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Conditioning

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Conditioning

Have you ever wondered why a class of elementary students gets loud when they are working on a project together, but when the teacher rings a bell or claps their hands, they get quiet so suddenly? This is because the students have been conditioned to give a certain response to a stimulus (getting quiet when the teacher makes a specific sound). This is a classic example of conditioning and how a response can be learned after repetitive practice.

Conditioning in Psychology

Merriam-Webster 2022 defines conditioning as “a simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response”.

Types of Conditioning

There are two types of conditioning - classical and operant. The following text describes each in more detail.

Classical Conditioning

Merriam-Webster 2022 defines classical conditioning as “conditioning in which the conditioned stimulus (such as the sound of a bell) is paired with and precedes the unconditioned stimulus (such as the sight of food) until the conditioned stimulus alone is sufficient to elicit the response (such as salivation in a dog).”

Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov was a well-known Russian physiologist (believe it or not, he was not a psychologist) that carried out experiments involving classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning is often referred to as Pavlovian conditioning or Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning.

Pavlov was well known for his experiments with studying the digestive process in dogs. During his research, he and his lab assistants would introduce different edible and non-edible foods to the dogs. While doing this, Pavlov noticed that the dogs began to salivate at the sight of the lab assistants - before any food was introduced or brought into the room. He saw that when the dog salivates, it is more of a reflex response to a stimulus than a response within its control. With this initial experiment, Pavlov realized that the food was the unconditioned stimulus. The lab assistants and their white coats were the conditioned stimulus, and the salivating was the conditioned response. Because of this, Pavlov decided to do more psychological experimental research on this theory (beyond the scope of his physiological research).

Conditioning, brown dog sitting, Study SmarterBrown dog sitting, conditioning, Pixabay.com

Next, Pavlov decided to bring in a metronome as a neutral stimulus. They began to play the metronome sound, and then they would bring in the food for the dogs. After doing this several times, the researcher and his assistants discovered that the sound of the metronome began to make the dogs salivate before the food was introduced. In this experiment, the food was the unconditioned stimulus, the metronome became the conditioned stimulus, and the dogs salivating was the conditioned response. Pavlov is noted for the discovery of classical conditioning.

Classical Conditioning is essential for behavioral psychology. It is used to treat various disorders, such as OCD, anxiety, phobias, etc.

Operant Conditioning

Merriam-Webster 2022 defines operant conditioning as “conditioning in which the desired behavior or increasingly closer approximations to it are followed by a rewarding or reinforcing stimulus”.

B.F. Skinner

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (more commonly known as B.F. Skinner) was an American psychologist who believed there was more to why people do certain things and exhibit certain behaviors. His research focused on what causes specific actions and what rewards or consequences were associated with those actions. Skinner himself called this approach to human behavior operant conditioning.

Edward Thorndike’s law of effect from 1898 deepened the view of operant conditioning. This law of effect states that when a person gets a positive response for a particular behavior, they are more likely to perform it again and vice versa. This law was the base for Skinner's operant conditioning.

Skinner decided to introduce a new term to the law of effect - reinforcement. He found that a reinforced behavior is more likely to be repeated. With this research on reinforcement, he discovered three different responses to reinforcement.

  1. Neutral operants are neutral responses that do not increase or decrease the chances of the particular behavior happening again.

  2. Reinforcers can be either positive or negative. It is more likely that the behavior will be repeated because of the reinforcer.

  3. Punishers weaken the behavior and can lower the likelihood of repetition.

Think of a child bringing home a conduct report with notes from school to show their parents how they behave in the classroom. If they have excellent grades, their parents might take them out for ice cream to celebrate (reinforcing the behavior with a positive reward). Because of this, the child would probably study hard in hopes of getting a positive response again.

On the other hand, if the child’s conduct report is not that great and said the child was not meeting expectations in the classroom, their parents might ground them and take away their electronics (punishing the behavior with a consequence). Because of this, the child would probably be less likely to continue to repeat this behavior in hopes of not getting a negative response again.

Conditioning, girl writing, StudySmarterGirl writing, conditioning, Wiki Media

Components and Examples of Conditioning

The three main components of operant conditioning are positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. Let’s look at each component individually.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement means giving a reward for a good or desired behavior. For example, this could be giving a child a sticker or verbal praise for staying seated. This type of reinforcement leads to repeated behavior to achieve a desirable outcome. Positive reinforcement still provides a consequence; only, in this case, it is a desirable one.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement has a negative consequence for the action. For example, a parent constantly nags their child to clean up their toys. The child doesn’t like this, so they clean up. This reinforcement leads to the child cleaning up their toys to avoid their parents nagging at them.

Punishment

Punishment is the opposite of reinforcement because it aims to stop or prevent a behavior. It is given right after the behavior to try and stop the behavior from occurring in the future. However, there are some downsides to punishment. One is that once the punishment stops, the behavior may start again. Another problem is that, unlike reinforcement, it may prevent the behavior, but it doesn’t teach a new, better behavior.

While there are many different types, parts, and components to conditioning, they all work towards getting a desired behavior.

Conditioning - Key Takeaways

  • Conditioning is a form of learning using the association of a stimulus and a response.
  • There are two main forms of conditioning: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.
    • Classical Conditioning is when a conditioned is paired with an unconditioned stimulus to elicit a response until the conditioned stimulus alone is enough to elicit a response.
      • Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning during his physiology experiments with dogs. Classical conditioning helps behavioral psychology to treat various behaviors and disorders.
    • Operant Conditioning is when a behavior is followed by reinforcement or punishment.
  • B.F. Skinner found that a reinforced behavior is more likely to be repeated.
  • Law of Effect is when a person gets a positive response for a particular behavior and is more likely to perform it again.
  • There are three main components to operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment. Positive reinforcement is when a reward is given for a good or desired behavior. Negative reinforcement is having a negative consequence for an action or behavior. Punishment aims at stopping or preventing a behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions about Conditioning

Merriam-Webster 2022 defines classical conditioning as “conditioning in which the conditioned stimulus (such as the sound of a bell) is paired with and precedes the unconditioned stimulus (such as the sight of food) until the conditioned stimulus alone is sufficient to elicit the response (such as salivation in a dog)”.

Merriam-Webster 2022 defines operant conditioning as “conditioning in which the desired behavior or increasingly closer approximations to it are followed by a rewarding or reinforcing stimulus”.

An example of conditioning would be a child bringing home a conduct report with notes from school to show their parents how they behave in the classroom. If they have excellent grades, their parents might take them out for ice cream to celebrate (reinforcing the behavior with a positive reward). Because of this, the child would probably study hard in hopes of getting a positive response again.  

There are two types of conditioning - classical and operant

Conditioning is “a simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response” (Merriam-Webster, 2022).

Final Conditioning Quiz

Question

What are two types of conditioning?

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Classical and operant

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What is classical conditioning?

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Classical conditioning is when one stimulus is paired with an outside stimulus to create a response that is a result of the outside stimulus.

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What is operant conditioning?


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Operant conditioning is when a particular behavior is reinforced by either positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or punishment.

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What is conditioning?


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Conditioning is training someone or something to give a certain result by introducing a stimulus or reinforcer. 

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Ivan Pavlov carried out experiments for which type of conditioning?


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Classical conditioning

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During Ivan Pavlov’s initial experiment, he was using what animal as his study subject?


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Dogs

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Who is noted for the discovery of classical conditioning?


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Ivan Pavlov

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What does the Law of Effect state?


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The Law of Effect states that when a person gets a good or positive response for a behavior, they are more likely to perform that behavior again.

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Who modeled operant conditioning after the Law of Effect?


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B.F. Skinner

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B.F. Skinner brought a new term into the law of effect. What was that term?


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Reinforcement

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What is a neutral operant?


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A neutral operant is a neutral response that does not increase or decrease the chances of a behavior happening again.

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What is a reinforcer?


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A reinforcer can be either positive or negative and makes it more likely that the desired behavior will be repeated.

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What is positive reinforcement?


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Positive reinforcement is when a reward is given for a good or desired behavior.

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What is negative reinforcement?


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Negative reinforcement is when a negative consequence is given for an action.

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What is punishment?


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Answer

Punishment is the opposite of reinforcement because it is aimed at stopping or preventing a behavior. 

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