Classical & Operant Conditioning – Key terms

25 Jan

Major thinkers:

  • Ivan Pavlov – Classical conditioning

  • B.F. Skinner – Operant conditioning

Behaviourism –  learning occurs through interactions with the environment, and that taking internal mental states (such as thoughts feelings, and emotions) into consideration is useless in explaining behaviour.

Classical Conditioning – a reflexive (automatic) type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus.

Stimulus-Response Bond –when a neutral stimulus and a neutral response are linked through classical conditioning.

Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS) – one that naturally triggers a response (If you smell your favourite food, you may feel hungry. Therefore the smell is the US).

Unconditioned Response (UCR) – an unlearned response that occurs naturally in response to the UCS. In the example above, the feeling of hunger (in response to the smell of food) is the UCR.

Conditioned Stimulus (CS) – a previously neutral stimulus that is gradually associated with the unconditioned stimulus. In the above example, if you hear a whistle whenever you smelled your favourite food many times, the sound would eventually trigger a conditioned response (hunger).

Conditioned Response (CR) – learned response to the previously neutral stimulus. When you hear the whistle (CS) you would feel hungry!

Discrimination – when a condition response is apparent when presented with things similar to the conditioned stimulus. E.g., if you are afraid of doctors because you have been conditioned with needles, you may feel anxiety around people who look like doctors (lab tech, scientists, etc).

Extinction – the process of unlearning/removing a stimulus response bond, by breaking the link between the CS and the UCS.

Systematic desensitization: A type of behavioural therapy used to treat phobias evoked by certain environmental situations, such as heights or crowds. The patient is first taught a muscle relaxation technique. Then he or she is told, over a period of days, to imagine the fear-producing situation while trying to inhibit the anxiety by relaxation. At the end of the series, the strongest anxiety-provoking situation may be brought to mind without anxiety.

Operant Conditioning: Learning occurs through reinforcements and punishments for behavior. An association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior.

Reinforcer: any event that promotes/increases the behaviour it follows.

  • Positive reinforcers – favourable events that are presented AFTER behaviour (reward, praise)
  • Negative reinforcers – remove bad/unfavourable events after the display of a behaviour (parent stops nagging after you take out the trash)

Punishment: an unpleasant outcome that decreases the behavior it follows.

  • Positive punishment – present an unfavourable event in order to weaken the response that follows (copy the text 100x)
  • Negative punshiment – when a favourable event is removed after a behavior occurs (can’t watch TV if you are rude to parents)

Useful links:

Pavlov’s Dog game

Pavlov bio

B. F. Skinner foundation

PBS A Science Odyssey B. F. Skinner bio



One Response to “Classical & Operant Conditioning – Key terms”


  1. Theories of Language Acquisition « SAP on the Web - February 8, 2011

    […] identified several problems with the behaviourist approach that prevailed during the mid-20th Century – claimed there must be a biological basis […]

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