Classical Learning Vs. Operant Learning Essay, Research Paper
There are many different fields of study in psychology. One field of study is the cognitive process of learning. Learning is any relatively permanent change in behavior (or behavior potential) resulting from experience (Baron G-7). The learning process helps us, all organisms, adapt to changing conditions in our environment and the world around us. Although the effects of learning are very diverse, many psychologists believe that learning occurs in several basic forms. Two of these forms are called classical learning or classical conditioning and operant learning or operant conditioning (170).
Classical Conditioning is a basic form of learning in which one stimulus comes to serve as a signal for the occurrence of a second stimulus (171). In simple terms, classical conditioning is relating two or more objects together so the natural mind will begin to associate the two objects together. Psychologists believe that a stimulus will elicit a response.
For instance, a well-known Russian psychologist performed a well-known experiment in the early 1900?s having to do with classical conditioning. This famous psychologist was named Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. He even won a Noble Prize in 1904 for his research. Pavlov?s experiment wasn?t originally focused around the psychology aspect of learning. His research was focused around the process of digestion in dogs.
Pavlov, after doing his study, realized that there was an unusual reaction when the dogs were about to receive their food, they began to salivate before even receiving the food (World 202). He decided that the dogs were receiving signals, whether it was by looking at the bowl that the food came in or at the sight of the person who they received the food from, that led them to believe they were going to receive food shortly (Baron 172). Pavlov questioned that if they were reacting the way they were, could they react with other stimuli? He put his question to the test.
The first thing that Pavlov did was to pick out a neutral stimulus, one that had nothing to do with a dog?s salvation. He picked a bell. The ringing of the bell was followed by a stimulus that would involuntarily produce salivation for the dog. Pavlov used meat powder. The food was presented as the unconditioned stimulus, which is a stimulus that can evoke an unconditioned response the first time it is presented. The automatic salvation to the food was suggested to be the unconditioned response, this being the response evoked by the stimulus. The relation of the ringing of their food and the presentation of the meat powder was done a couple of times. This was done so the dog can sub-consciously make a relationship between the bell and the food. The bell began to be termed as the
Conditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus is the repeatedly paired stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus (172). The conditioned response to the conditioned stimulus was the salvation from the dog. Psychologist questioned if the dog would eventually salivate whenever a bell has rung and the answer was yes. If a bell rang the dog would salivate even if it were not followed by the meat powder.
There are problems that arise from this process of learning and one is that sometimes there is a tendency for a subject to make a stimulus generalization, which is the tendency of a stimuli to evoke the same response as the conditioned stimuli. This is not beneficial to the fact that it would be hard tot adapt to different environments this way. For example in Pavlov?s study, if the dog made a stimuli generalization, it would salivate to the sound of any bell. Maybe even the ring of a telephone.
Fortunately, most can avoid this problem through stimuli discrimination. This allows subjects to react to one stimuli but not others (175).
Classical conditioning is very common and can happen in many different environments. It does not have to be done with a psychologist in a laboratory. For example, let’s say that a college student was taking their final exam for a class that they were not doing particular well in. The exam would be the unconditioned stimuli. Since they had anxiety about taking the test, the anxiety they felt would be the unconditioned response. Suppose they had to go to the same room the next day to meet a friend, the sight of the room would be the conditioned stimuli and the conditioned response would be the same fear or anxiety they received while taking the test in that particular room. This is just one example on how classical conditioning is a constant form of learning.
Another form of learning that is quite different from the previous form of learning is called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a process through which organisms learn to repeat behaviors that yield positive outcomes or permit them to avoid or escape from negative ones (185). The chance that a particular response will occur will depend upon the consequences that follow it. The procedures that strengthen behavior are referred to as reinforcement. Those that weaken behavior are called punishment (185).
Reinforcement consists of two parts: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is a stimuli that strengthens responses that precede them. Negative reinforcement is stimuli that strengthen responses that permit an organism to avoid or escape from their presence (World 494). Positive reinforces vary from primary needs, such as food to survive, and conditioned reinforces, such as praise from a teacher on a good test grade. One form of positive reinforcement is shaping. This is the process of giving a small amount of a reward for each step of a given goal. This is sometimes used in dog training. A dog trainer, named Jerrie Wolfe, uses a similar system. She gives a command to a dog. After the command is given and the dog would attempt the trick, a treat was given. The instructor would begin skipping the rewards a few times to reinforce the trick. The instructor feels that this will help the dog learn the trick faster when the dog will be expecting a reward (members).
Negative reinforces aren’t necessarily what it sounds like it would be. A negative reinforcement is almost a scapegoat or route to escape a certain situation. For instance, let’s say it’s a rainy day and you leave the same time that you leave every other day for school. This particular day you are late. The next time your actions may be effected by negative reinforcement, but only if, you perhaps leave earlier on the next rainy day. This will avoid you be late for class.
There are also four schedules of reinforcement. These explain when and how reinforcements will be delivered. They are as followed: Fixed-Interval Schedule, schedule of reinforcement in which a specific interval of time must elapse before a response will yield reinforcement; Variable-Interval Schedule, schedule of reinforcement in which a variable amount of time must elapse before a response will yield reinforcement; Fixed-Ratio Schedule, a schedule of reinforcement in which reinforcement occurs only after a fixed number of responses have been emitted; Variable-Ratio Schedule’ schedule of reinforcement is delivered after a variable number of responses have been emitted (Baron 191).
Punishment differs from reinforcement because it aims to prevent you from performing a particular behavior (Baron 186). For example, I recently got a speeding ticket in which I had doubled the speed limit. My fine was $212.00 and it puts five points on my license. Let’s say that I haven’t gone over the speed limit since. There is positive and negative punishment as well. Positive punishment is the application of a desirable stimulus. Negative punishment is the loss or postponement of a desirable stimulus (Baron 188).
A psychologist that is usually associated with operant learning is B.F. Skinner. Skinner became interested in the work of John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov and their work with Development Psychology. Skinner, like Pavlov, also spent several years studying animal learning and the functions of the nervous system. Skinner developed a box that had a mechanical door that would open when you push down on a lever. He placed a rat in the box. Not only was there a lever to escape the box, but there was a lever to obtain food. The rat first learned that when he pushed down on the lever a food pellet would come out. Next, Skinner sent electrical shocks through the bottom of the cage. The rat learned to push down on the lever again for more assistance. This opened up the door so the rat can escape. This would be considered a negative reinforcement because it gave the rat an escape and avoidance route. In his studies, Skinner discovered an animal will not learn if it’s response is not rewarded, a behavior will be learned more rapidly if it is reinforced, and once a behavior is learned, it will be more likely to be repeated if it is rewarded occasionally, rather than every time (members).
In conclusion, as shown there are many differences between the two different styles of learning. In classical conditioning, organisms learn associations between stimuli. The stimuli will usually trigger a specific response. The responses are generally involuntary. They are elicited by a unconditioned stimulus and usually cannot be stopped. In contrast, during operant conditioning organisms learn associations between particular behaviors and the consequences that follow. This type of learning is voluntary and is emitted by organisms in the environment. Both are very effective in helping to understand how and why people learn the behaviors they do. This process helps both psychologist and society to understand the developmental process of organisms-which learning is a huge part of.
Baron, Robert A. Psychology. Allyn and Bacon: Boston
World Book Encyclopedia. World Book, Inc.: Chicago
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