What are the similarities and differences between classical and operant conditioning?

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thetall's profile pic

thetall | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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To explain further, conditioning is achieved through making connections between a stimulus and a particular behavior or between different stimuli.

In both classical conditioning and operant conditioning, extinction may occur in the behaviors. This means that conditioned responses diminish in both when conditioning factors are withdrawn. Additionally, the same behaviors will also recover spontaneously when conditioning is reapplied.

Stimulus generalization occurs in both classical and operant conditioning. Stimulus generalization is the reaction of the subject to other stimuli similar to the conditioned stimulus, for instance, developing a fear of all cats after being scratched by one.

In classical conditioning learning is passive, or the learner is the object, while in operant conditioning the learning is active or the learner is subjected to the consequence.

In addition, classical conditioning associates two stimuli while operant conditioning associates an action with a consequence.


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Yojana_Thapa's profile pic

Yojana_Thapa | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Similarity and difference between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning


-          Both forms of associative learning


- Classical Conditioning forms associations between stimuli (a CS and the US it signals), two outside stimuli are associated with one another. Involves “Respondent Behavior”.

Respondent Behavior

Behavior that occurs as an automatic response to some stimulus, for Pavlov's dog salivated in response to the meat powder and later to the tone. Meaning his salivation is biological.

It is the organism learning associations between events it does not control

- Operant conditioning is behavior that operates on the environment, producing consequences. (your actions are associated with consequences)

Actions followed by reinforces (a stimulus that strengthens or weakens the behavior that produced it) increase; those followed by punishers decrease.

Operant Behavior

Behavior that operates in the environment, producing (rewarding or punishing stimuli) consequences; behavior that gets reinforced is more likely to repeated

krishna-agrawala's profile pic

krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Both classical and operant learning are psychological processes that lead to learning. Here learning refers to the process by which changes in behavior, including actions, emotions, thoughts, and the responses of muscles and glands, results from experience or practice.

Classical learning which is also called respondent learning is based on stimulus response relationship. The learning of this type occurs when (a new stimulus begins to elicit behaviour similar to that originally produced by an old stimulus. For example if a dog a bell is sounded every time a dog is given food, the dog will begin salivating in expectation of food just at the sound of bell. Classical conditioning process is particularly important in influencing our emotional behaviour.  For example, we often learn to fear a stimulus that has been combined with some other frightening stimulus.

Operant learning, also called instrumental conditioning, takes place as a result of what happens after a response is made. For example, if a baboon is rewarded with food every time a button is pressed, it will learn to press the button for obtaining food. In one famous experiment displaying operant learning, the psychologist B.F. Skinner trained rats to press a lever to get food. In this experiment,a hungry rat placed in a box containing a lever attached to some concealed food.  At first, the rat ran around the box randomly. In this process it happened to press the lever, and the food dropped into the box.  The dropping of food reinforced the response of pressing the lever.  After repeating the process of pressing the lever followed by dropping of food many times, the rat learned to press the lever for food.