Competitive Exams: Conditioning

Classical conditioning is only concerned with involuntary, reflex behaviour. However, operant conditioning looks at voluntary behaviour. It is a type of learning in which future behaviour is determined by the consequences of past behaviour. In classical conditioning, the stimulus comes before the behaviour; in operant conditioning the behaviour comes before the consequence.

The central component of operant conditioning is reinforcement. Behaviours are learned by reinforcement:

  1. a positive reinforcement involves being given a reward for showing a certain desired behaviour (e. g. a child tidies his room as his mother asks him to, and so receives additional pocket money that week)

  2. a negative reinforcement involves having something negative taken away for showing a certain behaviour (e. g. a mother not shouting at her child for behaving well whilst on a car journey)

Also to consider are punishments. A punishment is not the same as reinforcement. A reinforcement encourages desired behaviour (as it has pleasant effects); and a punishment discourages undesired behaviour (as it has unpleasant consequences). An example of a punishment therefore might be a naughty child not being allowed to play with his toys.