Classical and Operant Conditioning-PSY 140


Classical and Operant Conditioning

This activity gives you the opportunity to try both classical and operant conditioning for yourself.  You are to create two separate, fictional scenarios.  One will demonstrate classical conditioning, and the other will demonstrate operant conditioning.

Your written response should be 2 to 3 pages in length (excluding title and references pages).  The paper should use APA formatting and include a title and reference page, even if the only resource used was the course textbook.  Please visit the Academic Resource Center for helpful guidelines on APA style and citations.  Be sure to address all five elements below.

  1. Unconditioned stimulus (for classical conditioning scenario)
  2. Unconditioned response (for classical conditioning scenario)
  3. Conditioned stimulus or conditioned response (for classical conditioning scenario)
  4. Positive or negative reinforcement (for operant conditioning scenario)
  1. Which of these approaches to learning do you think is most applicable to your personal and professional life?


Classical and Operant Conditioning

Classical conditioning occurs when an innate response is elicited by a previously neutral stimulus (Coon, Mitterer, Talbot, & Vanchella, 2010). This occurs when a neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with the potent stimulus. The following scenario will demonstrate classical conditioning. Jane is suffering from breast cancer and is currently on treatment. She started receiving chemotherapy treatment which unfortunately causes her bouts of nausea. After several chemotherapy sessions, Jane observed that she begun to experience nausea on arriving at the chemotherapy treatment unit, even if she hadn’t undergone the chemotherapy treatment.

From the above scenario, chemotherapy is the unconditioned stimulus. The unconditioned stimulus can naturally elicit an involuntary unconditioned response even before conditioning occurs. From the scenario, chemotherapy naturally induces bouts of nausea without the need for any conditioning. The chemotherapy treatment unit is the conditioned stimulus. A conditioned stimulus refers to a previously neutral stimulus that is often paired with unconditioned stimulus to elicit a response. From the scenario, the presence of chemotherapy treatment unit was paired repeatedly with chemotherapy treatment unit until arriving at the unit elicited the same response as chemotherapy treatment does. Nausea that results from arriving at the chemotherapy unit at the hospital is the conditioned response. Just like an unconditioned response, this is an involuntary response. Since it is caused by a conditioned stimulus (chemotherapy treatment unit), it becomes the conditioned response.

Related: Biological Foundations of Behavior

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is also known as instrumental learning. The fundamental concept of operant conditioning is that reinforcement enhances required behavior (Coon, Mitterer, Talbot, & Vanchella, 2010). Reinforced behaviors are likely to persist, while negative reinforcements may lead to diminishing of a particular behavior. In operant conditioning, a response is first elicited and then undergo reinforcement. In classical conditioning, a stimulus is the first to occur and then a response initiated.  The following scenario will demonstrate operant conditioning. Rose is the manager of busy restaurant. The employees in the restaurant work in shifts. Rose holds weekly meetings with each of the employees where various issues are discussed. She takes an opportunity to motivate the employees by giving words of praise to those who did their work perfectly. Employees who report on time and perform well are appreciated while those who arrive late are forced to do extra chores such as cleaning the garage area for a period of time.

From the above scenario, positive reinforcement is the use of words of praise or appreciating employees who turn up early during their shift. Positive reinforcement involves giving rewards or pleasant things after a desired behavior is exhibited. Positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of a desired behavior reoccurring. Appreciating employees or giving words of praise is one way of reinforcing positive behavior among them. On the other hand, negative reinforcement involves removal of an unpleasant stimulus after a desired behavior is exhibited. From the scenario, the withdrawal of extra chores represent negative reinforcement. Those who arrive early are not required to do extra chores. This is negative reinforcement.

The most applicable approach to my professional life is operant conditioning. As earlier mentioned, operant conditioning is based on behavior reinforcement. In organizations, the management is tasked with reinforcing desired behaviors among employees. This may either be through giving words of praise, giving a pay rise, awarding bonuses, giving promotions, and other reinforcements. All this constitutes operant conditioning.


Coon, D., Mitterer, J. O., Talbot, S., & Vanchella, C. M. (2010). Introduction to psychology:        Gateways to mind and behavior. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Sleep and Dreams -PSY 140