bound to drop the behavior over time. These negative and positive modifications are used to reinforce good behavior and to discourage bad behavior. Classical conditioning theory is more effective in developing the required behavior as compared to the operant Conditioning because of its dependence on the natural response to stimuli. We are therefore more comfortable with the former since it better defines who we are in comparison to the other theory.

Similarities between Operant and Classical Conditioning Theories

Operant conditioning and classical conditioning theories are closely related but yet are distinct due to behavior and learning development methods. Even though they utilize different approaches, they both operate on one idea: we develop behavior by learning. Pavlov used stimulus to explain the developing character. According to him, the more we respond to a particular stimulus, the more we develop character. The operant conditioning, on the other hand, stipulates that the more we are rewarded for a certain behavior, the more we are inclined to repeatedly do it, and, as a result, it becomes part of our character. We prefer classical conditioning because it uses stimulus to drive us to action. For instance, the education system used this effectively to inspire learners to perform well in class. Every time a learner exhibits good performance, he or she would be rewarded and lauded for the tremendous effort. This ties the reward with good results. Learners would, therefore, work very hard by simply thinking of the reward. The operant conditioning method is common in the reinforcement of good behavior in school. That is why there is punishment for breaking school rules (Gysbers, 2010). When this continues for a while, the learner will come to realize that there are some things he or she is not allowed to do. The negative effect of this is the possibility of the development of rebellious behavior.

The two theories used repeated exposure to a certain condition to strengthen the behavior developed. Skinner believed that if the behavior is not reinforced, it may become weakened. Pavlov used the same idea to strengthen the response of the dog to the bell. He had to repeatedly ring the bell when feeding the dog. In the Skinner Box, the behavior of the rat was to be conditioned by using reinforcement (MacLeod, 2015). This reinforcement would be provided after the animal had responded as desired. As a result, he discovered three types of operants that have direct influence on the development of behavior. These are the punishers, neutral operants, and reinforcers. Punishers are the conditions that make behavior weaker. This occurs because the environment discourages the repeat of the behavior. Neutral conditions do not have an impact on the increase or decrease in behavior. Reinforces are the third group of operants. Their effect is the increase in the likelihood of a behavior occurring again (MacLeod, 2015) This idea of using punishers may not be effective in modeling behavior. For example, every time we feel hungry, we drink water. Thus, we are in a position to get food, and we will not have the stamina to resist the desire to grab something to eat. Punishing oneself may not help to change the mealtime and behavior for that matter.

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Classical conditioning theory strengthens behavior in a three-step approach. It begins with the Unconditioned Stimulus-Unconditioned Response approach. At this stage, the response is unlearned and is natural. The behavior does not require any motivation to take a given direction. When we are hungry, we feel the need to eat something. This is an unconditioned response or biological process. The second stage is the conditioning stage. This is where the new stimulus is introduced alongside the natural stimulus (MacLeod, 2014), For instance, changing my lunchtime routine from 12 a.m. to 2 p.m. Finally, there is the after-conditioning step. The new stimulus takes the principal control over the response. The body will adapt to the new eating time schedule. As a result, we will no longer feel hungry at 12 a.m. but rather at 2 p.m. Operant conditioning would not be effective in changing our eating routine because it will require us to prevent ourselves from eating, without paying attention to our biology as a way of training. Since the natural system is not involved, we will be struggling to change the eating pattern.

Differences between Operant and Classical Conditioning Theories

Classical conditioning theory is more effective in behavior development as compared to Operant conditioning theory because of the transmission of natural response between stimuli. The response is transmitted from one stimulus to another depending on the active stimulus. The reflexes are manipulated in the process of transferring the response. These stimulus and responses are unconditioned (MacLeod, 2014). The natural response and the stimulus would be previously connected to each other even before the new changes are effected.

The stimulus acts as a trigger for the response to take place. The experiment conducted by Pavlov clearly demonstrates this phenomenon. Previously before the bell, the dog would salivate at sight of food. This is the neutral stimulus that initiated the response of salivating. Pavlov then introduced a new stimulus to modify the natural response; this is the bell. Tying the bell to the food presents two stimuli that share one response. When he takes away the food, the response does not cease because of the recognition of the new stimulus (MacLeod, 2014). The dog then associates the food with the bell and therefore salivation continues. This experiment is very practical in the way we develop habits. It is not easy to begin behaving in a certain way repeatedly without the creation of the natural response between two stimuli. For instance, when we are hungry, we would hear the rumbling from the stomach and some stomach aches as an indication that we are hungry. When we change our lunch schedule from 12 a.m. to 2 p.m., we change the response. After talking about our meals at 2 p.m., the natural response resets the biological clock. We will no longer feel hungry at 12 a.m. However, when it reaches 2 p.m., hunger commences. Because of the change in the stimulus, the response has changed as well.

The operant conditioning does not depend on the natural connection between the response and the stimulus. Because of the lack of this connection, it becomes difficult to transfer the response from one behavior to another. The response and the stimulus are independent of each other. For instance, when getting teenagers to drop the habit of smoking, the operant conditioning theory would require that the parents use threats of punishment against them should they be found engaging in the same activity (Horvath et Al, 2016). However, the classical conditioning theory stipulates that the parents provide the teenagers with pictures of people who are suffering from cancer associated with smoking. These images would be embedded in their brains to create a new stimulus. A person who has been exposed to the scary images of tobacco-related cancer will stop smoking for fear of suffering from the same. On the other hand, threatening to punish a young individual can only encourage rebellion. He or she will continue smoking secretly (Horvath et Al, 2016). But when we use the caner pictures, they would be encouraged to quit by their own volition.

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According to Skinner, the human mind is the primary determinant of behavior. He, however, believed that the mind plays a larger role in controlling mental cognitive activities rather than in the study and learning of behavior. Skinner developed this kind of thought in opposition to the classical conditioning theory, which he viewed to be too simplistic in helping us understand the development of behavior (Roundy, 2016). The operant conditioning theory was meant to provide a complex mechanism for studying behavior. This theory stipulates that the most effective way to study behavior is the use of a perspective to relate the causes of actions and the corresponding consequences. The idea of linking the consequences with the causes of actions is what creates the dynamics which he referred to as the operant conditioning. The operants are the internal actions that result from the environment on which one operates. The surrounding environment, therefore, becomes the determinant of the way people respond to issues.

In his study, Skinner tried to identify the relationship between the environment and the behavior. This would lead to the discovery of the process which would make a particular behavior less or more likely to occur in a given environmental condition (MacLeod, 2015).This way of thinking is quite different from classical conditioning theory. According to Pavlov, the behavior is not a subject of the environment but rather a response to stimuli. In order for an individual to develop a behavior, one has to do it repeatedly. The first time he or she behaves in a certain way; it would be because of a reaction to a series of stimuli which are related to each other. The second time, the behavior would be a natural response to the change in the conditioning of the mind. (MacLeod, 2014) This phenomenon is demonstrated in the fear of reptiles, especially snakes. A friend of mine took advantage of my snake phobia to scare me. He once pointed at a snake because he knew what my response would be. Since that first time, whenever we are walking in the grass, he would still scare me even when there are no snakes. For instance, my friend would carefully place a cord on the grass in a way that resembles the wavy nature of the snakes. He would then alarm me, and I would run or jump high. This has become a habit and every time he does it, I respond in a similar manner. A cord has become a new stimulus replacing the snake. My response would be the same since my mind is connecting the two stimuli and is responding naturally.

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Both classical conditioning and operant conditioning are theories that seek to explain the development of behavior. They use the same approach in studying our response to issues. They both use animals under set conditions. Pavlov uses a dog while Skinner uses a rat. The two theories concluded that environmental conditions have an influence in the learning of behavior. Skinner and Pavlov disagreed on the role of the mind in the development of behavior. Skinner argued that the mind does not have control over the way we behave, while Pavlov indicated that the natural response which is the determinant of behavior is controlled primarily by the mind. The major difference between these two theories is that classical conditioning theory uses the natural response to a stimulus to explain behavior while the operant conditioning explains that behavior is dependent on environmental conditions. Additionally, the use of punishers to reinforce behavior may not be effective in the development of the desired behavior pattern. Punishment would deter individuals from misbehaving only if the punishment is possible. The example of the teenagers and smoking is a good illustration of how the approach may not be effective in creating the kind of behavior that we desire to develop in other people. Punishing them for smoking will prevent them from doing the same in public. However, it is no guarantee that they will not smoke in private. On the other hand, the three-step approach developed by Pavlov provides a clear framework on which positive behavior can be reinforced. Classical conditioning is, therefore, more effective than operant conditioning in modeling behavior.

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