"What is the difference between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning?"
Over the course of my college career, I've heard this question more times than I care to count. Today, when a 300 level psych student asked this, it broke my threshold of patience. So I have decided to settle the question once and for all. On your mark...get set...learn!
This was discovered by a British physiologist named Ivan Pavlov who noticed that the dogs he was working with would begin to salivate when the experimenters walked into the room. Over time, he figured out that by pairing the sound of a bell with food, he could eventually make the dogs salivate just by sounding a bell.
The key to classical conditioning is that it involves the pairing of two previously unrelated things. Here's a great example from The Office. Jim takes two unrelated things, Altoids and the sound of his computer rebooting, and pairs them so that he can make Dwight salivate by simply rebooting his computer. Brilliant.
This type of conditioning was developed by B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist, who developed the idea that animals could be taught by reinforcement and punishment.
The key to Operant Conditioning is that is involves a consequence that increases or decreases a behavior. A reinforcer is anything that increases a behavior, while a punisher is anything that decreases a behavior. Positive reinforcement is the addition of something that increases the behavior; a reward. Negative reinforcement is the removal of a punishing stimulus, like removing a shock. Positive punishment is the presentation of an unpleasant stimulus, such as spanking, while negative punishment is the removal of a positive stimulus, such as a removal of privileges. Through Operant Conditioning, behaviors can be increased, reduced, or eliminated.