Previous Top Next

Classical and Operant Conditioning: Merely an Operational Distinction?

If it was so, that whenever a single contingent sensory stimulus is present, the operant component were only facilitating the process of learning about the object that is transmitting the stimulus, then all learning in nature can only be categorized as classical. There is no natural situation one can think of, where only the reinforcer is present. If this inference is correct, why is 'pure' operant conditioning (i.e. where only the reinforcer is present; for experiments see e.g. Cook and Carew, 1986; Cook et al. 1991; Wolf and Heisenberg, 1991) feasible at all? So-called non-associative learning might provide some useful insights, how salient situations might be processed in general: when rats, habituated to a mild electric shock to their feet are transferred to a different experimental context (e.g. a larger or smaller cage) the habituation is undetectable. Apparently, the rats associated the shock with their environment, since transferring them back to their training cage restored habituation (unindexed poster on the 24th Göttingen Neurobiology Conference, 1996). This interpretation might lead to the idea of one common mechanism, underlying all types of learning.

Previous Top Next