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Classical vs. Operant Conditioning, Essay Example

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It’s easy to think of both classical and operant conditioning in our own lives. We’ve all encountered hot stoves and sharp knives, and we’ve all been offered rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad. In this paper I will discuss an example of each, both taken directly taken from the same activity: driving a car.

Walking to high school, my friends and I daily crossed a busy thoroughfare using an unsignaled crosswalk (and without a guard of course). We would never wait or even look, but just step into the street as if it were an extension of the sidewalk. We felt protected by the stripes and by our status as students. One night, driving alone shortly after getting my license, I approached this crosswalk and barreled right through it, barely missing two younger neighborhood kids I knew slightly. I hadn’t noticed that the car in the lane next to me had stopped for them. To this day I have a gut reaction at the sight of a crosswalk, and avoid them.

I know someone who used to drive without car insurance in California, where turning right against a red light is legal. This is also risky because you have to watch for walkers and bikes starting across the street before the light turns green, and cars that are coming straight through the intersection. (Also if you wait too long, drivers behind you blast their horns.) His solution: never turn right against the red. Instead, he would wait until it was green and then flick his signal on. I think this was avoidance learning, and his positive reinforcement was safer and less stressful driving. But eventually he did get insurance. And immediately he began turning right against a red light again. To do otherwise was to not get his money’s worth of  insurance.

Both examples are long-lasting, but I think only the second can be generalized: operant conditioning of individuals in groups can encourage antisocial behavior by those individuals.

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