Classic Conditioning vs. Operator Conditioning

Classic Conditioning vs. Operator Conditioning

In this article I want to talk about the 2 principles of learnings that underlie human behavior. Since we are born we are in constant interrelation with ourselves and with the world around us and through that interrelation we are learning different ways of acting, feeling and thinking that they will be forming our possibility, which of course can be constantly changing lifelong.

Classical conditioning

The classic conditioning a learning process through which the body learns to respond to a stimulus that previously did not respond by association with another stimulus that did produce that response.

Example of Pavlov's dogs

Pavlov was the one who discovered the process of classical conditioning in a study with dogs.

When a hungry dog ​​is fed, it begins to secrete a flow of saliva from certain glands. This is what we call salivation reflex. We can say that food is an unconditioned stimulus that provokes an unconditional salivation response.

  • Unconditioned Stimulus (EI): We refer to a stimulus that by nature provokes a certain response that does not need to have been learned previously.
  • Unconditioned Response (IR): We refer to the response that the unconditioned stimulus evokes.

(Ex: EI - RI-salivate food / EI-Blood alcohol RI- Drunkenness / EI-death of a loved one-RI-Sadness)

But this is not all. Pavlov realized that the dogs also salivated when the food had not yet reached their mouths: simply seeing the food or smelling it caused the same salivation response as having the food in the mouth. This led him to develop a series of experiments in which he discovered how there were associations between different stimuli and responses, getting a bell to cause the same salivation response as food.

How did he do this? Very easy! For several times he rang the bell (neutral stimulus) just before presenting the food (unconditional stimulus) to the dogs so that he managed to associate the sound of the bell with the food getting that after several days repeating this process, the sound of the bell without having to present food later, will cause the same reflection of salivation as food.

The neutral stimulus initially assumed by the bell becomes a conditioned stimulus. This conditioned stimulus causes a conditioned salivation response.

  • Conditioned Stimulus (EC): Previously neutral stimulus, which acquires the property of provoking a certain response by being associated with another stimulus that already provoked that response.
  • Conditional Response (RC): Response learned against a stimulus that did not provoke it before the association process with another.

You're probably thinking And what could this affect me?

Examples applied to real life:

  • Ex1: A child watches scary movies in his room. He associates the room with the movies and simply entering his room makes him afraid.
  • Ex2: Someone who has recurring nightmares and is afraid of sleeping or sleeping because of association with those nightmares.
  • Ex3: Someone who has just received bad news is very overwhelmed and gets into the subway. An association can be established between the state of overwhelm produced by the news and the subway, causing the next time that person gets into the subway.
  • Ex4: A person who remains locked in a small and crowded elevator for hours and from there is unable to reassemble in an elevator.
  • Ex5: A couple that knows each other when a romantic song plays in the background.
  • Ex6: A person sticks a binge to cherries and is indigestible, from there every time he thinks of cherries his stomach is stirred.

Individual differences in this process must be taken into account. Some people have more facility to associate certain stimuli than others. Just as some people need many trials (repetitions of EI and EN (neutral stimulation) together to condition)), others with a single trial can establish an association. The level of activation of the moment also greatly influences, when we are emotionally activated it is easier to establish associations than when we are not.

Operant conditioning

The operant conditioning is a learning process through which we associate certain behaviors (We call these behaviors operant responses since they operate with the environment) with the consequences that follow them.

I am talking about behavior in its broadest sense, including thoughts as well. I include thoughts in the definition of behavior since a thought is nothing more than what I say to myself, therefore it is a behavior that can be worked on and modified like any other.

A behavior is more likely to be repeated if positive consequences follow (Behavior reinforcement) and is more unlikely to be repeated if negative consequences follow (Behavior punishment). It is important that these consequences are contingent on the response so that they influence it, that is, they occur immediately afterwards.

However, not all positive consequences act as reinforcement, nor all negative consequences as punishment. A reinforcement or a punishment by definition are events that increase or decrease the probability that a given behavior will occur. Therefore, if a positive event does not increase the likelihood of such behavior, it is not acting as reinforcement, and if a negative event does not decrease the probability of a behavior occurring, it is also not acting as punishment.

It is also important to know that the consequences in the short term they weigh much more on our way of behaving than the long term consequences. That is why it is so difficult to follow a diet, since if you eat a bun the immediate consequence that you will have will be gratifying however in the long term you will not be able to achieve your goal of losing weight (If immediately to eat a bun we gain a few grams, few people would eat buns) In situations with very delayed reinforcements over time it is important to have a lot of self-control and remind ourselves (bringing reinforcement to the present) what we will achieve if we follow certain steps.

  • Positive reinforcement: Provide something nice to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring. (Give a bauble or praise to a child after doing homework)
  • Negative reinforcement: Remove something unpleasant to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring. (If doing homework the child gets rid of setting the table, assuming he doesn't like setting the table)
  • Positive punishment: Provide something negative to decrease the likelihood of a behavior occurring (Cheating the child when he misbehaves)
  • Negative punishment: Remove something positive to decrease the likelihood of a behavior occurring. (Take the child's pay off when he misbehaves)
  • Discriminative stimulus: Stimulus before which behavior is more likely to be reinforced (The child asks the parents for things in front of the family because they are more likely to get them in that situation)

I hope this article helps you understand how we behave and how we can change the way we behave in thinking and feeling.