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Contrast Principles of Classical and Operant Conditioning

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Contrast Principles of Classical and Operant Conditioning. Learning is a very important part of Psychology and it has been defined as 'any relatively permanent change in behaviour, or behaviour potential, produced by experience' (Baron, p.169). Learning is a key process in human behaviour; it can play an important role in most of the activities we do. Even though the effects of learning are extremely diverse, most psychologists believe that learning occurs in several basic forms: conditioning - classical and operant and observational learning. Myers defined conditioning as 'the process of learning associations'. Classical conditioning is where the stimulus serves as a signal for the occurrence of a second stimulus. (Learning to associate two stimuli's together). In classical conditioning we are able to acquire information about the relations between various stimuli and not just simple associations between them. The most famous research for classical conditioning comes from Ivan Pavlov in 1927. During Pavlov's research into salivary secretion in dogs he noticed that when he put food into a dog's mouth it would salivate. He then found that if he worked repeatedly with the same dog it would salivate to stimuli associated with food such as the sight of food, the food dish or the presence of the person who brought the food. ...read more.


Between 1874 and 1949 Edward Thorndike studied animal learning and he believed that learning could take place through trial and error and just by association. In his experiment to prove this he placed a hungry cat in a 'puzzle box' and left a fish hanging nearby where the cat could see it. The door on the box was then locked by could be opened by a lever which was inside the box. Eventually, and by accident, the cat knocked the lever and escaped to eat the fish. The next time the cat was placed in the box it continued with same behaviours as before but took less time to escape from the box. After a few tries the cat had learned what to do and would escape immediately. Thorndike believed the cat's ability to escape from the box involved no understanding of the relationship between pulling the lever and the door opening but simply by trial and learning, where actions, which lead to success are 'stamped in' by the positive consequence. Thorndike also concluded, that the response must lead to a positive consequence otherwise it would gradually fade. He called the 'Law of effect' where an action, which produces a positive effect, will become stronger. ...read more.


Behavioural therapies have also been developed with the help of operant conditioning, these include extinction whereby a maladaptive behaviour is performed by a patient because it's positively reinforced this gradually then becomes reduced and eventually extinct so that the behaviour no longer occurs, as there is no reward. However, in order for this technique to work the therapist must be able to find the positive reinforcement in order for them to extinguish it. Selective punishment is where the patient is punished each time they try to perform the unnecessary behaviour. Although this behaviour has been proven to be effective it has many ethical issues surrounding it and so it's generally preferred to use positive reinforcement in their therapies. Overall, operant conditioning in both behaviour shaping and therapies, shows that reinforcements are continually needed to help the behaviour remain positively changed where as in classical conditioning both behaviour changes and therapies concentrate on different stimuli that causes a new response that does not need reinforcing and so prove to be more effective in the long run. Because in operant both people and animals would only be changing their behaviour due to a reinforcer and are only likely to show the desired behaviour if it's reinforced and so this behaviour is unlikely to be a permanent change compared to classical conditioning which has much high chances of remaining. ...read more.

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The writer has gone into quite a lot of detail about both classical and operant conditioning and has included various studies. It would be helpful in future if the writer tried to condense the work into paragraphs since this would help structure the essay.

It would also be advisable to practice referencing correctly. Also a little more time could be spent on the introduction and the conclusion.

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Marked by teacher Linda Penn 01/05/2013

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