. Classical Conditioning and behavioral development

The behavioral development amongst human beings is influenced by various environmental, social, economic and cultural factors. The process of learning such behaviors differs amongst different individuals. Notably, the differences are even manifest on a broader scale amongst other organisms. This study analyzes the addictions and phobias that are related to the operant and classical conditioning. Its exploration of how phobias are developed through classical conditioning shows that avoidance of the feared object tends to worsen the condition and prevents effective recovery. Further, its evaluation of the development of addiction through operant conditions reveals that the process is characterized by both the negative and positive reinforcements.

Key Words: Phobias Addictions, Classical, Operant, Conditioning

Phobias and Addictions

Classical and operant conditioning are vital in management of different behavioral constraints. Basically, phobia is a concept that is used to refer to a kind of fear of a certain situation to and object that can not be controlled.  Addiction on the other hand constitutes dependence on a situation and/ or substance in such a way that the individual or organism involved is unable to stop the practice. Conditioning has been cited as one of the ways through which phobia and addiction develops.

By classical conditioning, phobia it is attained through relating the neutral stimulus that an individual or organism experiences with an object or situation that causes pain. This can only be overcome through conf notation of the painful object or situation. In operant conditioning, phobia is reportedly acquired through the process of enforcement. This is characterized by repeated avoidance of the situation or object that causes the pain. On the other hand, phobia in this regard can be easily maintained by negative reinforcement. Addiction in operant conditioning is attributed to the rewards that the same offers. Notably, it can be countered through avoidance regardless of the fact that this is likely to be undermined by feelings of resistance.

Behavioral studies have implicated classical conditioning for the development of certain phobias whose causes are unknown to date (Thompson, 2006). A classic illustration of this is presented through Pavlov’s dogs. In this, Ivan found out that dogs usually salivate whenever they are fed. According to him, this constitutes a natural response of the body to a certain stimulus. Ivan then decided to start ringing the bell just before the dogs were given food. He did this over a certain period of time and ultimately, he found out that even in instances when the dogs were not given food, they still salivated whenever they heard the sound of the bell. This implied that the dogs had learnt over time to associate the sound of the bell with the food to the extent that their bodies still responded to the sound regardless of lack of food. It is this association that Thompson (2006) refers to as classical conditioning.

According to Schultz (2000), this procedure is also apparent in the development of specific or simple phobia. In this, an individual or organism is exposed to a certain object like a spider. The spider in this respect is representative of Pavlov’s bell. At this juncture, it is worth acknowledging that spiders in themselves do not have the capacity to raise the levels of anxiety in humans. Statistical evidence affirms that only a small percentage of the population tends to be afraid of the insects. Thus it can be posited that they assume the position of the bell that seemingly does not trigger salivating in dogs.

Emergent researches indicate that it is the negative and threatening thoughts that are associated with spiders that cause anxiety in humans. In particular, the recognition that spider bites can have far reaching implications to the extent of causing death to the affected individuals is what triggers the anxiety. Similarly the realization that the sound of the bell implies that food is ready is what causes salivating in dogs. Alternatively, the tendency of human beings to fear insects can also result in to the anxiety that is related to the spider experience.

In his research regarding the causes of phobia persistence, Thompson (2006) points out that classical conditioning tends to reinforce some forms of phobia. For instance it is acknowledged that individuals with different forms of phobia tend to experience increased anxiety on mere thought of the object. Nonetheless, these feelings of anxiety reduce when the person avoids thinking about the objects. This according to Dayan, Kakade and Montague (2000) is not sustainable due to the fact that it reinforces the feelings of fear.

Notably, this can have spill over effects and undermine the quality of life of an individual. It is because the affected individual is likely to take measures to avoid any form of exposure to the feared object. In the long run, the avoidance patterns culminate in intense suffering and waste of vital resources and time. In addition, Dayan et al (2000) ascertains that it affects the social life of the affected individual.

With regard to development of addictions and operant conditioning, Miller (2004) asserts that in most instances, addictive behaviors are assumed without the knowledge of the individual. This is usually perpetuated by the reward that the individuals get from the addictive substances or behaviors. In addition, it is influenced by the principle of reinforcement that organisms employ in basic survival as well as reproduction. The particular reinforcement can either be positive or negative. Addictive substances and behaviors are related to this conception through their reward system that is considered a positive reinforcement. Use of the substances or engagement in the behavior usually motivates the ‘victim’ and trains the same to rely on it for survival.

In his review, Schultz (2000) indicates that consistent use of the addictive substance strengthens the relationship and in the long run makes the addict entirely dependent on the substance or behavior. The negative reinforcement of addiction is occasioned by the need to escape from unpleasant stimuli or punishment. Addiction is related to this in that within a short period of time that the individual is exposed to the substance, the body gets accustomed to the effects of the same. Consequently, any form of abstinence tends to have adverse implications on the physiological wellbeing of the individual. In particular, Lavond and Steinmetz (2003) indicate that short intervals of avoidance lead to instances of withdrawal syndrome. At this juncture, it is worth noting that at this point, this process is conscious and does not need any for of decision making.

Generally, operand conditioning makes the organisms to seek the reward associated with addiction by avoiding its punishment. Occasional addiction has been cited to be instrumental in further strengthening the behavioral constraint. Further it is indicated that getting rid of the addictive behavior occurs compulsively and instantaneously. In other words, it is not influenced by any decision and just like assumption of the addictive behavior, it occurs out of the consciousness of the individual.

An inherent difference between classical and operant conditioning stems from the degree to which the reinforcement is dependent on the learner’s behavior. In the former, Dayan et al (2000) ascertains that the learner tends to be automatically reinforced. Essentially this is how the specific organism learns to respond accordingly to a stimulus that was once neutral. However, the later is conditional and requires the learner to produce a correct and clear response before s/he can receive the reinforcement.

The other difference between the two to types of conditioning according to studies is related to the different behavior types that each of the method is applicable.  Usually, classical conditioning is applicable to the behavior that an individual or learner always wanted. However, operant conditioning allows for learning or extinguishing a given behavior. Despite the intrinsic differences it is contended that both operant and classical conditioning are reliable methods of teaching an organism to behave in a specific way.











Dayan, P., Kakade, S. & Montague, R. (2000). Selective Attention in Learning. Nature Neuroscience, 3, 1217-23.

Lavond, G. & Steinmertz, E. (2003). Classical Conditioning. USA: Academic Press.

Miller, R. (2004). Cognition: Classical & Operant Conditioning. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60, 368-90.

Schultz, W. (2000). Reward System. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 1, 200-8.

Thompson, F. (2006). Understanding the Powers of Learning. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 233-39

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