Classical conditioning vs. Operant Conditioning
Classical conditioning vs. Operant Conditioning

Firstly, we need to know that what is conditioning. The conditioning is a type of learning that link with the sort of stimulus to a human behaviour and response The main difference between the classical and operant conditioning is that in classical conditioning, learning refers to involuntary response which result occurs before a response and in the case of operant conditioning, learning refers to changes in behaviour as a result of experience that occurs after a response. The classical conditioning focus on involuntary and automatic behaviour. The operant conditioning focus on strengthening or weakening voluntary behaviour. Both have some differences but belongs to the conditioning and the kind of it.

Comparison Chart

Basis Classical Conditioning Operant Conditioning
Definition In classical Conditioning, learning refers to involuntary behaviour that occurs before a response. In operant conditioning, learning refers to changes that occur after the response.
Described By It was first described by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist. It was first described by B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist.
Focus The classical conditioning Focus on involuntary, automatic behaviours. The operant conditioning focus on strengthening or weakening voluntary behaviours.
Involves in It Involves placing a neutral signal before a reflex It involves applying reinforcement or punishment after a behaviour
Stimulus Conditioned and unconditioned stimulus are well defined. Conditioned stimulus are not defined.

What is Classical Conditioning?

Classical conditioning is a process that involves creating an association between a naturally existing stimulus and a previously neutral one. Classical conditioning is much more than just a basic term used to describe a method of learning. It is the learning technique in which the experimental learn the relation between two stimulus which are a conditional stimulus and unconditional stimulus.

Classical Conditioning
Classical Conditioning

Unconditional Stimulus

The stimulus that causes the organism to react naturally is called unconditional stimulus

For Example
Imagine a dog that salivates when it sees food. The animal does this automatically. He does not need to be trained to perform this behaviour it simply occurs naturally it is called unconditioned stimulus.

Conditional stimulus

The stimulus that causes one to react to something is called conditional stimulus.

For example
If you started to ring a bell every time you presented the dog with food, an association would be formed between the food and the bell. Eventually, the bell alone is called the conditioned stimulus.

What is Operant Conditioning?

Operant conditioning focuses on using either reinforcement or punishment to increase or decrease a behaviour. Through this process, an association is formed between the behaviour and the consequences for that behaviour. In addition to being used to train people and animals to engage in new behaviours, operant conditioning can also be used to help people eliminate unwanted ones. Using a system of rewards and punishments, people can learn to overcome bad habits that might have a negative impact on their health such as smoking or overeating. Moreover, operant conditioning also plays an important role in how quickly the behaviour is learned and how strong the response becomes.

Classical conditioning vs Operant Conditioning

Key Differences between Classical conditioning and Operant Conditioning

The simplest way to remember the differences between the classical and operant conditional is to find the behaviour is voluntary and involuntary.

  1. The classical conditioning is a learning process first discovered by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the early 1900s.on the other hand, the operant conditioning the term coined by the American physiologist B.F. Skinner in 1938.
  2. Classical Conditioning is a type of learning that generalizes association between two stimuli, i.e. one signifies the occurrence of another. Conversely, Operant Conditioning states that living organisms learn to behave in a particular manner, due to the consequences that followed their past behaviour.
  3. In classical conditioning, the conditioning process in which the experimenter, learns to associate two stimuli, on the basis of involuntary responses that occurs before it. As against, In the operant conditioning, the behaviour of the organism will be modified as per the consequences that arise afterwards.
  4. Classical conditioning relies on involuntary or reflexive behaviour, in essence, physiological and emotional responses of the organism such as thought and feelings. On the other extreme, operant conditioning is one that is based on voluntary behaviour, i.e. active responses of the organism.
  5. Classical conditioning, the responses of the organism, are under the control of the stimulus, whereas in operant conditioning, the responses are controlled by the organism.
  6. Classical Conditioning, defines the conditioned and unconditioned stimulus, but, operant conditioning, does not defines conditioned stimulus, i.e. it can only be generalised.
  7. When it comes to the occurrence of the unconditioned stimulus, it is controlled by the experimenter, and so the organism plays a passive role. Contrary to this, the occurrence of the reinforcer is under the control of organism and thus, the organism acts actively.

Comparison Video


To sum up, Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are both important learning concepts that originated in behavioural psychology. While these two types of conditioning share some similarities, it is important to understand some of the Key Differences between Classical conditioning and Operant Conditioning in order to best determine which approach is best for certain learning situations.