There are two main explanations of how organisms learn. The first explanation is known as classical conditioning. The second explanation is known as operant conditioning. These two types of learning are exhibited in our everyday lives through our home, school, and school.
Classical conditioning was discovered by Iran Petrovich Pavlov. He was originally a physiologist whose main focus was the digestive system (Gazzaniga 230). His discovery was made during a study on the salivation of dogs when given food. Pavlov observed that the dogs began salivating at the sound of the scientists footsteps and at their appearance into the room (231). This led Pavlov to study the phenomenon further.
The experiments that Pavlov was originally observing were based on the set of unconditioned stimulus and its unconditioned response. What is meant by conditioned is that the response is automatic and based on instinct. To compliment this name the stimulus is known as the unconditioned stimulus (Myers 260). With Pavlov's new observations a new set of stimulus and response was found. This new set is known as the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response. What is meant by conditioned response here is that the response was learned. The stimulus begins as neutral and causes no conditioned response. However, if the neutral stimulus can be associated with another stimulus, then it becomes a conditioned stimulus.
Classical conditioning can be exemplified in the home, school, and school. In the home a child could smell brownies baking in the kitchen which makes her mouth water. The brownies are the unconditioned stimulus, the smell is the conditioned stimulus, and the watering of the mouth is the conditioned response (Myers 267-68). In work a man may be waiting to be fired. When he sees his boss he begins to sweat. The unconditioned stimulus is getting fired, the conditioned stimulus is the sight of the boss, the conditioned response is the sweating. In school a boy may be in class when suddenly the fire alarm goes off at which time the boy walks to exit the building. The unconditioned stimulus is fear of a fire, the conditioned stimulus is the sound of the alarm, and the conditioned response is the exiting of the building.
Operant conditioning is an organism's learning an association between how it behaves and what happens as a result of that behavior (Gazzaniga 244). There are some differences between classical and operant conditioning. First, the operant response has to occur completely spontaneously. In classical conditioning the conditioned response is drawn from an organism. In operant conditioning the response is delivered by the organism which then awaits the consequences. Second, in classical conditioning the conditioned response is usually a "very well-defined muscular movement or glandular response" (244). In operant conditioning the response is a set of actions that bring about an essentially equal result. Third, in classical conditioning reinforcement is dictated by the scientist or instructor. In operant conditioning reinforcement is dictated by the organism (245).
Edward L. Thorndike was the first person to formally address the affects of reward and punishment in learning. He came up with the positive law of effect which stated that when a behavior is rewarded that behavior will be more likely to be repeated (Myers 269). F. B. Skinner later elaborated on this theory. Skinner observed there are different types of operant conditioning. There is punishment which decreases the probability of a behavior being repeated. There is positive reinforcement which the giving of a reward for a behavior (Myers 270). An example of this in the home would be the giving of a cookie to a child for picking up all his toys. There is negative reinforcement which is the taking away of something undesirable (Myers 270). An example of this in work would be a man at work who is allergic to flowers, but must sit near them since his boss likes them. The boss says that she will take away the flowers if he gets his report done early.
This reinforcement can be divided into two categories; primary and secondary. Primary reinforcers are things that are required by an organism such as food, warmth, water, sleep, and sex (Gazzaniga 252). Secondary reinforcers are things that are associated with primary reinforcers and therefore have their own reinforcing properties. An excellent example of this today is money which can be used to obtain many primary reinforcers (252).
Reinforcement fits into one of five main schedules. There is partial reinforcement or the irregularity of reinforcement. Continuous reinforcement is the repetitive reinforcement given after completing a task. Fixed ratio reinforcement is when a certain number of responses must be given to obtain a reward. Fixed interval reinforcement is when a response must be given for a certain amount of time to obtain a reward. Finally, variable ratio reinforcement is when a certain number of responses are required for the first reward, but different numbers of responses are required for different rewards. In closing, classical and operant conditioning are two explanations of an organisms learning. These two explanations are valid and existent. This can be seen through our experiences in the home, work, and school.
Gazzaniga, Michael S. Psychology. Philadelphia: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980.
Myers, David G. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers, 1995.