Evaluation Of The Different Experiments Of Learning By Conditioning

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Conditioning in psychology is a concept that the individuals or the animals’ response to a certain matter or act can be altered by learning or conditioning. There are two types of conditioning namely classical and operant conditioning. The method of learning by conditioning means when a person learns through association between different stimuli. Learning by conditioning in other words can also be referred to as learning by association. In both the cases, either classical or operant conditioning results in learning. (McLeod, 2018)

Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist is remembered to this day for his efforts in classical conditioning. Pavlov performed numerous experiments not only on humans but also on animals which resulted in classical conditioning to be discovered. His experiment on dogs, rats, pigeons are quite well known. Pavlov came across the idea of classical conditioning by mistake when he was experimenting on the digestive system of dogs. (McLeod, 2018)

Pavlov while experimenting to study the digestion of dogs found out that the dog began to salivate at the sight of meat when brought and then eventually at the sight of the person who brought food. This was as he associated that person with food and began to salivate. In this experiment the equipment used by Pavlov is that a dog is loosely tied with a stand with a tube like pipe in his cheeks which drops down and is measured. After every short while a little door opens up and a little amount of food is pushed in. The dog starts to produce saliva when he sees the food, as he is hungry; the amount of saliva that the dog produces at the sight of food is measured through the experimenter in the other room. The experimenter has the authority to control the sound and light button so that a sign or a signal may be occasionally sent before the provision of the food to the dog or at any other time. Pavlov observed that the dog began to produce saliva as soon as the door opened for the observer to provide food to the dog.

Pavlov then paired the provision of food with the ringing of the bell. The ringing of the bell along with the giving of the food was simultaneously done a couple of times after which the dog associated the ringing of the bell with the food and began salivating. The bell was then rung individually and as anticipated the dog began to produce saliva, the bell alone was able to bring about the reaction of salivating. This reaction of the dog shows the elemental principle of classical conditioning. In this experiment the event for example opening of the door can be associated with the other event – in this event being given food (unconditioned stimulus). This association between the opening of the door and the provision of food can be created through reinforcement which would then lead to conditioned response which is production of saliva. (McLeod, 2018)

This experiment proves that classical conditioning is the result of association between the stimulus and the response. Pavlov contributed immensely to the field of psychology. Classical conditioning highlights the importance of learning from the surrounding and the environment of the individual. Classical conditioning promotes the idea of nature versus nurture. Pavlov’s experiment on dogs also helps us understand the concept of discrimination also. (McLeod, 2018)

An example of classical conditioning we can take from our daily lives is when we see a person holding a balloon with a pin close to it; we might see it with apprehension as to what happens when the pin touches the balloon. After this has occurred a few times over the individual would associate the bursting of the balloon with the ‘pop’ sound. Like Pavlov’s experiments, the individual associates the bursting of the balloon with the pop sound leading to the conditioned response which may be flinching, plugging of the ears or wincing.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is the learning of material through the association between a certain behavior and its results. During the 1920s, many psychologists were introducing new types of learning other than the most famous process of classical conditioning put forward by Pavlov. Skinners point of view was that Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning was overly simplistic in its nature and that the study of human behavior is more complicated than explained through Pavlov’s theory. Skinner said that to study the complex nature of human behavior we should look and study the causes of the actions and its consequences. Skinner called this concept as operant conditioning. Skinner is considered as the father of psychology.

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According to the point of view of skinner the actions which produce a pleasant or a pleasurable response are more likely to be done again because the individual associates that particular action with that pleasurable response and if a certain reaction produces a unfavorable response is more likely to not be repeated. Skinner experimented on animals such as rats and pigeons. The incidents which are more likely to be reinforced are called positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement increases the chances of it being repeated. Negative reinforcement decreases the chances of the incident being repeated. (Skinner, 1951)

Skinner showed positive reinforcement by placing a hungry rat inside the Skinner box. A lever is placed on one side and whenever that rat moved about it accidentally presses the lever after which the food is immediately dropped in the cage. After a few times, the rat learned to go immediately to the lever in order to get food. The rat repeats this action as it produces a positive effect. It associated the pressing of the lever with the provision of food. (Shrasithra, 2017)

Operant conditioning can explain various behaviors of human beings. It can also be applied practically in various fields of our daily life.

For example if a teacher gives a student $5 every time the student completes his assignment on time, the student will be more likely to complete his assigned work on time. This would in result strengthen the individual’s behavior of completing his work.

Learning by Insight

Insight learning was introduced by one of the well known psychologists, Wolfgang Kohler, who was the architect of Gestalt psychology. Insight learning is one of the many techniques of behavioral learning process. Insight learning is the process of recognition of solution to any problem all of a sudden, without any prior action of trial and error. Learning by insight can also be defined as looking into oneself to gain knowledge. Learning by insight requires a full understanding of the position and situation. In insight learning the individual uses his past experiences in solving problems. (Shesthra, 2017)

Kohler placed a chimpanzee inside a cage with a long stick, a short stick and a bunch of bananas hung on the ceiling of the cage. The chimpanzee, sultan, could not reach the bunch of bananas with either of the sticks alone. He at first tried to jump and grab the bananas, used the long stick and then the short one, but all his efforts were fruitless. When he was playing around with the sticks he managed to touch the bananas by pushing one stick with the other. He then joined the long stick with the short one to reach the bunch of bananas, at which he was then successful. The next day when he faced the same problem, he at once grabbed the sticks to reach the bananas. (Shivangi, 2015)

This experiment proves that gaining of a little knowledge can change the way you perceive or how you understand and solve the problems in your future. For example if we see a repair person repairing our broken television or device, it gives us an insight of what to do if this happens again.


Classical conditioning, operant conditioning and learning by insight are the three main methods of learning in psychology. Classical and operant conditioning are both examples of learning through association between events that take place simultaneously. Unlike operant conditioning, learning by insight does not make use of trial and error. Humans and animals mainly use learning by insight to solve their problems.

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