Classical Conditioning vs Operant Conditioning – Difference and Comparison

What is Classical Conditioning?

Classical conditioning is the act of creating a link between a stimulus and a previously unconditioned response.

In other words, classical conditioning is when we learn to associate certain things with certain reactions or emotions.

Ivan Pavlov was the first to notice this in dogs. He was a  Russian physiologist. He found himself salivating in reaction to the sound of a metronome.

He began studying the digestive system of dogs in the early 1900s. He discovered that ringing a bell before feeding the dogs caused them to salivate. He discovered the dogs were associating the bell sound with food. He referred to this phenomenon as “classical conditioning.”

For example, a hungry dog may learn to identify the sound of a bell while delivering food. Classical conditioning starts with presenting an unconditioned stimulus that elicits an unconditioned response.

What is Operant Conditioning?

Operant conditioning is a learning approach that employs incentives and punishments to influence behavior.

It is a method of learning that uses rewards and punishments to modify behavior. Operant conditioning consists of three major components. They are stimuli (rewards), punishing stimuli (punishers), and behavior (the behavior is learned or changed).

Reinforcing stimuli make it likely that a behavior will be repeated, whereas punishing stimuli make it less possible that a behavior will be repeated. Voluntary or involuntary behavior can exist.

They have been widely used in research on animal behavior and human psychology.

For example, a bird may learn to peck a button in order to receive food. If the bird pecks the button and does not receive food, it is likely that the bird will stop pecking the button.

Difference Between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

The difference is that classical conditioning is involuntary, whereas operant conditioning is voluntary. An individual cannot control the responses being learned in classical conditioning. An individual may choose which behaviors to display in operant conditioning.

In classical conditioning, a person or animal learns to associate a specific stimulus with a specific reaction.  Operant conditioning involves learning by watching the effects of one’s own behaviors.

Classical conditioning is a passive process, whereas operant conditioning is an active activity. Classical conditioning occurs automatically, whereas operant conditioning involves effort and intention.

Comparison Between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

Parameters of Comparison  Classical ConditioningOperant Conditioning
DefinitionThe act of forming a connection between a naturally occurring stimulus and a previously neutral stimulus.The process through which an animal or person learns to associate a specific activity with a specific outcome.
Which Comes First?In classical conditioning, a stimulus is linked to the response.In operant conditioning, the desired behavior is associated with a consequence.
What is Paired?A previously neutral stimulus is associated with an automatic reaction in classical conditioning.In operant conditioning, behavior is linked to a consequence.
Is the Behavior Voluntary?The reaction or behavior is involuntary in the classical training used in dogs’ salivating.The behavior is voluntary in operant conditioning, as in dogs choosing to sit.
Discovered byIvan PavlovB. F. Skinner