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Classical and Operant Conditioning

Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes for this module are:

1. Build and label a classical conditioning framework model for a case study example

2. Categorize the types of reinforces associated with operant conditioning and generate examples.

3. Apply the experiment framework to the classic research that established the observational learning paradigm.

Think back to your first cell phone. What sounds did it make? What noise did you hear when you set the alarm to wake yourself up? You might have difficulty remembering it off the top of your head! Maybe you once had a Blackberry that sounded like this. Or perhaps you had a Motorola V360 that made these noises. Were you an Apple user? Maybe you recall this classic Apple ringtone. Do an internet search for a video or audio clip that will allow you to hear some of the sounds your old cell phone would make. How does it feel to hear that sound again? 
How would you feel if you heard that sound unexpectedly?

Hearing these sounds again might give you an interesting reaction. Maybe you feel a sudden jolt, as though you should hop up and grab your phone! You may even have forgotten these noises entirely until you heard them just now. Your reaction to the sounds your phone makes – either now or in the past is an example of classical conditioning, a process in which the learner comes to associate 
a new stimulus with a particular outcome. The stimulus is usually a sight or sound anything the learner can react to. Your phone’s text alert noise is an example of a stimulus.

Question: In Pavlov’s experiment, what is the difference between the conditioned stimulus and the neutral stimulus?

Questions: What is the difference between the conditioned response and the unconditioned response?

Classical conditioning often involves learning to associate a behaviour with an antecedent—a signal, such as Pavlov’s bell. People can develop classically conditioned responses without even being aware that they have learned them. Operant conditioning emphasizes the consequences of a behaviour, rather than its antecedents. In other words, with classical conditioning we focus on what comes BEFORE the learned behaviour, whereas with operant conditioning we focus on what comes AFTER. Operant conditioning is much more likely to involve the learner making 
conscious choices to pursue rewards and avoid punishments—in other words, they are aware of their own learning process.

According to the principles of operant conditioning, reinforcers will encourage the learner to perform a behaviour. A reinforcer is a reward—some sort of thing or outcome that the learner wants to get. Positive reinforcement refers to rewarding the learning with something good, like a little prize or treat. Negative reinforcement is when the learner is rewarded with the removal of something unpleasant.

Question: A newborn infant’s eyes will start to produce tears around two weeks of age.


Question: A cat runs into the kitchen every time it hears the can opener.

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