Operant Conditioning Essay

Ivan Pavlov

Classical conditioning is a method used in behavioral studies. It is known as classical because it is the first study of laws of learning/conditioning, It is a learned reaction that you do when evoked by a stimulus.

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Ivan Pavlov was the scientist who discovered classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov was born in Russia. He lived from 1849 – 1936 . Pavlov’s field of study was physiology and natural science.

One of Pavlov’s discoveries was the conditioning of dogs. While working with the dogs he investigated the salivation reaction when food was present.

He discovered that the dogs would salivate when he entered the room with and without food. Pavlov then went on to training the dogs. He would ring a bell every time food is served . The bell was repeatedly used as a neutral stimulus. The dogs then grew to associate the sound of the bell with food. This type of response is known as a learnt “conditioned” response. The bell is now a conditioned stimulus.

Pavlov created a theory to describe the process. The unconditioned stimulus is the object or the event that provokes a response naturally. The response is known as unconditioned response. A neutral stimulus would be a new stimulus that does not have a response. When the neutral stimulus becomes associated with the unconditioned stimulus it transforms into a conditioned stimulus. The then conditioned response is known as conditioned stimulus..

The discovery made by Pavlov then inspired a scientist called John Watson. Watson applied Pavlov’s theory to human behavior and stated that classical conditioning could explain human behaviour and psychology. In 1913 Watson published a journal titled ‘psychology as the behaviorist views’. Watson strongly believed that individual differences of behaviour were responses to experiences.

”. John Broadus Watson

Watson noted that the human behaviourisms were patterns of stimulus and response. His most famous discovery was an experiment called the “Little Albert Experiment”. Albert was a 9 month old male. His reactions to stimuli were recorded and tested. The stimuli in the experiment were animals, a rat, a rabbit and a monkey. Watson also used masks as stimuli. Albert was introduced to the animals and masks and was noted to have no fear and was unemotional. Watson then brought in the sound of a hammer being struck against a bar. The sound was behind his head so he could not see where the sound was coming from. Albert did not like the loud sound and reacted with strong emotions such as crying. Over the next 7 weeks the experiment was carried out 7 times with the white rat and the loud sound of the hammer hitting the bar. Albert then began to associate the white rat with the loud hammer and would react with strong emotion and was noted to be very fearful as he tried to move away from the rat. This lead to Watson being able to confirm that Albert had been conditioned.

Edward Thorndike was born in 1874. He was a famous scientist. His work and research was a valuable advancement to psychology. During the 19th century scientific psychology was making a statement and finding its place in academic universities. Thorndike first became interested in psychology after studying the work of William Jame. He was particularly interested in the work titled “Principles of Psychology”. His earilyt work was at Harvard university. He was interested in working with children. His study was called “Mind Reading”. He was not able to do further study with the children. After finding he could not advance with children he moved on to developing his theory with animals. He completed a study of a maze with chicks. After taking a break from Harvard university he went to Columbia University.

He began to work with cats and dogs. He designed “puzzle boxes”. He studied and proved idea’s of associative processes with the cats. This work was called “The Law of Effect”.

His main theories were based on his work with animals. He constructed his own device called “puzzle boxes”. The puzzle boxes were a example of instrumental conditioning. The animal would response. It would then be rewarded. The response is then learned. If the response was not rewarded then it would disappear over time. The animals would be placed into the puzzle boxes and would only be able to escape by making certain responses such as pushing a button. The experiment with the cats entailed placing a hungry cat into the puzzle box. He then observed its behaviour. The cat would try and escape in order to obtain food.

The cat in most cases would act on a “trial and error” method. When the cat obtained the food the trial and error behaviour decreased and the cat soon learnt how to escape quickly. The learnt behaviour took time and did not improve quickly. The amount of time the cat spent in the box slowly shorted. Upon completion of his experiment Thorndike learnt that certain stimuli and responses became associated or dissociated from each other. He developed his law of effect.

Thorndike concluded that animals learn by trial and error, or most importantly by reward and punishment. He then linked the behavior of the cats to all beings. His work with animals was the founding principle of Instrumental Learning. His most famous work was on the learning theory that lead to the development of operant conditioning by a psychologist called Burrhus.Frederic Skinner.

Skinner was born in Pennsylvania on March 20, 1904. Skinners first studied English at Hamilton College. He often wrote for the college newspaper. He found that he didn’t like the atmosphere at college and felt he did not fit in well with other students. He originally wanted to be a writer. He left the college and after some time he returned to study at Harvard university. His area of study now psychology. He gained a masters degree in 1930 and his doctorate in 1931. He continued studying as a research scientist until 1936.

Skinner said that the way to understand behaviour is to study the causes of an action and the consequences. He called this Operant Conditioning. Skinners idea operant conditioning was developed from the work of Pavlov, Watson; classical conditioning and most importantly the work of Thorndike. Skinner took the theory “Law of Effect” and developed it further by introducing the idea of reinforcement. Through a series of experiments with rats and pigeons he created the skinner box. The box was similar to Thorndike’s “puzzle box”. Skinner believed that behavior which is reinforced often is repeated and behavior which is not reinforced often is not repeated thus meaning a behaviour is learnt. Skinner noted three types of responses with the animals.

Neutral operants: The animal’s response to the environment. There is neither an increase nor decrease in the animals behavior.

Reinforces:The animal’s response to the environment. There is an increase of the behavior changing. This can be either positive or negative stimuli. In the experiment titled “The Skinner Box” Skinner used rats. He backed up his idea of positive reinforcement by placing the rat in the box. The rat would be hungry.The skinner box had a lever. The hungry rat would then move around in the box. When the rat knocked the level food would be available close to the lever. The rat then learnt to quickly knock the lever. This action would then be repeated by the rat. The rat is positively reinforced. Positive reinforcers are positive outcomes given to the being after the event of positive behavior such as rewards.

Skinner backed up his idea of negative reinforcement by again placing the rat in the box. In the box there was an electric current. This time when the rat knocked the lever the electric current would turn off. The then learnt to quickly knock the lever. As a result of this the rat repeated the behavior. The rat is negatively reinforced. Negative reinforcers are when the negative stimulus is removed after the being performs a positive behavior.

Punishment: Skinner proved that punishment is the opposite of reinforcement. Punishment should enforce behaviours to be eliminated or decreased. Similar to negative reinforcement, punishment can work by applying negative stimulus such as the electric shock after a behaviour by the rat is noted or the removal of positive reinforcers such as the rats food. Punishment can be classed as either negative or positive. It is a contrast of reinforcement.

Punishment can be either positive or negative. Positive punishment is when negative outcomes are given to squash to behavior. Negative punishment is when a positive rewards are removed if negative behavior is noted. The end result after punishment is that the behavior is decreased or has entirely stopped.

In todays society there are many examples of operant conditioning. Human beings are extremely advanced. An example of operant conditioning is; When a parent rewards a child for good behaviour the child receives a prize such as chocolate or pocket money, A teacher has a star chart or sticker chart. The children receive stickers for being well behaved during lessons. The children then learn to behave during lessons.

Classical conditioning developed by Pavlov and Watson is a is a method used in behavioral studies. It is known as classical because it is the first study of laws of learning/conditioning, It is a learned reaction that you do when evoked by a stimulus. The most famous experiment for classical conditioning is known as Pavlov’s dogs. Pavlov discovered and researched the rate of the dogs salivated on the sound of a bell and food being produced thus being conditioned.

Watson further developed Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory. His most famous experiment was titled “The Little Albert.” Watson conditioned Albert with a series of animals and loud sounds.

In todays society classical conditioning techniques are still used. For example classical conditioning is useful in the treatment of phobias and anxieties in human beings. Teachers apply classical conditioning in the classroom by creating a positive environment. The teacher may use the action of placing a positive stimuli with a possibly difficult task such as group presentations. The student may feel less anxious in these situations due to the positive stimuli furthermore the student begins to associate the action.

The main differences between classical and operant conditioning is whether the behaviour is involuntary or voluntary and whether the condition has been learnt actively (Operant) or in a passive setting (Classical).

To conclude in today’s society both classical and operant conditioning is used. Often by psychologists, teachers, parents, animal trainers and business marketing companies.

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