Classical vs operant conditioning

What’s the difference between classical and operant conditioning?

Classical involves a stimulus THEN a response. It is also natural or reflexive.

Operant involves a behavior first THEN either a reinforcement or punishment. It is also a voluntary behavior.


The main difference between classical and operant is that operant involves a choice. Classical conditioning is where an emotion or reflex is programmed into the subject; there is no choice about whether or not the subject fulfills the conditioned response. With operant conditioning, it is about pursuing a reward or avoiding a punishment. The subject can choose to pursue the reward/avoid the punishment, or they could decide that yolo.


Thank you that clears it up

Classical conditioning ties a natural, visceral, involuntary response to something that wouldn’t normally evoke it (the color red makes us a little hungry because of years of exposure to MacDonalds, Burger King etc). Operant conditioning is the application of a contingency to create/increase or remove/decrease a voluntary behavior. A free dinner makes you more likely to compete for employee of the month (positive reinforcement) the whining of the buzzer (or rather, it’s removal) negatively reinforces your use of the seatbelt. Losing your cell phone privileges makes you less likely to go over your minutes (negative punishment) having to clean the city park makes you less likely to drive recklessly (positive punishment.)

Classical conditioning involves associating an involuntary response and a stimulus, while operant conditioning is about associating a voluntary behavior and a consequence. In operant conditioning, the learner is also rewarded with incentives, while classical conditioning involves no such enticements.

Fiveable Logo

2550 north lake drive
suite 2
milwaukee, wi 53211



about for students for parents for teachers for schools & districts content team privacy contact


🥇 2020 Fiveable Olympics study plans upcoming events trivia hypertyper resources cram passes


community tiktok discord twitter instagram facebook careers

*ap® and advanced placement® are registered trademarks of the college board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

© fiveable 2020 | all rights reserved.