Conditioning and Neobehaviorism

There are two main ways of learning through conditioning; classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning, which focuses on the stimulus being, paired together creating a response and operant conditioning, which focuses on reinforcement or punishment all with a common goal to get a desired behavior. Neobehaviorism takes a different approach to learning, as learning can happen even if a behavior is not shown for example through silent emotions.

Classical Conditioning is a form of behavioral learning when two stimuli are continuously paired together. There can be an unconditioned stimulus that naturally causes a response. An unconditioned response occurs when the response is unlearned due to an unconditioned stimulus. A conditioned stimulus is a neutral stimulus paired with an unconditioned stimulus, which eventually creates a conditioned response. Conditioned response is the learned response from the neutral stimulus.

There are two main theorists whom are associated with classical conditioning and the learning process we know today; Ivan Petrovich Pavlov and John B Watson. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov proposed classical conditioning based on his experiments with dogs and the salvation that occurred as a response to food, the food being the conditioned stimulus and the salvation being the conditioned response. “Stating his hypothesis in physiological terms, Pavlov began by assuming that any stimulus would produce activity in a set of neurons in the brain that effectively represented that stimulus (a “center”)”(Lieberman, 2012). Classical conditioning is an important discovery even in today’s psychology, classical conditioning is used in everyday learning as well as with the treatment process of disorders like anxiety and phobias. John B Watson is the behaviorist who did the famous research on “Little Albert” the nine-month old baby was expanding research on the learning process through classical conditioning. The “Little Albert” research was done to show that emotions (like fear) could be classically conditioned. “Little Albert” was shown different stimulus to see what kind of reaction he would have from the vary of stimulus, “Little Albert” was not showing any fear to any of the stimulus, until the showed him a rat and while showing him the rat they paired the rat with a loud noise, then “Little Albert” showed a response of fear and began to cry. “Little Albert” then began to show fear to other similar small furry animals like rabbits. Thus, showing that responses could be conditioned even in animals.

Associative learning was a major aspect in psychology, as it refers to how learning occurs when two different events happen together. The laws of association are contiguity, frequency and intensity in which help strengthen the learning. Contiguity is them amount of time between the two events, the closer the events are to one another the more strongly they will be associated to one another. Frequency is the more often two words are paired to one another the more they will be learned. Intensity refers to how much emotion we feel from the association. Contiguity, frequency and intensity are all important principles for learning especially when it comes to children. For example, when potty training a child the child pairs the sensation of having to going potty with actually going potty in the potty (contiguity) the more times they successfully go potty in a day, the more they will keep going potty (frequency). Intensity for this situation would be how they felt after going potty in the potty for example, getting a reward or the feeling of making their parents proud.

Although classical conditioning is a process of learning there are times when we learned to not learn based on experience. According to Lieberman, 2012 “prior conditioning to one element of a compound prevents conditioning to the other element is blocking”. In other words, it is the failure of expressing knowledge, which is the result of not learning it efficiently or memory. When the brain does not learn a stimulus, which signals a new stimulus.  The brain is blocking the conditioning stimulus because the new stimulus is shown so much with a stimulus that is already a signal. “Blocking is a classical conditioning task in which prior training to one cue such as a tone reduces learning about a second cue such as a light, when subsequently trained as a tone light compound” (Allen, Padilla & Gluck, 2002). Along with blocking there is Extinction, which refers to eliminating a conditioned response and counter conditioning, which was the process of interrupting the old response with a new stronger response hence the counter conditioning.

Classical Conditioning is used today for treating anxiety, phobias and addictions as well as increasing or decreasing desired behaviors. Classical conditioning helps in the treatment of phobias, which are irrational fears to objects or certain situations. Since phobias are caused by the classical conditioning process conditioning is processes are also used to treat them like, exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is when the person is exposed to the object or event that causing the phobia, in order to show them that it is okay and safe. Aversion therapy is the way to avoid a bad situation, like abusing drugs or alcohol Aversion therapy is an effective therapy treatment for any type of addiction problem. “ It consists of administering an aversive stimulus to inhibit an unwanted (emotional) response, thereby diminishing the habit strength. The aversion should be linked to the prodromal stimulus, which initiates the unwanted behavior and not to the behavior itself” (Näring and Hooqduin, 2005). Every treatment is going to be different depending on the person and their personal case and needs.

“The phenomenon of classical conditioning is basically very simple: If a CS and a US are repeatedly presented together, the CS will eventually begin to elicit the same response as the US does by itself” (Lieberman, 2012). Classical conditioning is based on experience for example phobias occur based on experience, response to stimuli’s are based on experience the experience then determines the behavior. For example if a person eats a salad that makes them sick, they are not going to want to eat that salad again. Classical conditioning creates a desired behavior by training the brain to have a response.

Operant conditioning is the process of learning that focuses on punishment and rewards/reinforcers for desired behavior. B.F. Skinner proposed operant conditioning, looking into what causes actions and consequences. “Just as classical conditioning depends on how closely the US follows the CS, for example, so the effectiveness of reinforcements should depend on how closely the reinforcer follows the response (Lieberman, 2012). There are several different types of reinforcers, primary reinforcers, secondary or conditioned reinforcers, social reinforcers, negative reinforcers. Primary reinforcers are stimuli’s that are needs for survival and are essential from birth. Secondary or conditioned reinforcers are also effective from birth and are acquired through experience. Social reinforcers are reinforcements we get from those around us for example love, affection and praise from our parents, social reinforcers are vey powerful as people want to please others like their parents or be accepted by others in the same social circle. Negative reinforcers are when an undesired stimulus is removed. All reinforcers including negative reinforcers are used to strengthen a behavior, where as punishment is used to weaken or lessen a behavior.


Like classical conditioning the effectiveness of the reinforcer and punishment depends the strength. If the incentive/reinforcer is presented right after the behavior then the behavior is more effective. Reinforcement is the term used for reward, in the operant learning process. There are several different factors that play apart in reinforcements there potential, effectiveness when and how they are used. The schedule of reinforcement is reinforcing the response whenever it happens. “The sooner a reinforcer is presented following a response, the more likely it is to be effective” (Lieberman, 2012).  There are four different types of schedules in which were first proposed by Skinner; fixed interval, variable, fixed ratio, and variable ratio. Fixed ratio is when there is a certain amount of responses then the reinforcement can be applied. Variable ratio is when the number of responses can vary before the reinforcement. Fixed interval is when reinforcement takes place after a certain amount of time. Variable Interval is when reinforcement takes place after unpredicted amount of time. The main difference between ratio schedule and variable schedule is that ratio is continuous where as variable is more irregular.

There are both positive and negative aspects to the reinforcement schedules and each schedule has different uses. Fixed ratio gives a person something to work for like a goal, but that goal cannot always be reached and that the negative. For example when you work hard for a promotion and you are seen for the promotion but someone else gets the promotion. Variable ratio allows for unknown amount of responses before reinforcement for example, Fixed interval gives a certain amount of time before the reinforcement, therefore you can be prepared although you may not always have enough time for example the amount of time you have on a quiz or the amount of time to study before an exam. Variable interval is more unexpected so you may not be prepared for the reinforcement you do not know when your time is going to be up, for example you are told there is going to be a fire drill today while at work, but you don’t know when so you have to get as much work as you can before it happens although you do not know when it is going to happen. “In this sense, the variable schedules are more powerful and result in more consistent behaviors”(AllPsych Online, 2011). Reinforcers can be used wrong causing bad outcomes for example: bribery, offering incentives to children to do things they should be learning to do anyway. Greed, if offer incentives to your children for things they should be doing anyway like a chore then they are going to think that they deserve an incentive for other chores too. Motivation should remain from the activity itself and not the reinforcer that follows they activity itself; this keeps the passion for the activity.

Punishment is the consequence enforced for unwanted behavior. When you here the word punishment, you may think of negativity and that is why there is continuous debate and controversy on using punishment to utilize behavior.  There is both negative and positive punishment; positive punishment is when a stimulus is presented like spankings, negative punishment is when removing a stimulus like taking away a Childs’ toys for bad behavior. According to Lieberman, 2012 “remember that reinforcement always refers to strengthening, and punishment always refers to weakening”. Punishment is more effective and fair based on five principles; intensity, delay, schedule, stimulus control and verbal explanation. Intensity is based on how painful (emotionally or physically) the punishment is. Delay the amount of time there is between the response and the punishment. The schedule is based on the consistency of the punishment. Stimulus control is based on keeping the punishment the same even in different environments. Verbal explanations are used to make sure that punishment is understood and so that the person knows why there was punishment. “Summarizing the evidence to this point, it appears that punishment is most effective when it is immediate, firm, consistent, delivered in a variety of settings and accompanied by a clear (and fair) explanation. Used under these conditions, punishment can be a powerful technique for suppressing behavior” (Lieberman, 2012).

Sometimes parents forget to reward/reinforce good behavior and just simply jump on punishment. Although punishment does have to take place, reinforcement has the best results for children, as they want to please their parents and they want the attention they receive for making a parent proud. As a parent you learn what works best for your child when it comes to punishment, some children learn better with punishment by removal and others learn better with positive punishment. Although it is important to keep in mind what kind of side effects come with punishment; like fear, anxiety or aggression.

Using incentives or punishment after a behavior in order to receive a desired behavior gives a person something to look forward to and work towards or motivates them to not do something in order to not be punished. Applying rewards usually make a person work harder for example at work people may worker harder or better for bonuses, promotions, etc. or parents reward children with candy during potty training.

S-R Theory stands for stimulus response theory, which have many views “S–R theorists believed that learning involves the formation of stimulus-response associations, so that no learning should occur if a response is not made” (Lieberman, 2012). Neobehaviorism is proposed that learning was not just shown through
behavior, but that invisible conditioned response like stress or love and is based on the general behaviorism principle. People learn from one another everyday through modeling behavior and even if behavior does not change, learning can still take place. Clark Hull: “Hull argued that there could be no objection to assuming that some unobservable event (X) intervened between a stimulus (S) and response (R). S → [X] →R, S→X, X→R If these requirements are satisfied, then the theory can predict what behavior will occur in any situation, and the predictions can then be tested”(Lieberman, 2012). Edward C. Tolman used the same variables as Hull but with focus on Docility, disruption and reinforcer, devaluation within Hull’s equation because he believed more in the cognitive side of the things with expectations and more complex. Associative and cognitive approaches both back up neobehaviorism in the learning concept as learning could take place even with out a response. When people have an emotional response to something, it is usually something they store in their long-term memory because to them it was important and created emotion, the emotion either wanted or not. Therefore a response can happen based on the environment and experience but the response may not always be physically visible. When people watch someone like a teacher, the teacher is a role model therefore others learn from that. Modeling a behavior so a person can observe, changes behavior when the beliefs, environment and experience are motivators for the change. Many people learn best by observing others, children especially they watch what is around them and then they mimic. Neobehaviorism is social way of learning because learning comes from someone else’s meaningful behavior, which is being observed.

An experiment supported by Hull is that of Fowler and miller in their 1963 rat experiments. Rats ran down a straight path for box of food (goal). Although, upon reaching the box they received a shock before they could eat. They shock was either given in their hind or forepaws, although you may think that no matter where the shock was given would not matter, according to Hull it did matter. Shock in the hind paws pushes the subject towards to the goal where as shock in the front paws pushes the subject away from the goal, the subjects that received shock in the hind paws not only moved more towards the goal box but they also ran faster towards it in order to avoid the shock. “Hull’s version of SR theory thus leads to the curious prediction that under some circumstances punishment should actually strengthen the punished response”(Lieberman, 2012).

Classical conditioning and reinforcement both contribute to Mowrer’s two-factor theory of avoidance learning in their ways. “The theory assumes that subjects are motivated to escape fear and are not performing on the basis of the future expectation of an aversive event”(McGraw Hill, 2002). Classical conditioning is a way of learning where two stimuli’s are paired together, which a stimulus creates a response. The stimulus is the neutral signal, which then creates reflex/response.  The classical conditioning of Mowrer’s two-factor theory is the pairing of the cues to the fear. Reinforcement is when something is used to make a response more likely to occur.  The reinforcement is removing the cues or escaping them to avoid the fear. There are many different situations people go through in order to avoid; prevent the fear from taking place or escape; get a way from the situation that will cause encountering with fear in their lives. “Technically, an avoidance response is defined as a response that postpones or prevents an aversive event. An avoidance response is distinguished from an escape response, which is one that terminates and unpleasant stimulus” (Lieberman, 2012).

As addressed above there are three main principles in which people learn through; classical and operant conditioning are, both used for strengthening desired behaviors or suppressing unwanted behaviors with different effective concepts. There are even theories like the S-R theory that have contributions from both classical and operant conditioning. Neobehaviorism is the process in which learning does take place even if behavior is not shown through a response. Although there may not be a response the learning could have been done through either classical or operant conditioning. All people are going to learn differently as well as presenting what they learned.




AllPsych Online. (2011, September 23). Psychology 101. Retrieved from

Provides information on reinforcement in the operant learning process.


Boundless. (ND). Applying operant conditioning. Retrieved from

Provides informative examples of operant conditioning and real world situations of altering behavior.


Garren, M. V., Sexauer, S. B., & Page, T. L. (2013). Effect of Circadian Phase on Memory Acquisition and Recall: Operant Conditioning vs. Classical Conditioning. Plos ONE, 8(3), 1-8. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058693


The article provides informative information on how classical and operant conditioning plays a role in long and short-term memory.


Lieberman, D.A. (2012).  Psychology of learning.  San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education.

The texts provide information on all aspects of classical, operant and

neobehaviorism learning. Along with key terms, theories and principles of classical, operant and neobehaviorism learning.


McGraw Hill (2002). Traditional learning theories. Retrieved from

Provides information on the two-factor theory in an understandable informative way.


Näring, G. B., &Hooqduin, K. L. (2005). Dutch Norms for the Rasch version of the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, Form C. European Journal Of Clinical Hypnosis, 6(3), 18-23.


Starling, M. J., Branson, N., Cody, D., & McGreevy, P. D. (2013). Conceptualising the Impact of Arousal and Affective State on Training Outcomes of Operant Conditioning. Animals (2076-2615)

The article provides logical information on operant conditioning information and training. The importance of training and learning relies on knowing how learning takes place.




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