Difference between Classical Conditioning Thoery and Operant Conditioning Theory

I.P. Pavlov (1849-1936), an eminent Russian physiologist and a noble prize winner for his work on physiology of digestion, while experimenting on the gastric secretion in dogs observed that any stimulus frequently associated with the presentation of food aroused salivation.

This observation led to the famous conditioned response theory of learning. The noticed that an incidental stimulus was sufficient to bring salivation then his attention was diverted to the possibility of producing saliva to an unnatural stimulus.

Likes trial and error, conditioning deals with certain basic principles of learning process it holds that the formation of SR connection, it’s strengthening or weakening depends upon association between two things.

Presentation of a stimulus arouses a response in every normal organism. When you see a friend you welcome him, when you see a snake you run away from it. Sight of food arouses salivation. Her friends, snake and food are natural or unconditioned stimuli and responses like welcome, running away and saliva are natural or unconditioned responses


However, when an unnatural or conditioned stimulus is frequently associated with a natural or unconditioned stimulus, the ‘O’ starts showing his conditioned response to the stimulus. The conditioned response here is equal to the unconditioned responses, i.e., saliva.

In other words, saliva is the natural response to food. If food is associated with bell for several trials, bell alone brings out saliva.

Publications Authored by Ivan A Pavlov

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In short, due the association between the unconditioned (Food) and conditioned stimulus (Bell) the ‘O’ responds to the conditioned stimulus (Bells) in the same way (Saliva) as he responds to the unconditioned stimulus.


This is called conditioned response learning. In case of Pavlov’s dog, bell is the conditioned stimulus (CS) and Saliva is the conditioned response (CR).

Conditioning is supposed to be a process by which a response (Saliva) is attached to a stimulus (bell) different from the one which originally elicits that response.

In simple words, a response is said to be conditioned when some stimulus other than the already effective one comes to arouse of modify it for the establishment of a definite stimulus response connection.

A non-effective stimulus, therefore, brings an effective response due to conditioning. This pattern of behaviour is observed when learning by conditioning is complete.


The nipple in the mouth of an infant in an unconditioned stimulus and sucking is an unconditioned reflex. But when the sight of the bottle produces sucking response in the baby, it is called conditioned response.

Similarly, happiness at the sight of a friend’s letter, fear for the doctor, crying at the sight of water, is certain examples of conditioned responses. When an injection needle pricks the muscle of the baby he cries out of pain. Next time when only he

Sees the needle or the doctor, he cries with the anticipation that the needle would now prick him again. Here the pricking of the needle is the U.S. crying is the U.R., sight of the needle is the C.S. and crying is C.R. Strengthening of the SR connection therefore depends upon the association between two stimuli.

Classical conditioning

The conditioning technique developed by Pavlov is famous as the classical conditioning technique the following experiment conducted by Pavlov on a dog is known as classical conditioning “experiment. Pavlov made a minor surgical operation in the cheek of the dog to measure the rate of salivation. The animal was kept in a sound-proof room.

During the experiment a servant was feeding the dog. Pavlov to his great surprise noticed that one day, only the sound of the footsteps of the servant made the dog to salivate. The very incident created such an interest in Pavlov that he devoted most of his time to study the phenomenon of conditioning.

To start with the experiment, when food was placed in the mouth of the dog, it brought saliva. On other occasions, only a bell was rung, but it did not bring any salivary response from the dog.

Then Pavlov rang the bell first and after an interval of 5 seconds placed the food in the mouth of the dog. In this first trial bell alone did not bring saliva until food was not placed in its mouth. Only after the repetition of bell-food sequence for several days, when the dog could connect the bell with the food and anticipated food at the sound of bell did it salivate to the bell only, even before seeing the food.

Pavlov noticed that the dog salivated to the presentation of bell only after several trials when learning by conditioning was firmly established. From this Pavlov inferred that stimulus response connection has been established. The dog has finally learnt to respond to the C.S.

This technique of establishing a response to a conditioned or artificial stimulus is called classical conditioning process. Pavlov, in course of his many experiments, demonstrated that the dog can be made to salivate to any stimulus, however, unnatural and irrelevant it may be. This discovery of Pavlov made a significant contribution to the learning theory.

Time Sequence in Conditioning

Usually is conditioning technique the C.S. precedes the U.S. by a fraction of second. Sometimes it is almost simultaneous. As a matter of fact, about 3 seconds give the best result as studies “how. It is also found that if we measure the effectiveness of conditioning, the strongest conditioning occurs with shorter latency period, i.e., near about 3 seconds.

The most vital point in Pavlov’s classical conditioning technique is that food always follows bell irrespective of the salivation of the dog. Whether the dog salivates or not, does not matter. Food is always presented after bell with the lapse of a very short time interval.

Besides Pavlov, Bettered, Waston and many more psycho­logists have conducted experiments on conditioning. Waver made respiratory conditioning to belt. Pavlov and his associates have observed certain important phenomena in conditioning which are discussed below.

Stimulus Generalization

It is a tendency for the CR to be aroused by a similar stimulus other than the stimulus aroused in training. Generalization in conditioning occurs to a certain class of stimuli rather than to a specific stimulus.

Pavlov noticed that when a C.S.C.R. bond has been established by conditioning, a stimulus which is similar to the C.S., can produce the same response and he called this stimulus generalization.

The more similar the new stimulus, the greater is the probability for generalization and vice-versa. If the dog is conditioned to salivate to tone, it will salivate to any type of tone like electric bell, worship bell, college bell, buzzer, ding dong bell and other sounds.

Watson in an experiment on the development of fear in children has demonstrated stimulus generalization. Albert, a small child, used to play with a rabbit without showing any fear. Watson produces a loud sound whenever the child started playing with the rabbit.

After a number of trials, the child started showing fear towards the rabbit, associating rabbit with the occurrence of loud sound.

Then the child showed fear in general towards while fur coat, bunch of cotton and to all other stimuli having similarity with white rabbit. Stimulus generalization in conditioning happens usually more in childhood particularly when the child has not developed the capacity of differentiate between two stimuli.

This is why, during infancy the baby considers every women to be his mother. This tendency of generalization Pavlov attributed to a spread of effects from the region stimulated to other parts of the organism.

Stimulus Differentiation

Differentiation develops out of generalization. Though in the beginning mostly generalization in conditioning is found, the organism can be conditioned to make a response only to a specific stimulus by appropriated conditioning procedures.

Suppose you want to positively condition a dog to a tone of 400 cycles and negatively condition to 800 or 1200 cycles. You present the reinforcement only after 400 cycles tone and do not present reinforcement when the other tones are presented.

If this is done for several trials the dog will learn to discriminate between these tones eventually. In this case the animal is positively conditioned to 400 cycles and negatively conditioned to 800 and 1200 cycles. Since it is not given any reinforcement at 800 or 1200 tones, these are not reinforced.

Children gradually learn to differentiate one stimulus for another in their own environment. In the early period they consider any woman as their mother. But gradually, as they grow up, they differentiate their mother from other woman. The woman who fondles, nurses, feeds and takes every care of the child and sleeps with him is considered as his mother.

Discrimination in conditioning has certain utilities in learning. Though usually stimulus generalization facilitates learning making, it is easy and quick, sometimes it also inhibits learning, creates confusions misunderstanding and many emotional problems. Like Albert, if one is afraid of any stimulus which has some similarity with white rabbit, he will have many adjustment problems.

Differentiation at this point can prove useful. It can overcome the interfering and inhibitory effect of stimulus generalization. At the same time, if the differentiation is pushed too far, it leads to experimental neuroses. Munn, therefore, remarks “Sometimes as the difference is reinforced and unreinforced, stimulation becomes too small for the animal to discriminate, a nervous breakdown occurs.”

Experimental Extinction

Once a C.R. is set-up, if one goes on repeating it without giving reinforcement, it tends to be extinguished. Sometimes people ask, how can one eliminate a conditioned response once it is established? The answer to this is experimental extinction.

The process by which a C.R. can be weakened and finally eliminated is called the process of experimental extinction. It is a process by which a well established C.R. is eradicated by repeating the C.S. without the application of reinforcement.

Take the case of Pavlov’s dog. After the dog has learnt to salivate to the sound of the bell, it will continue to salivate to the bell for a certain period, although food is not given after bell.

However, after some such trials when the dog will see that no food is coming after bell, the connection between bell and food will grow weaker, the flow of saliva will decrease. At last, the dog will not salivate to the bell at all. The salivation will practically be zero which will indicate the operation of the phenomenon of experimental extinction.

Similarly, in a study of “The Eradication of a tactile conditioned reflex of man (Hull 1934) the shoulder region of the subject was conditioned so that is elicited a galvanic skin reflex. Vibration of this region was then repeated without presentation of shock. There was a gradual weakening of response and finally complete elimination”. (Munn 1953)

Internal Inhibition

After the establishment of a C.R. if the reinforcement is not provided check to salivate becomes stronger and stronger. So much so that it becomes inter-natural in nature.

Internal inhibition is a kind of negative learning not to salivate and can be applied to Ebbinghaus’s curve of forgetting. But when the inhibition becomes weaker it leads to spontaneous recovery like reminiscence in forgetting.

The idea of Ebbinghaus’s curve of forgetting was applied to the concept of internal inhibition. It was said that this check or block was something which is acquired, i.e., learning not to salivate. The negative learning not to forget is also forgotten to the same extent. However, this extinction is only a temporary suspension of response because of an internal set.

Spontaneous Recovery

Pavlov was of opinion that complete or permanent extinction of a C.R. is not possible when the experimentally extinguished response reappears again after a period, it is called spontaneous recovery. This concept can be compared with reminiscence in forgetting. In this process even without the presentation of food, bell produces a few drops of saliva.

Pavlov noticed that once the flow of saliva was completely extinguished, after about 30 minutes of rest interval the dog again salivated to the C.S. without U.S. But if again no reinforcement is provided after the C.S., spontaneous recovery will grow weaker and weaker and would at last fail to reappear.

Higher Order Conditioning

In course of his experiments on dog, Pavlov found that once conditioning was firmly established, for further conditioning, he could use the conditioned stimulus as unconditioned stimulus.

When the dog is conditioned to salivate to Bell, Pavlov used this Bell (instead of food) as a U.S. for establishing further conditioning. Pavlov was of opinion that a conditioned stimulus can be used in much the same way as an unconditioned stimulus. He stated that more elaborate forms of behaviour can be developed by the process of chain of conditioned response.

The arousal of the same response, i.e., saliva to light by frequently associating it with bell but without presenting the food is called second order conditioning, as it could conditions a second neutral stimulus.

Though Pavlov claimed that a third order conditioning can be possible in the same way he could not precede after the second order in case animals. However, with human beings, all sorts of complex learning can be possible by the process of higher order conditioning, he asserted.

Negative Conditioning/Unconditioning

Otherwise known as backward conditioning or negative adaptation it is learning not to make a response. The ‘O’ by the technique of backward conditioning can be made not to show a response to a neutral stimulus.

Thus, instead of U.S. (Food) following the C.S. (Bell), C.S. will follow the U.S., i.e., reverse to the pattern of classical conditioning technique, food (U.S.) will be given first and Bell (C.S.) will be presented next with an interval of 5 to 6 seconds between each presentation.

As the ‘O’ will get the reward first it will not have any motivation or need to make a response (to salivate). So the C.R. would not be strengthened. If at all there will be any salivation, it will be marginal.

Many of our bad habits like nail biting, bed wetting, moving the leg all the while, various ticks and mannerisms, thumb sucking, smoking, alcoholism, breast feeding in case of older children, irrelevant fears can be removed, withdrawn by negative conditioning. Various habit patterns can be broken by this procedure.

Thus, negative conditioning has valuable implications in practical life.

Whenever the rat proceeds for food, if it get electric shock, it will avoid food. A child who is punished while entering into a river will avoid the river in future. Mann (1953) reports that is sexually mature male rat is given electric shock every time is approaches a female rat, it soon avoids female rats.

When cockroaches are given electric shock for running into the dark, they learn to go to the lighted place instead of approaching for darkness. Tigers of Sunderbans (West Bengal) over the last decade have killed at least 650 persons officially and the unofficial record is about 1000.

The forest department worried over the increase in human deaths introduced something which was new in India, the use of electrified dummies.

These dummies which look extremely life-like have been placed at a few comers of the sanctuary. Officials explain that when the tiger attacks the dummies, it gets electric shock and this persuades it from further attacks on humans.

The projects officials claim at least an 80% reduction in the death rate due to this method of withdrawal conditioning.

When alcoholics are given to take alcohol containing a drug which produces violent vomiting, they develop aversion for alcohol. Similarly, for babies who do not give up breast feeding, quinine is smeared on the nipples and then only they develop aversion for breast feeding. Negative conditioning is, therefore, known as aversive conditioning.

Withdrawal Conditioning

Becheterev, another Russian physiologist and a follower of Pavlov, taking animal and human subjects, found that when the ‘O’ gets a painful stimulation in a part of his body, it withdraws from it. Withdrawal may take place from electric shock, beating or any painful stimulation.

Bell or light is presented before shock. After some trials by seeing the light or hearing the sound of the bell the ‘O’ withdraws that specific part of the body where shock is anticipated.

Experimental Neuroses

In recent times, the phenomena of neuroses have been studied by the process of generalization and differentiation. If differentiation is pushed too far the ‘O’ fails to discriminate between two stimuli, becomes completely non-adoptive and is unable to salivate to any stimulus due to conflict.

Consequently, nervous breakdown occurs. The animal suddenly becomes wild. It resents the situation.

An experiment on circle and ellipse can be referred to demonstrate experimental neuroses. When the circle and ellipse became very much similar, the animal unable to discriminate became wild. Physiological changes in respiration, heartbeat, blood circulation etc., took place. It showed abnormal symptoms and behaviour disorders.

In experimental neuroses there is a clash between positive and negative forces to or not to salivate. Anxiety neuroses are produced experimentally by this method.

The concept of experimental neuroses which threw light on various abnormal behaviors opened new avenues for research. Nessermen, Meyer and Sears have made such experiments on experimental neuroses.

Implications of Conditioning in Practical Life

The contribution of Pavlov to the psychology of learning can be said to be equally important like Freud’s as Pavlov as advanced certain concepts like generalization, differentiation, withdrawal conditionings, unconditioning and experimental neuroses which have tremendous significance in life. In fact, Pavlov’s discovery was so powerful that it became completely Pavlovian.

Conditioning works in every sphere of life. Bulk of learning in animals and children develops due to conditioning, language development and different habits, take place because of conditioning.

Therefore, it became a key technique not only for physiology, but also for psychology, mental hygiene and therapy. Watson, therefore, remarked that the whole system of behaviorism he has worked out in terms of habit.

When Watson found that habit is not simple as he thought, he realized the role of conditioning in habit development. Thus, he remarked, “I had worked the thing out in terms of habit formation.

It was the enormous contribution Pavlov has made and how easily the conditioned response could be looked upon as the unit of what we had been calling as habit. I certainly form that point on gave the master his due credit.”

Observation of animal and human behaviour led Pavlov and Watson to believe that all our habit patterns, behaviours, attitudes, likes and dislikes, values, etc., can be attributed to conditioning. Conditioning also works as a technique for behaviour modification, elimination of behaviour problems.

It is also very significant in emotional learning. Watson and Rayner (1920) believed that it is the only way by which emotions can be acquired. “Since fear or anxiety is a common symptom of mental disturbance we are led correctly to anticipate that classical conditioning figures in the development of such disorders”.

Thus, the sort of dream which Pavlov had came true to a large extent. Due to the practical implications of conditioning in life it has occupied a very prominent position in the learning psychology even today. Occupied a very prominent position in the learning psychology even today

Kohler’s insight learning theory

According to German Getalt psychology Kohlers learning is insight. Insight is a important constituent in the solution of problems and is found in the higher class of animals and human beings. It is the best method among the methods of learning.

According to Kohler a person can deduce the solution by insight if the perceives the situation as a whole. Kohler prepared some simple problems for experiments with dogs, hens, monkeys and chimpanzees.

In an experiment a hungry animal was released from the house while some food was placed behind the fence adjoining the wall. Both the dog and the hen trotted around in the vicinity of the wall but as soon as they found the way out they made their exist and reached the food

This perception of the change in the meaning of the wall in insight before the insight the wall was an insuperable obstacle, but after insight it was not longer an obstacle but an object necessitating of new relations, the discovery of new patterns and the formation of new organisations.

The most famous experiments conducted by Kohler in relation to insight were those that were carried out on chimpanzees. Some bananas were placed outside the cage of a chimp called Sultan, who was then given two sticks so constructed that they could be fitted together.

Sultan tried to pull the bananas with the sticks, an effort which he kept up for an hour, but he got tired of the attempt and gave it up for playing.

While playing he brought the two ends together and suddenly he had an idea which resulted in his fitting the smaller stick in the hole of the bigger one. He then used the two together to draw the banana inward. The two sticks disintegrated but he fitted them together again.

He then pulled in everything within reach as if he were trying out his discovery. The next day is too far less time to fit the two together. It is a peculiarity of insight that once the solution is learnt, it is not forgotten though its memory may become hazy with the passage of time.

The above experiments make it quite obvious that learning by insight has certain characteristics of its own. They are briefly as follows-

1. Insight is sudden.

2. Insight alters perception.

3. Old objects appear in new patterns and organization by virtue of insight.

4. In insight understanding is more useful than dexterity of hands.

5. Insight is relative to the intellectual level. The higher species of animals including human beings have more insight than the members of lower species.

6. In Woodworth’s opinion, insight is sometimes hindsight and at others it is foresight. The quote him, ‘Foresight is seeing the way to the goal before taking it our perceiving the uselessness of a certain lead without trying it and hind­sight is observing that a lead is good or bad after trying it,

When the whole situation is clear and above board, there is a good chance for foresight, but when important characteristics of the situation have to be discovered by exploration and manipulation, hindsight is the best we can expect.

7. Some psychologists any that learning by insight is associative learning. Insight appears suddenly after the manipulation of thought or objects for a small thought significant length of time.

8. If the pieces essential for the solution of the puzzle and present together when perceived, insight comes about earlier.

9. Previous experience is of assistance in sight, though its excess does not necessarily increase insight because organized perception too is an essential factor in learning.

10. Maturity also affects insight as evidenced by the smoother working of insight in older age than in adolescence.

11. The insight gained in particular circumstances is of assistance in other circumstances. A verbal formula is generally extracted by people learning by insight and this formula is capable of facile application to other circumstances.

The above mentioned characteristics of learning through insight apply both the human and animal learning. The solitary difference is the fact that a human being by virtue of his superior capacities of experiencing and understanding; observes relation between various objects quickly and sees the patterns concealed in them with alacrity.

He is assisted in this by language. As a matter of fact insight occurs only when the learner perceives the related link hidden in the activity. The learning curve is altered suddenly due to insight. Insight is impossible in an extremely unfamiliar problem, because familiarity is very necessary for insight.

A student of literature will have no insight in any scientific problem because he does not know even the “a b c” of science. When the subject of study becomes a part of life, insight becomes easier. History can be made alive by exhibitions, Geography by travelling and Arithmetic by shop accounts. Familiarity is also important besides the theoretical study.

One example of human learning by insight will suffice. A student of Arithmetic tries hard to solve a difficult problem of Arithmetic. He tries many methods but fails to secure a solution.

He gives up and lays it aside or goes to sleep. After some time suddenly or when he is awakened the solution suggests itself and he notes it down in his note-book.

When he is confronted with similar problems in the future, he will have no difficulty in solving them. The insight method is superior to imitation or conditioned response because both the later methods take more time. It is superior to trial and error in the following respects:

1. Trial and error emphasizes the acquisition of motor skill but in insight mental effort is stressed upon.

2. The person keeps an eye on the goal in trial and error and all activity is goal directed, but in insight it is the unconscious mind which exerts the most while the conscious activities are either very few or aimless.

3. While insight depends upon perception, trial and error depends upon sensory motor coordination.

4. Every new problem has to be tackled from the very beginning if the trial and error method is used. On the other hand, both generalization and differentiation are present in insight, which adds to the possibilities of transfer of learning and the use of old insight in the solution of novel problems.

Students will be permanently helped by the use of the insight method of learning in place of the trial and error method in their study and other daily activities. They will also be above to conserve their energy. Suppose that a person has to arrange furniture in a room.

An average person will determine the position of the table by using the trial and error method and shifting the table from place to place. An intelligent person will take up a position from where the whole room in visible, and imagine all the possible positions of the pieces of furniture in an imagined framework of the room and then place the respective pieces accordingly.

But this does not mean that trial and error method is not meant for the intelligent. But no means is this so. In many novel situations progress is not possible without it.

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