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Classical and Operant Conditioning

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Classical and operant conditioning are alike in that they both lead to learning something. However, they are different in how they are actually applied. Classical conditioning elicits a conditioned response--a behavior--that has been triggered by a stimulus that is able to do so through a biologically significant stimulus, or the unconditioned stimulus. Through operant conditioning, consequences of an organism’s behavior are manipulated to see what effect that has on its behavior (Gerrig, 2013). Both classical and operant conditioning look at the organism’s emotions, physical reactions, and thoughts as a result of a stimulus.

When reading about classical conditioning, the first application to my own life that came across my mind was what I relate to certain songs. For example, whenever my family would drive to my condo in the mountains when I was a child, we would listen to Fleetwood Mac. So, every time I am driving in that area I get the urge to listen to them. I was exposed to their music multiple times, and now I relate it to that same environment. In addition to this example, every time I would go over to my grandmother’s house growing up she would be cooking, and she always liked to use a lot of basil in her dishes. Now whenever I smell basil I notice I salivate, not realizing I am thinking of how good her cooking was. This is essentially the same as Ivan Pavlov’s experiment with dogs: training them to salivate due to a certain stimulus (Gerrig, 2013).

In the case of operant conditioning, I can think of many examples that relate to positive and negative reinforcement as well as positive and negative punishment. One example that relates to the negative reinforcement category occurred while I was taking ground classes at West Virginia University. At the midterm mark and again at the end of the semester my professor for Calculus I eliminated a student’s worst quiz score if they had perfect attendance. In other words, she took away the negative factor--a bad quiz score--and increased the enthusiastic response of the student. A second personal example of operant conditioning connects to negative punishment. When driving home from my last summer internship, I was ready to just get home as quickly as possible, and got pulled over for speeding. Though I never looked at it in this light, that was exactly a negative punishment: my money was taken away from me, and it taught me that speeding in the future would likely result in the same punishment, if not made worse by having my license taken away eventually.

Gerrig, R. (2013). Psychology and Life (20th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

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