Good Example Of Research Paper On The Difference Between Classical And Operant Conditioning

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Stimulus, Pets, Operant Conditioning, Food, Reward, Assistant, Dog, Criminal Justice

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/24

Classical and Operant conditioning are two major concepts that are part of Behaviourism. In a nutshell, these two concepts are similar in objectives, which are to teach or condition for example, pets. The main proponent for classical conditioning is Ivan Pavlov, a physiologist by profession but contributed an essential part in modern psychology. Ivan Pavlov first observed while studying digestion in dogs that they salivate whenever his research assistant enters the room. Their experiment is about testing salivation in response to various edible foods fed but even without food, the dogs are already salivating due to the stimulus (research assistant entering the room). This phenomenon led Pavlov to devise his theory about classical conditioning (Cherry, K., n.d.). Classical conditioning has also been termed as Pavlovian conditioning and respondent condition. In classical conditioning, the response to stimuli is usually reflexive or involuntary. Stimuli can be in the form of anything that is connected to one or more of the five senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. A simple example would be clapping prior to feeding a dog. If enough conditioning is done, the sound of the clap would make the dog salivate in anticipation of food even if no food is present (Gould, J., 2005). The fundamental concept of classical conditioning can be summarized by four technical terms called involuntary response, stimulus, neutral stimulus, and conditioned stimulus. In the example of Pavlov’s dogs, the involuntary response is the salivation of dogs in response to food (stimulus). The research assistant that gives food is a neutral stimulus and because of the dog’s association of the assistant to food, an involuntary response can also observed. With enough repetition, the research assistant now becomes a conditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus, even without the real stimulus, can also elicit salivation in dogs.
Operant conditioning has its roots a psychologist named B.F. Skinner and Edward Thorndike. It is sometimes termed as Skinnerian conditioning after Skinner who pioneered the principle. Operant conditioning is also called instrumental conditioning, a term coined by Thorndike who also worked on this principle on behaviorism. In operant conditioning, the response is usually voluntary and controlled by their consequences (a reward or punishment). Thorndike has been researching with cats placed in puzzle boxes. These puzzle boxes contain food to reward the cat in the event that it has escape such maze. Because of the associated reward, the cats soon learned to escape and became conditioned. Thorndike also worked on devices which were later called as “Skinner box”. The Skinner box contains a button or bar that when pressed by a rat would result to a reward. Thorndike also worked on a Skinner box of pigeons with visuals a stimulus that needs to be pecked in order for the reward to come out. Thorndike managed to formulate the Law of Effect based on these experiments in Skinner boxes and summarized it as: If a response in the presence of a stimulus leads to satisfying effects, then the association between the stimulus and response strengthens, and vice versa (Gould, J., 2005). Operant conditioning in a nutshell is all about rewards and punishments, which strengthens the response to a particular stimulus. A simple example is a hamster in a cage with built-in food dispenser and with two buttons that corresponds to either reward or punishment. If the hamster presses the right button, food will come out (reward) or get nothing (punishment) if wrong.
There are a myriad of other examples for both classical and operant conditioning in our households that we are unaware of. In our communications, we can associate a smartphone’s vibration or ringtone to our most communicated contact, which is usually dear to us. The stimulus in this case is the message of that particular contact while the neutral stimulus is the vibration or ringtone. The response is euphoria or happiness for receiving a message from that special person. A common practical example for operant conditioning is how parents reward children for doing something voluntary like doing chores and errands. As children understand that doing errands or house chores will result to a special treat, their response gets fortified and will continue to do the response in anticipation of another reward. The response in this case is the child doing house chores or errands while the stimulus is the special treat. Both classical and operant conditioning are utilized in many applications such child psychology and in training of pets and animals. By using a combination of both conditioning techniques, a child’s behavior can be modified that fits the parent’s values. Training of household pets to have proper behavior and skills can also be accomplished through those two methods.
Classical and operant conditioning have a very obvious difference: the former has an involuntary response while the latter is voluntary. These differences mean that classical conditioning does not intend the subject to respond or act in a particular way but is automatically responding in certain ways. The experiments of Pavlov show that dog salivation is not guided but is triggered by the appearance of food and later also associated with the person giving the food. If we view salivation as voluntary it would be like waiting for the dog to learn how to salivate then a reward is given. Operant conditioning involves a response such that a subject will try to do a task (voluntarily) and in exchange get reward or punishment. Everything in classic conditioning is passively motivated while it is active in operant.
Another major area where the two differs in is the presence or absence of incentives that can reinforce or strengthen the subject’s response. In classical conditioning, the subject is merely allowed to associate a neutral stimulus (the arrival or sound of the feeding assistant) with the unconditioned stimulus (the food). Reinforcement indirectly happens if the cycle of associating the assistant with food is repeated several times. An indirect weakening of the response may also happen if the neutral stimulus is not associated to the unconditioned stimulus. In operant conditioning, a subject’s response can be strengthened with either rewards or punishments. If the subject successfully finishes a task or does something that is correct, rewards are given hence the subject will try to do better in the next cycle. A punishment may also be employed to correct the response of the subject thereby reinforcing it in a way that is opposite that of rewards. To add to those differences, the sequence of the cycle of stimulus and response is reversed for the two types of conditioning. Classical conditioning starts with a stimulus then a response is resulted, while for operant conditioning the cycle starts with a voluntary response, which is then rewarded with a reinforcing stimulus.


Brock, S.E. (n.d.). Classical vs Operant Conditioning. California State University Sacramento. Retrieved from Operant%20Conditioning%20handout.pdf
Cherry, K. (n.d.). Pavlov’s dog: How Ivan Pavlov Discovered Classical Conditioning. About Education. Retrieved from
Gould, J. (2005). Classical vs Operant Conditioning. University of West Florida. Retrieved from

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Good Example Of Research Paper On The Difference Between Classical And Operant Conditioning. Free Essay Examples - Published Dec 24, 2020. Accessed April 14, 2024.

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