In learning psychology, conditioning is understood to mean forms of learning from stimulus-stimulus associations or stimulus-response associations (stimulus-response learning) through repeated coupling of stimuli. A distinction is made between two basic types of conditioning: Classical conditioning , which affects triggered (reflective) behavior (the learning organism has no control over the stimulus and the reaction it triggers), and instrumental or operant conditioning , which originally affects spontaneous behavior, which is targeted depending on the consequence following the behavior.
Both forms of learning can be demonstrated in almost all animal species and thus enable fundamentally important adaptations of organisms to the respective environment.
Learning through Classical Conditioning was first described by Ivan Petrovich Pavlov and has been experimentally replicated countless times since then. Pavlov happened to observe that some of the dogs he was experimenting with to find out more about saliva secreted saliva before the experiment began. A closer look showed that this only occurred in those dogs who had been in the laboratory for some time and who knew the course of the experiments. This salivation could not be attributed to the smell or the sight of the food, but had to have another cause. In order to analyze this, Pavlov made a bell sound at the same time as the food was being served. After a few repetitions, the saliva flowed in these "Pavlovian dogs" at the sound of the bell, although no food was given.
After sufficiently frequent joint presentation ( contiguity ), the previously neutral stimulus (bell tone ) became a conditioned stimulus by association , which alone can trigger almost the same reaction (salivation) as the unconditional stimulus (food) with which it was coupled. The unconditional response (salivation) to the food became a conditional response to the sound of the bell.
Today we know that contiguity is not sufficient for the development of a conditioned reaction, but that the neutral stimulus must contain information about the occurrence of the unconditional stimulus.
Instrumental and operant conditioning
In operant or instrumental conditioning, the frequency of originally spontaneous behavior is permanently changed by its pleasant or unpleasant consequences. In everyday language, this is “learning through reward / punishment”.
The behavior can come from the natural repertoire or be derived from natural behavior. Positive or negative reinforcement increases the likelihood of this behavior occurring. Positive or negative “punishment” reduces the likelihood of this behavior occurring. The exploration began with the experiments of Edward Lee Thorndike at the end of the 19th century. Burrhus Frederic Skinner , who conducted intensive research in this area from the 1950s onwards , has also made a particular contribution .
Learning effects occurring in both types of conditioning
The learning process after which the conditioned or instrumental reaction is no longer shown is known as extinction . This occurs when the conditioned stimulus is presented several times "without" presentation of the unconditional stimulus (classical conditioning) or the behavioral consequence of the operant reinforced behavior is absent several times (operant conditioning). This is neither about forgetting nor unlearning, but about additional learning that temporarily and context-dependent overrides the effect of the conditioned stimulus .
Once a conditioned response (classic or operant) to a particular stimulus has been learned, there may be times when similar stimuli elicit the same response. The following applies: The more similar the new stimulus is to the conditioned stimulus, the stronger the reactions will be. Paradigmatic is the Little Albert experiment by Watson and Rayner (1920), in which little Albert extended his (conditioned) fear of rats to a rabbit, a dog, a Santa Claus mask, tufts of cotton and a fur coat. For example, if a child is afraid of doctors, this fear can be generalized to people who wear white coats. According to ICD-10 , symptoms of this kind are classified as generalized anxiety disorders (sub-area other anxiety disorders ) if they are pathological .
The stimulus discrimination represents the opposite process for stimulus generalization. After successful stimulus Diskriminationslernen is the agent is able to distinguish two stimuli from each other. The conditioned reaction only occurs with exactly those stimuli that were coupled with the reaction in the learning situation. An example from the human area could be "that the child shows a very differentiated, conditioned fear reaction towards the father if he only scolds him frequently", but does not feel any general fear of male adults.
- ME Bouton: Learning and behavior: A contemporary synthesis. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA 2007.
- J. Bredenkamp, W. Wippich: Learning and memory psychology. Volume 1. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1977.
- W. Edelmann: Lernpsychologie. 6th edition. Psychologie Verlags Union, Weinheim 2000, ISBN 978-3-621-27465-4 , p. 39.