Classical Conditioning

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Learning, as defined by Weiten (2007) is any relatively durable change in behavior or knowledge that is due to experience. There is a wide range of types of learning, a more specific kind of learning is conditioning. Conditioning is making an association between events that occur around a person’s environment. For instance, my negative reaction to my wife’s cooking is a conditioned response due to the experiences that I have had. Conditioning can be separated into two types; classical and operant.

Classical conditioning was first described by a Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the early 1900s. This type of conditioning suggests that a stimulus requires the ability to induce a response that has been previously evoked by another stimulus. In the case of Pavlov’s studies, dogs were studied for the production of saliva when an auditory stimulus and food was presented together. The dogs started to relate the auditory stimulus with the food, therefore producing saliva when hearing that stimulus. Concepts of classical conditioning were further broken down into responses. Using the example from Pavlov’s studies, the relationship between the food and the saliva did not have to be learned thus making it an unconditioned stimulus and response. Whereas the link between the saliva and the auditory stimuli is defined as a conditioned stimulus and response because the dogs where taught or conditioned to associate a specific sound with receiving food.

The next type of conditioning is known as operant conditioning derived in the 1930s by B.F. Skinner. Skinner defines operant conditioning as learning where responses are conditioned by consequences. Where classical conditioning is based on stimuli before the response, operant conditioning takes into consideration what happens after the response. Weiten (2007) further suggests, “classical conditioning regulated reflexive, involuntary responses, whereas operant conditioning governed voluntary responses” (pg. 224). The...
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