Differences Between Classical and Instrumental Conditioning

The dog's ability to learn as the result of experience is a key factor ensuring its adaptive success. in addition to the associative, information-producing functions provided by classical conditioning, dogs also depend on various instrumental or operant means to secure control over the social and physical environment. Through the combined efficacy of classical and instrumental learning processes, dogs can reliably predict and control the occurrence of biologically significant events. Classical conditioning provides dogs with predictive information about the occurrence of these events, while voluntary instrumental efforts serve to optimize the dog's control over them.

instrumental learning differs from classical conditioning in several significant ways. An important distinction between these two forms of learning is embodied in the different uses of the terms elicit and emit. Reflexive or respondent behavior is elicited by an appropriate stimulus event, whereas instrumental or operant behavior is emitted without the presence or necessity of an eliciting stimulus. Another prominent difference between classical and instrumental learning is the relative amount of voluntary control exercised by an animal. in contrast to the largely involuntary nature of reflexive behavior, instrumental learning mostly involves goal-directed behavior that actively operates on the external environment to produce desirable consequences. Unlike reflexive behavior, instrumental behavior does not depend on an eliciting stimulus, although it can be brought under the control of a signal or discriminative stimulus.

As discussed previously, classical conditioning primarily involves conditioned and unconditioned stimuli and the various responses elicited by them. in the case of classical conditioning, response strength depends on various attributes belonging to the eliciting stimulus (e.g., its salience or intensity), the animal's readiness to respond, and the existence of a contingent relationship between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus. in the case of instrumental learning, response strength depends foremost on the presence of an established contingency between the response and a reinforcing outcome regularly following its occurrence. As is discussed later in this chapter, many other motivational, biological, and cognitive factors affect the strength of instrumental behavior.

Classical and instrumental learning also differs in terms of their respective functions. A vital function served by classical conditioning is the formation of reliable predictive representations about the occurrence or nonoc-currence of beneficial or dangerous events. Instrumental learning, on the other hand, provides the animal with information about how these events can be successfully controlled through various behavioral adjustments involving approach, escape, or avoidance. As the result of such learning, the animal gradually maximizes access and control over attractive outcomes while avoiding or minimizing the occurrence of aversive ones. The information and behavior derived from instrumental learning is goal directed and biologically purposeful, forming a flexible repertoire of adaptive behaviors shaped for the preservation and protection of the animal. In combination, classical and instrumental learning activities provide a fluid and adaptive interface between the animal and the surrounding environment. Tarpy writes,

Response learning represents a mechanism by which animals can change the world to their advantage. Since strong biologically active stimuli usually represent either valuable resources or threats to survival, then these stimuli must not only be predicted (stimulus learning provides one mechanism), but they also must be controlled. organisms who have evolved the mechanisms that permit response learning can change the environment to their own advantage. They can acquire expectancies about future outcomes based upon their own behavior; and the response they execute alter stimuli in ways that are important for survival.

Instrumental-like Conditioning of Reflexive Behavior

Some evidence suggests that classical conditioning may not be the only way autonomic behavior is modified. Instrumental control of reflexive behavior appears to be possible under highly controlled experimental conditions. For example, Miller (1969) demonstrated that many reflexes can be modified with instrumental conditioning, utilizing a complicated operant conditioning procedure. In these experiments, rats were paralyzed with curare, and intracranial electrodes were placed into the brain to stimulate reward sites. Miller's preparation allowed the researchers to shape visceral activities, like heart rate, urinary output, peristaltic activity, and other autonomic functions, without the confounding influence of voluntary striated muscle activity. In one study, heart rate was differentially accelerated or decelerated depending on the presence or absence of reinforcement (intracranial stimulation). Heart-rate increases were also brought under the control of a compound (light and tone) discriminative stimulus (Miller and DiCara, 1967). Miller's work shows that under conditions of paralysis (i.e., when voluntary control of striatal muscle is disrupted) many au-tonomic functions can be altered by instrumental consequences (i.e., reward and punishment). In another study (Miller and Carmona, 1967), the salivary reflex in dogs was enhanced or diminished according to the consequences that followed its emission. Food naturally elicits salivation, but water does not. In their experiment, water was used as a reinforcer for salivation. In water-deprived dogs, salivation increased when it resulted in access to water and decreased when salivation postponed the delivery of water.

Additional evidence for the central control of autonomic functions comes from many biofeedback studies with humans. As a result of biofeedback, human subjects can learn to control such functions as heart rate and blood pressure voluntarily, though this is not necessarily evidence that an operant factor is at work. A subject may simply learn to selectively stimulate opposing motivational substrates through cortical enervations of the limbic system and other subcortical mechanisms.

A Uniprocess Theory of Learning

Classical and instrumental learning activities are always functionally integrated, although, for some practical and experimental purposes, they are frequently treated as separate phenomena. Over the years, several experimental psychologists have attempted to extend

Pavlov's findings to the study of instrumental behavior (Watson, 1924/1970; Guthrie, 1935/1960; Konorski, 1967; Gormezano and Tait, 1976). Pavlov himself believed that his reflexology would ultimately show that all learning was under the central control of a single S-R mechanism—an ambitious expectation that has fallen short of realization in many ways. However, recent and ongoing efforts by Robert Rescorla and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania to study instrumental behavior in terms of a Pavlovian analysis and methodology have yielded promising results. They have found Pavlovian associative linkages and structures embedded in every major facet of instrumental conditioning. These encoded Pavlovian structures include S-R relations, predictive stimulus-outcome relations, and Pavlovian-like response-outcome expectations (Rescorla,

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    6 years ago
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