Difference Between Classical vs Operant Conditioning

Difference Between Classical vs Operant Conditioning

Today we’re going to determine the difference between classical and operant conditioning. These crucial behavioural development tools are used to achieve ideal behaviour traits in animals and humans alike.

They are both very closely related to one another albeit with a few key differences that makes it quite easy to set them apart once you know about them. We’re going to provide you with an effective breakdown of each conditioning variant as well as a quick reference table that’ll help you to sum up their variations.

Definition of Classical Conditioning

The definition of classical conditioning is: “An effective conditioning system used to alter behaviour where a form of stimulation is used to achieve a certain type of behaviour.”

The classical vs operant conditioning comparison is all centred on the mechanism of action for each conditioning type. It’s all about the order of stimulus.

When we’re observing an operant system, we find that stimulation has taken place in the first instance to either discourage or encourage the continuation of the particular type of behaviour or action that our subject is displaying. The stimulation can be of a positive or negative variety.

With the classical mechanism of action, it’s unlikely that the variety of stimulation applied will be positive or negative in nature. Instead, it’s often neutral and simply used as a vehicle to achieve a certain type of behaviour. A famous example would be Pavlov’s dogs.

In this example, a metronome is used as a means of training dogs to salivate at meal times, thus making them more likely to eat their meal as they associate the saliva with food. The metronome itself is a neutral form of stimulation.

You could achieve the same effect using any type of sound or visual cue. You might present a ball to try and make your dog lay down and get ready for you to put its lead on, for example. You’d simply have to produce the ball in close proximity to you getting the lead out to encourage this behaviour progressively.

Definition of Operant Conditioning

The definition of operant conditioning is: “A behavioural conditioning variant whereas stimulation of some kind is applied following a behaviour to either discourage or encourage its continuation.”

To summarize the primary difference between operant and classical conditioning, we again need to turn to the order of stimulus as our reference.

Highlighting canines as an example once again, an operant framework would see the use of a stimulus to either persuade or dissuade your dog to do something you did or didn’t want it to do. Treats would be an excellent example of the use of a positive form of stimulation.

When your dog performs a behaviour that you deem positive, you then reward it by giving it a treat. Should your dog do something you didn’t want it to, then you could either raise your voice or use a product like a shock collar to train it not to perform that particular action.

The latter would be an example of a negative stimulus being applied.

Main Differences Between Classical vs Operant Conditioning

In this section we’re going to highlight the key variations between operant vs classical conditioning in an easily accessible format that’ll serve as a quick refresh tool whenever you need it.

Basis of ComparisonOperantClassical
Order of behaviourComes before stimulus is appliedComes after stimulus is applied
Nature of stimulusCan be positive or negativeUsually neutral
Used toEncourage or discourage an existing behaviourUsed to establish a new behaviour
Behaviour typeEntirely voluntaryBehaviour is involuntary
Based onDevelopmental patternsReflex development
Discovered bySkinnerPavlov

Difference Between Classical and Operant Conditioning: Conclusion

You should now finally feel totally relaxed in your knowledge of these systems to acutely summarize the contrasting areas between these forms of stimulation based behavioural conditioning.

To provide you with a simplified classical conditioning summary, we’d say that the corrective stimulation comes before the behaviour. With operant conditioning, it’s the opposite way around. This is the fundamental difference that separates the two.