Similarities Between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

What are the similarities between classical conditioning, as described by John B. Watson, and operant conditioning, as defined by B.F. Skinner? What are the differences?

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Both of these approaches to understanding and manipulating behavior are predicated on the association of previously unassociated stimuli and responses. Which came first…the chicken or the egg? Now, this is a deep question with significant philosophical underpinnings, but it does illustrate the point. Watson would argue that we should use the egg to manipulate the behavior of the chicken; whereas, Skinner would say that you have to wait until you have a chicken before you can manipulate the next egg, and subsequently the next chicken. In this analogy, the egg represents a stimulus and the chicken represents a response. So, Watson would say that a stimulus needs to be used to bring about a response and Skinner would say that a response needs to be used to connect that response to a stimulus. Let’s consider a simple example. So if we put a chicken in a cage and wanted it to go to one corner of the cage habitually. Now Watson would say that all you had to do was have food in that corner of the cage repeatedly. After a while, the chicken would “learn” to go to that corner of the cage in order to get the food whether there was food or not (egg and then chicken). Conversely, Skinner would wait until the chicken went to the desired corner before releasing the food. In this way, the response of going to the desired corner, manipulation free, is reinforced by the subsequent release of food (chicken and then egg). Two different means to the same end, which is the association the corner with food, or the food with the corner, depending on which way you look at it.

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Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2 nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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