Classical, Operant, And Observational Conditioning Essay, Research Paper
Classical, operant, and observational are all types of conditioning
and learning. Conditioning, in psychology, is causing an organism to
exhibit a specific response to a stimulus. A stimulus is anything that
heightens excitement or action.
Classical conditioning is a form of learning, in which a reflexive or
automatic response transfers from one stimulus to another. For instance,
a person who has had painful experiences at the dentist?s office may
become fearful at just the sight of the dentist?s office building. Fear, a
natural response to a painful stimulus, has transferred to a different
stimulus, the sight of a building. Most psychologists believe that classical
conditioning occurs when a person forms a mental association between two
stimuli, so that encountering one stimulus makes the person think of the other.
People tend to form these mental associations between events or stimuli that
occur closely together in space or time.
Classical conditioning was discovered by accident by Russian
physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov was studying how saliva aids the digestive
process. He would give a dog some food and measure the amount of saliva
the dog produced while it ate the meal. After the dog had gone through this
procedure a few times, however, it would begin to salivate before receiving
any food. Pavlov believed that someme new stimulus, had become
associated with the food and produced the response of salivation in the dog.
After an animal has learned a conditioned response to one stimulus, it may
also respond to similar stimuli without training. If a child is bitten by a large
black dog, the child may fear not only that dog, but other large dogs. This is
called generalization. Less similar stimuli will usually produce less
After studying classical conditioning in dogs and other animals,
psychologists became interested in how this type of learning might apply to
human behavior. American psychologist John B. Watson conditioned a baby
named Albert to fear a small white rat by pairing the sight of the rat with a loud
noise. Although their experiment was ethically questionable, it showed for the
first time that humans can learn to fear seemingly unimportant stimuli when the
stimuli are associated with unpleasant experiences. Psychologists now know
that classical conditioning explains many emotional responses?such as
happiness, excitement, anger, and anxiety?that people have to specific stimuli.
One of the most widespread and important types of learning is operant
conditioning, which involves increasing a behavior by following it with a
reward, or decreasing a behavior by following it with punishment. operant
conditioning refers to the fact that the learner must operate, or perform a
certain behavior, before receiving a reward or punishment. For example, if a
mother starts giving a boy his favorite snack every day that he cleans up his
room, before long the boy may spend some time each day cleaning his room
in anticipation of the snack. In this example, the boy?s behavior increases
because it is followed by a reward or reinforcer. Positive reinforcement, is a
method of strengthening behavior by following it with a pleasant stimulus.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful method for controlling the behavior of
both animals and people. Negative reinforcement is a method of
strengthening a behavior by following it with the removal of an unpleasant
Some of the earliest scientific research on operant conditioning was
conducted by American psychologist Edward L. Thorndike. Thorndike?s
research subjects included cats, dogs, and chickens. To see how animals learn
new behaviors, Thorndike used a small chamber that he called a puzzle box.
He would place an animal in the puzzle box, and if it performed the correct
behavior the door would swing open and the animal would be rewarded with
some food located just outside the cage. Thorndike developed a principle he
called the law of effect.
Although classical and operant conditioning are important types of
learning, people learn a large portion of what they know through observation.
Learning by observation differs from classical and operant conditioning
because it does not require direct personal experience with stimuli, reinforcers,
or punishers. Learning by observation involves simply watching the behavior of
another person, called a model, and later imitating the model?s behavior.
Both children and adults learn a great deal through observation and imitation.
Young children learn language, social skills, habits, fears, and many other
everyday behaviors by observing their parents and older children. Many
people learn academic, athletic, and musical skills by observing and then
imitating a teacher.
With these three very important types of learning we can teach
both humans and animals new skills. Teaching animals to do silly tasks
that a human can perform is very possible. For instance teaching a
chimpanzee to dance modern rock.