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Another form of conditioning is called operant conditioning. This type of study refers to a method of learning that occurs using rewards and punishments to adjust behaviors. Basically, through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior. In 1938, B. F. Skinner led a study to address operant conditioning. He identified three operants that can follow a behavior: neutral operant, reinforcers, and punishers. A neutral operant is a response from the environment that has no effect on if a behavior will be repeated. A reinforcer is the response from the environment that would increase the probability of repeated behavior. Reinforcers can be negative or positive in their occurrence. The third, punishment, is meant to decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. Skinner’s operant conditioning experiment involved the use of a “Skinner box”, rats, and a lever that would either release food or stop shocks from occurring. For the rats in the electric box, they learned to stop the shocks by hitting the lever. Eventually, the rats became conditioned to go straight to the lever upon being placed in their box. When the behavior, like hitting the lever, has ceased to occur, this entails that the behavior has been extinct. However, B.F. Skinner also identified that after a period of not using a conditioned stimulus, a spontaneous recovery could reappear after a conditioned stimulus was no longer being used. Another aspect of these two conditioning studies could also include the effects of habituation. This is when there is a decrease in a response after repeated exposure to a stimulus that has lost its immediate effects, such as the lack of salivation in the dogs of Pavlov’s study when food has been presented.
Ivan Pavlov (1902) created a study that showed how classical conditioning influenced animals. In this experiment, certain stimuli were manipulated to test the unconditioned response of dogs. The unconditioned response was the amount of salivation that occurred when food, which is the unconditioned stimulus, was presented by a lab assistant. At the beginning of Pavlov’s study, the lab assistant was the neutral stimulus, however, due to their continued association with having food, they became an unconditioned stimulus to the dogs. With this finding, Pavlov implemented the use of a bell as a neutral stimulus and continued to use the dogs unconditioned response of salivation when food is present. Moving forward in the study, when the dogs received food, he would ring the bell. A new acquisition, or developed behavior, occurred and the bell transitioned into an unconditioned response which effected the dog’s salivation.
The studies and findings from Pavlov (1902) and Skinner (1938) are strongly related to associative learning. The features of associative learning are identified when a study uses either two stimuli to produce a response (classical conditioning) or the use of consequences to increase or decrease a behavior (operant conditioning). Classical conditioning theory involves the use of a stimuli to produce a new behavior. One of these stimuli is referred to as an unconditioned stimulus, which produces an unconditioned response. The unconditioned stimulus and response combination expresses a behavior or response that isn’t learned (i.e., unconditioned) and is a natural response that isn’t taught or needs to be learned. A neutral stimulus is one that has no effect on a subject’s behavior. This stimulus can only produce a response when it is paired with an unconditional stimulus. The response from this pairing creates a conditioned stimulus. For learning to occur, the unconditioned stimulus must be associated with the conditioned stimulus during several occasions. After the conditioning process has been implemented, researchers are able to conclude whether a new behavior has been learned. If so, then the conditioned stimulus is associated with the unconditioned stimulus and therefore, creates a new conditioned response.
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