Learning theories have been utilized to explain the relationship between behaviors and experiences. The theories work on the premise that the laws of learning are only unearthed if there is systematic interpretation. Phobias and addictions can be better understood through classical and operant conditioning. Phobias are the persistent fears brought about by certain situations or any other thing.
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Phobias are mainly characterized by excessive desire particularly to avoid the stimulus causing the fear. On the other hand, addictions are the behavioral pattern that is characterized by either psychological or physical reliance on substances abuse which is known to have negative impacts on the health and the life of the abuser (West & Hardy, 2006, p.134-167). Addictions and phobias are experienced by a sizeable proportion of the population (Skinner, 1956, p.221-227). This research paper will try to distinguish classical and operant conditioning, explore the development of phobias and addictions, and explain the meaning and application of extinction in classical and operant conditioning.
Distinctions between classical and operant conditioning
Classical conditioning was advanced by Pavlov who denoted that dogs usually salivated on the introduction of food. The utilization of a stimulus, ringing of a bell, resulted in salivation. The model, therefore, works on the assumption that if the introduction of a stimulus that is known to evoke an emotional response is repeated together with a stimulus that does result in an emotional response, ultimately the later stimulus will induce a similar response (Pavlov, 1960, p.15-67). On the other hand, operant conditioning is generally the process that allows humans and animals to acquire behaviors that are reinforced through rewards and the avoidance of punishments. For learning to occur in both models, a short duration of time must be observed to ensure association occurs (Skinner, 1956, p.221-227).
The two models are similar in their modes of acquisition and extinction. Spontaneous recovery and generalization of stimulus are similarities evident in the two models. However, stark differences exist. Operant conditioning is merely reliant on reinforcement, unlike classical conditioning that utilizes association as the main link between the stimuli and responses. Operant conditioning is mainly based on voluntary behavior. However, classical conditioning is generally dependent on the initiation of involuntary reflexive behavior.
Development of phobias through operant and classical conditioning
Studies have indicated that human phobias can be explained by the usage of classical conditioning. Phobias are acquired by ensuring the correct pairing between a neutral stimulus and something that is known to cause a lot of pain and suffering. The acquired responses can persist throughout the life of a person unless a clear extinction process is put in place. A sudden introduction of screeching (unconditional stimulus) makes people scamper (unconditional response) towards the pavement.
If a bus hoots (conditioned stimulus) just before the onset of the screeching, then the involved persons will become accustomed to scampering when a bus hoots loudly without necessarily the driver holding the brakes.
More importantly, there is a propensity for adults to develop severe emotional responses particularly when they are exposed to treatment therapy such as injections in early childhood. The emotional responses may involve fainting or screaming (West & Hardy, 2006, p.130-167). Phobias develop at a tender age and tend to persist even at old age. The sight of injection is believed to cause fainting brought about by the imagination of the pain caused by the injection. In this case, the phobia is acquired and retained by the mere sight of the needle, conditioned stimuli. The association of the needle and pain is the main driver in the acquisition of this type of phobia.
Classical conditioning is instrumental in the reinforcement of specific phobias. It is believed that most people are likely to associate a certain kind of feared object with high levels of anxiety that serve to strengthen the fear. For instance, the thought of a spider is enough to cause anxiety that commensurates a situation where he/she is locked in a room full of spiders. The phobias are sometimes replicated in their daily lives thereby causing the affected individuals to avoid all the places that are suspected to harbor spiders or any other creature. This results in destructive effects in life due to the acquired pervasive patterns of avoiding certain places (Kirsch et al, 2004, p. 269-392).
Phobias are also initiated and maintained by the application of operant conditioning. The acquisition is reliant on reinforcement procedures. Reinforcing the avoidance of the mild form of the situation causing the phobia by intentional repetition also helps in the learning and acquisition of the phobia. Maintenance and perpetuation of the phobias are mainly through the application of negative reinforcement.
This is evident when aggravation of anxiety and unconditional avoidance occurs when the person is confronted by the situation causing the phobia. The phobias are maintained and perpetuated by negative reinforcement. This behavior is generally responsible for the negative reinforcement and maintenance of the phobia. There is a tendency the maintenance the phobia of flying until the person makes the initial effort of flying (Kirsch et al, 2004, p. 269-392).
Development of addiction through classical and operant conditioning
Positive reinforcement has been shown to enhance the repetition of behavior as witnessed in the laboratory rat that is learning to obtain food by pressing a lever. Narcotics are known to rely on this motivational system thereby acting as a reward. The repetition of the abuse makes the reinforcement more permanent thus leading to addiction (Tobena et al, 1993). This is boosted by the immediacy of the reinforcement which is evident in the hard drugs. The stimulus-stimulus associations are believed to play a major role in the initiation and perpetuation of withdrawal symptoms. It is thought that the conditioned withdrawal response is responsible for the relapses and persistent urges to indulge in the behavior even after a lengthy period of abstinence (West & Hardy, 2006, p.130-167).
Extinction is generally referred to as the failure of behavior to elicit any consequence. The behavior tends to occur less often particularly when it is known to be inconsequential about the production of positive or negative consequences. A decline in the occurrence is observed when reinforcement’s measures are withdrawn from such behaviors that were previously reinforced. Extinction is somehow different in classical conditioning. The introduction of the conditioned stimulus combined with the withdrawal of the unconditioned stimulus leads to the weakening of the association. For instance, there is a tendency for a dog to learn to associate a bell tone with meals. However, the association may be lost particularly when there are several instances when the bell rings but no food is brought to the dog (West & Hardy, 2006, p.130-167).
Nevertheless, the association is not lost altogether, revival can occur through the introduction of the food whenever the bell goes on.
Modeling has been utilized in achieving the extinction of phobic behaviors. Instability in the efficacy of extinction about drug uses has been noted. This has led to the advancement of several strategies that are believed to prevent relapses in addicts. Positive reinforcement helps in the achievement of extinction in operant conditioning. The continued repetition of the conditioned stimuli without necessarily performing the unconditioned stimuli leads to the extinction in Classical conditioning
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Kirsch, I., Lynn, S.J., Vigorito, M. & Miller, R.R. (2004). The role of cognition in classical and operant conditioning. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60, 369 – 392.
Pavlov, I. (1960). Conditional Reflexes. New York: Dover Publications.
Skinner, B. F. (1956) A case history in scientific method. American Psychologist, 11, 221-233.
Tobeña, A., Fernández-Teruel, A., Escorihuela, R., Núñez, J., Zapata, A., Ferré, P., Sánchez, R. (1993). Limits of habituation and extinction: implications for relapse prevention programs in addictions. Drug Alcohol Dependency, 32(3), 209-17.
West, R. & Hardy, A. (2006). Theory of addiction. London: Blackwell publishing ltd.