Describe and compare classical and instrumental conditioning in their effectiveness in explaining learning
Learning is a change with a lasting effect in behaviour that allows animals to acquire new skills as a result of experience and it is a continuous process that aids survival as we adapt to environmental changes. In terms of psychological theories with regards to the process of learning there are two well accredited phenomena that psychologists still use today in order to explain learning. Through the works of Ivan Pavlov and Edward Thorndike the concepts of classical and instrumental conditioning were formed. Both theories have sufficient evidence to support them and explain learning in an appropriate and understanding way which can be observed and measured empirically. Furthermore, these findings have been applied to real life settings in order to aid human learning and enhance the process to make it more efficient.
Classical conditioning involves the pairing of two stimuli: the neutral unconditioned stimulus (CS) and the biologically relevant unconditioned stimulus (US) where the CS produces no initial response from the animal and the US automatically elicits a response regardless of the situation. When both stimuli are repeatedly paired together an association forms and the CS has the power to elicit a response from the animal before the presentation of the US. This response is identified as learning because the animal has learnt to respond to a stimulus which originally did not have the same effect. Classical conditioning can be both excitatory and inhibitory. A CS that evokes a conditioned response is known as an exciter and an example of this would be the presentation of a tone which causes the animal to perform an action. Inhibitory conditioning results in learning that the stimulus presented predicts the absence of another stimulus (McSweeney & Murphy, 2014).
Classical conditioning has been demonstrated in a wide range of species and response systems. It is very common amongst animals and there are always frequent occurrences in natural situations (Turkkan 1989 as cited in (Domjan, 2005)). One of the first demonstrations of classical conditioning was carried out by S.G. Vul’fson in which he presented various substances such as dry food and sand and measured the rate of salivary flow in response to the different US. Vulf’son found that the saliva production was greater in response to the US being placed in their mouths than to the US being presented at a distance (Windholz, 1995). Another very significant example of classical conditioning is the conditioned taste avoidance learning which has largely influenced psychologists’ knowledge and understanding of learning and it is one of the most accepted forms of learning today. This research by Garcia, Kimeldorf and Koelling (1955) on rats showed that both trace and simultaneous CS-US pairings produced CTA learning, but inhibitory conditioning, when the US is presented before the ...