Difference between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

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Difference between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

The difference between classical and operant conditioning can be explained in various dimensions i.e. they differ in nature of behavior, order of events, nervous system activity, nature of responses and the associations they have.

1.    Definition:

Classical conditioning is defined as a type of learning in which a neutral stimulus, when paired with an unconditioned stimulus which naturally generates a response, becomes conditioned and starts generating a response similar to that generated by unconditioned stimulus. This can be explained through Pavlov experiment.
Operant conditioning is defined as a type of learning in which the probability of repetition of preceding behavior is either increased by reinforcement or decreased by punishment i.e. the repetition of behavior depends on the favorable consequences. This is explained through B.F. Skinner’s experiment.

2.    Basic Concept:

In classical conditioning, there is an association between two stimuli i.e. the conditioned and unconditioned stimulus whereas in operant conditioning, there is an association between behavior and its results. Reinforcement increases while punishment decreases the chance of repetition of behavior.

3.    Nature of Behavior:

Classical conditioning is based on natural or innate behavior i.e. inborn behavior whereas operant conditioning is based on its environment to produce desirable behavior.

4.    Order of Events:

During the initial stages in classical conditioning, i.e. before conditioning the response is due to unconditioned stimulus (meat or food) but after conditioning, the response is due to conditioned stimulus (ringing bell) which was once a neutral stimulus.
In operant conditioning, the order of events is based on reinforcement and punishment depending upon the behavior shown.

5.    Nervous System Activity:

The process of classical conditioning involves peripheral nervous system activities whereas the operant conditioning involves central nervous system activity.

6.    Nature of Responses:

The responses shown in classical conditioning are stereotype i.e. they are triggered by a specific stimulus but the responses shown in operant conditioning are a part of flowing stream of behavior and are not triggered by a specific stimulus.

7.    Examples:

Classical Conditioning can be explained by the following example. Before conditioning; when a patient goes to a physician (Neutral stimulus) for check up, he might give the patient an injection (Unconditioned stimulus) which naturally evokes an emotional reaction (Unconditioned Response) which can be in the form of pain or fear. But after repeated interactions with the physician, the patient starts giving the same response on seeing physician which he used to give after injection i.e. we say that after conditioning, the patient gives the same emotional response (conditioned response) to physician (conditioned stimulus).
Operant conditioning can be explained as when a student get good grades as a result of hard work, it is likely that he continues to work hard to get good results in future. In the same way, if a student fails to get good grades in exams due to other useless activities which he had before and during his exams, it is unlikely that he repeats the same behavior as he is already being punished for that.

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