Chapter 5: Conditioning

Part One: Classical Conditioning

Part Two: Applications of Classical Conditioning

Part Three: Operant Conditioning

Part Four: Applied Behavior Analysis


Overview of Chapter 5: Conditioning

With this chapter you become an official psychology student! You will now have a basic learning experience shared by introductory psychology students for over half a century: you will learn about Pavlov's dog. Everybody has heard of Pavlov's dog, it seems, but not everybody understands it. Professor E. Lowell Kelly used to tell a story about a hitchhiker he picked up while driving through California.

Lowell got to talking with this young man and discovered that the hitchhiker had not only been to college, but had taken an introductory psychology course while there.

"What do you remember of the course?" asked Lowell.

The young man thought seriously for some time, then finally replied. "To tell the truth, the only thing I remember is this. If you ring a bell, a dog will salivate like hell!" (McConnell, 1978)

The hitchhiker was a little off base in his description. Dogs normally will not salivate when they hear a bell. But it is true Pavlov taught dogs to salivate through a simple procedure that still bears his name: Pavlovian conditioning. This form of conditioning also goes by two other names: classical and respondent conditioning. The other major form of conditioning, associated with B.F. Skinner, is operant or instrumental conditioning. Pavlovian conditioning is described in the first two parts of this chapter; operant conditioning is described in the last two parts.

How does this chapter relate to the running theme of the creative brain ? It is all about several simple forms learning and techniques for behavior change. Learning is a form of creativity because something new comes into being. The conditioning techniques described in this chapter are the most reliable, best researched ways of changing behavior in any organism. They work, and that is important. A human brain can modify its own behavior patterns as well as those of other organisms by applying what psychologists have discovered about learning.

How this chapter is organized

We start with Pavlov's dog and basic concepts of classical conditioning. Later we review common misconceptions about Pavlovian conditioning and corrections offered by Rescorla in a classic article.

The second major section reviews applications of classical conditioning—that is, how the techniques are actually used inside and outside the laboratory. In recent decades, Pavlovian conditioning has achieved new prominence in American research laboratories. We will examine studies ranging from single-cell conditioning (classical conditioning with isolated neurons) to immune system conditioning.

Next comes a half chapter on instrumental or operant conditioning, often called Skinnerian conditioning because it is associated with B.F. Skinner. We use the classic Skinner Box environment to illustrate basic concepts.

The final section introduces the concept of applied behavior analysis and Lindsley's Simplified Precision Model, an elegantly simple guide to applying operant conditioning techniques to almost any problem.

Related topics in other chapters

The rise of behaviorism and the story of John B. Watson are in Chapter 1 (Psychology and Science). Comparative psychology and biological constraints on conditioning are discussed in Chapter 8 (Animal Behavior and Cognition). Hull's theory of motivation, based on behavioral principles, starts the Motivation chapter (Chapter 9). Behavior therapy techniques such as desensitization, assertiveness training and cognitive behavior therapies, are addressed in the Therapies chapter (Chapter 13). Behavior Medicine is discussed in the section on Psychology and Medicine in Chapter 14 (Frontiers of Psychology).


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