Classical Conditioning Vs Operant Conditioning

We will discuss all the differences between classical conditioning vs operant conditioning in this article.

Two of the fundamental concepts in behavioral psychology are classical conditioning and operant conditioning. There are some parallels between classical conditioning and operant conditioning. They both promote learning by demonstrating how a subject may change to fit its environment.

But there are also a number of differences between the processes. In order to understand how each of these behavior modification techniques can employ, it’s also essential to understand how classical and operant conditioning differ from one another.

Classical Conditioning Definition 

The researcher can learn how to associate two stimuli that occur before the normal reaction by utilizing a learning approach known as “classical conditioning” or “respondent conditioning.” This indicates that the potential of one stimulus presupposes the possibility of another.

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, a scientist from Russia, is credits with coining the term Classical Conditioning. Learning is the tendency to shape behavior and mental state, according to the idea that learning takes place when an organism interacts with its environment.

Classical conditioning includes the following elements:

Unconditioned Stimulus: 

The occurrence or stimulation that prompts an immediate or intuitive response in a living organism.

Unconditioned Response: 

It happens spontaneously when the unconditioned stimulus presents.

Conditioned Stimulus: 

The occurrence that prompts a response from someone as a result of its relationship to another thing.

Conditioned Response: 

It is a conditioned reaction to unimportant stimuli.

Key Principles Of Classical Conditioning 

A large variety of diverse phenomena connected to classical conditioning have been studied by behaviorists. While some of these components explain the lack of response, others discuss its increase over time. The five fundamental tenets of classical conditioning are described in more detail below.


An initial reaction is produced and then gradually improved throughout the first stage of learning, referred to as acquisition. Throughout the classical conditioning acquisition phase, neutral and unconditioned stimuli frequently make pairs.

To ensure that the behavior successfully internalizes, the reaction can gradually reinforce.


When a conditioned reaction vanishes or becomes extinct, it is said to have gone extinct. In classical conditioning, this happens when a conditioned stimulus is no more connected with an unconditioned stimulus.

Spontaneous Recovery

Even after a time of extinction, a learned reflex rarely comes back. What we mean by spontaneous recovery is this. Extinction will soon resume after a spontaneous recovery if the link between the stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus worsens.


Stimulus generalization is the propensity of a conditioned stimulus to elicit similar responses once the response has been conditioned. If trained to do so when it hears the sound of a bell, an animal may respond similarly to a sound that is similar to the bell.


The ability to discriminate between stimuli that have not been associated with an unconditioned response and other stimuli is known as discrimination.

Operant Conditioning Definition

Operant describes the deliberate, controlled action or behavior of a living entity. An instructional strategy is operant conditioning. The result relies on how a person reacts in this circumstance. In other words, it is a simple learning process where altering the result improves the probability of a response. The workplace is a common notion.

It was first described by American psychologist B.F. Skinner in 1938 under the name instrumental conditioning. According to this theory, a reaction’s frequency will rise for positive results and fall for adverse ones. The experimenter gains a better understanding of the organism’s behavior and effects as a result.

Key Concepts Of Operant Conditioning 

Rewards and punishments are this operant conditioning paradigm’s two main ideas.

Any behavior-intensifying activity is referred to as reinforcement. The results that are pleased with a particular behavior are referred to as positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is the process of enhancing a reaction with compliments or a benefit. When an unpleasant result is withheld as a result of a certain behavior, negative reinforcement takes place. Getting rid of the unpleasant object in this situation makes the reaction worse. These two reward options are aware to reinforce the behavior.

The definition of punishment states that it is an activity used in response to a negative event or consequence in order to lessen or stop the behavior it causes. Positive consequences are taken away as part of negative punishment, sometimes referred to as Punishment by Removal. Delivering a negative action that has a low impact on the reaction to it is known as positive punishment. It is both constructive and destructive punishment that can break a habit.

Types Of Behaviors

Skinner made a distinction between two types of behavior.

  • Respondent behaviors are those that happen easily and spontaneously, such as drawing your leg back when a doctor taps on your knee or taking your hand away from a hot stove. These activities are not necessary for learning. They simply take place without any intentional effort.
  • On the other hand, we consciously choose to engage in operational behaviors. Whether or not these activities repeat themselves in the future depends on how they turn out. While some actions might be taken accidentally, others are planned. A substantial portion of learning comes from our impact on the environment and the results of our activities.

Skinner acknowledged that classical conditioning may explain response behaviors, but it was unable to account for a sizable portion of learning. Operant conditioning, in Skinner’s opinion, is substantially more important.

Skinner invented several things in his formative years, and he eventually used these skills to comprehend operant conditioning. In more recent times, he created a device called a Skinner box or an operant conditioning chamber. The compartment could be home to a rat or pigeon. The award could potentially activate the animal by pressing a bar or key in the box.

Skinner also created a tool he called a cumulative recorder to keep track of responses. Response rates can look at the slope of the line because the gadget recorded responses as an upward movement of a line.

Key Differences Between Classical Conditioning And Operant Conditioning

The distinctions between classical conditioning and operant conditioning are:

  • The classical conditioning learning strategy generalizes the relationship between two stimuli or the notion that the presence of one stimulus indicates the existence of another. The operant conditioning theory, on the other hand, contends that individuals and other living things learn particular behaviors based on the outcomes of their prior behavior.
  • In classical conditioning, the researcher learns to associate two stimuli via unintentional responses that happen beforehand. In contrast, an organism changes its behavior in operant training in response to the results.
  • In essence, classical conditioning focuses on the organism’s physiological and mental reactions, such as thoughts, emotions, and sentiments, as opposed to voluntary or reflexive behavior. On the other hand, opportunistic conditioning is based on volitional behavior or active responses from the organism.
  • In contrast to classical conditioning, opportunistic conditioning involves the organism controlling its own responses.
  • Opportunistic conditioning does not identify conditioned stimuli and can only be generalized, in contrast to classical conditioning, which makes a distinction between conditioned and unconditioned stimuli.
  • The organism is in a passive state as a result of the researcher’s control over the unconditioned stimulus’s appearance. However, the organism actively contributes to its occurrence because it has control over the reinforcement.

Classical Conditioning Vs Operant Conditioning Examples

Classical Conditioning Examples

Here are a few instances of classical conditioning:

  • A father slams the door as soon as he enters the house after a long day at work. He then frequently rants at his children for no apparent reason after that. As a result, the children now equate slamming doors with being yelled at. The children are now instructed to quake whenever they hear a door slam.
  • Typically, a lady brings her child brand-new toys in a huge bag home. Every time her mother returns home carrying a large shopping bag, the young girl experiences mixed emotions since she associates it with receiving new toys.

Operant Conditioning Examples

The use of operant conditioning in the classroom is common among parents as well as educators.

  • A child that gets to bed on time will always have a tale read to them before bed. Reading aloud from a story is a strategy for promoting constructive behavior.
  • If a student raises his hand before speaking, the teacher gives him a gold star sticker. In class, the student is instructed to raise his hand before speaking.
  • Animal trainers often utilize operant conditioning to teach animals new tasks. When the dog completes a trick successfully, the dog trainer gives it a treat. The dog learns techniques that he can employ to obtain goodies.

The Ending Note 

Operant and classical conditioning are the two types of conditioning that are most common. Despite certain similarities across these diverse conditioning techniques, it is their primary differences that dictate the strategy to use in a particular learning situation.

We hope you found this article on “classical conditioning vs operant conditioning” to be useful.

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