Perspective Model Approach: Classical and Operand Conditioning, Cognitive Approaches for Maharashtra PSC Exam

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Impact of Learning Experience

  • “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I՚ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors” . (Watson, 1924)
  • Learned Fear: The Case of “Little Albert”
  • 1920: Developing Fear; Watson and Rosalie Rayne Eleven month old Albert who enjoyed playing with a cute white rat was made afraid of it by linking a loud frightening sound with the appearance of the rat.
  • The experiment was further expanded and Watson and Rayner demonstrated that the fear of the rat could be generalized to all sorts of stimuli: a dog, a cotton ball and a Santa Clause.
  • Watson and Rayner could not get a chance to undo the learning as the child՚s mother removed him from the hospital.

Issues stemming from little Albert՚s Experiment

  • Unethical treatment of Albert, that too without the advised consent of his mother.
  • Watson contradicted his own earlier assertion that early childhood emotional experiences can affect a person for a lifetime.

Classical Conditioning

  • Why are children scared of darkness?
  • Why some children jump with joy at the sight of a bear and some start screaming in fright? Why does one coming from abroad start feeling happy at the very sight of his parents՚ home? Why does one start feeling bad at the thought of going to a dentist?
  • The answers to all these questions can be found in the classical conditioning approach

Classical Conditioning: The History

  • Ivan Pavlov 1849 - 1936: Russian physiologist and pioneer of classical conditioning.
  • In the later years of the 19th century studied the basic process of digestion and won Nobel Prize for that in 1904.
  • The focal point was the salivation reflex in dogs.
  • It was already known that the dogs would salivate if food powder were led into their mouths, as it was a ‘reflex’ .
  • The dogs salivated every time the food powder was presented.
  • He observed that after some time, the dogs at times salivated just before food was put into their mouths. They also salivated at the sight of the food, and even at the sight of the lab assistant who brought food for them.
  • This is where the concept of classical conditioning emerged.

Classical Conditioning: The Theory

  • Is a type of learning in which a previously neutral stimulus starts eliciting a response that was originally attached to a natural stimulus, because the neutral stimulus has been closely associated with the other stimulus.

Basic Terminology in Classical Conditioning

  • Reflex
    • An automatic, unlearned response resulting from a specific stimulus.
  • Un-Conditioned Stimulus (UCS)
    • A stimulus that elicits a response reflexively and reliably.
  • Un-Conditioned Response (UCR)
    • A natural, reflexive, reliable, response of the UCS.
  • Conditioned Stimulus (CS)
    • A primarily neutral stimulus which, when paired with the UCS, starts evoking a response (different from its natural response) and the same as UCR.
  • Conditioned Response (CR)
    • After conditioning, the CS begins to elicit a new, learned response. i.e.. . CR.

Pavlovian Classical Conditioning

The following diagram explains the classical conditioning model:

Extensions of the Main Classical Conditioning Model

There are a number of other variations and extensions of this model, which will be discussed in detail in the section on learning. Here, we will just name them:

  • Extinction
  • Spontaneous recovery
  • Stimulus generalization
  • Stimulus discrimination

Applications of Classical Conditioning in Everyday Life

  • Negative emotional responses: fears, phobias … fear of lizards, dark places, school phobia
  • Positive emotional responses: Feelings of relaxation, and happiness … thinking of going on a holiday
  • Advertising: Associating model with the product
  • Psychotherapy: Systematic desensitization, aversive therapy
  • Operant Conditioning
  • Why do teachers give stars on children՚s workbooks?
  • Why do parents clap happily when their child utters the first words that nobody else can decipher?
  • Why do manufacturers of products announce prize schemes for the consumers of their products?

The answers to all these questions can be found in the “Operant Conditioning” approach.

Operant Conditioning

  • Type of learning in which a voluntary response becomes stronger or weaker, depending on its positive or negative consequences
  • The organism plays an active role and “Operates” on environment to produce the desired outcome

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904 - 1990)

  • American Psychologist and the founder of Operant Conditioning.
  • 1931: Received his Ph. D. from Harvard.
  • During World War II, he conducted research on teaching pigeons to direct missiles to targets while flying in nose- cone. However the idea did not materialize.
  • 1947: Went back to Harvard to deliver ‘William James’ lectures.
  • 1948: Appointed as full professor at Harvard.
  • While a graduate student at Harvard he started thinking on Operant Conditioning lines.
  • His theory is somewhat similar to Thorndike՚s, but it was actually Watson who impressed him.
  • The Typical Skinnerian procedure
    • A special apparatus usually known as skinner՚s box is used.
    • Laboratory animals learn to press a lever so that food is delivered to them.
    • The environment is controlled.
    • The animal operates on the environment and as a result of its behavior it may be rewarded or punished. Food is the reward
    • The consequence determines if the response will be repeated or not.


  • Successive approximations of a required/desired response are reinforced until that response is fully learnt:
  • In the beginning each and every success is reinforced with a reward, no matter how small the success.
  • Once the desired response is learnt the rein forcer immediately follows it, every time it happens.
  • Once learnt the behavior, in many cases, the organism may not need reinforcement any more, since many behaviors are self-reinforcing e. g. learning to play a musical instrument.
  • Acquisition: Initially the response rate following reinforcement may be slow but at one stage it increases to the maximum. This is acquisition.
  • Extinction: If reinforcement is withheld the response rate decreases and finally no response is shown. This is extinction.


  • Increasing the probability that preceding behavior will be repeated through a stimulus.
  • Positive Reinforcer: A stimulus whose introduction brings about an increase in the preceding response.
  • Negative Reinforcer: A stimulus whose removal reinforces and leads to a higher likelihood that the response bringing about this removal will be repeated.
  • Punishment: An unpleasant or painful stimulus whose introduction following a certain behavior decreases likelihood that the behavior will occur again.
  • Applications of Operant Conditioning in Everyday Life
    • Child rearing
    • Classroom management
    • Teaching of skills
    • Animal taming
    • Advertising
    • Psychological intervention and Psycho- therapy: behavior modification, assertiveness training, token economy

Cognitive Approaches to Learning

The approaches that focus upon the thought processes underlying learning. Latent Learning and cognitive maps (Edward Tolman) ; Tolman talked about the ‘cognitive maps’ ; it is not necessary to have an association between stimulus and response, a person can learn without showing any apparent response; in other words learning and performance are not the same

Social learning/Observational learning and Modeling (Albert Bandura) : a major portion of our learning is based upon learning by observation.

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