Parenting and Conditioning

While we were discussing conditioning in class, we mostly talked about animals and how with the use of repetition, rewards, and punishments, we can shape behavior. Animals aside, I began to wonder where else conditioning might show up in my life. I realized that as I was growing up, many of these techniques were actually used by my parents in order to prevent bad habits and encourage other behaviors.

Classical conditioning is a type of learning that happens when we connect involuntary responses to certain stimuli other than the original natural stimulus. Similar to Pavlov’s experiments with the dogs, I remember salivating and going downstairs automatically whenever I heard dishes being set on the table. I’m sure that my natural response to dishes being set on the table didn’t make me salivate and expect dinner. However, after years of conditioning to pair the neutral stimulus (dishes) to the unconditioned stimulus (salivating), I expected delicious home-cooked meals when I heard clanking downstairs.

My parents also liked to use operant conditioning when training me as a young child. Operant conditioning, contrary to classical conditioning, shaped my behavior with the use of positive and negative reinforcements and punishments to encourage voluntary behaviors. Learning in operant conditioning depends on the antecedent stimuli, or stimuli after the action, whereas classical conditioning depends on what comes before the response. For example, my parents liked to give me candy after a doctor’s visit so that I wouldn’t scream as loudly and actually get in the car to go. Other times, they would deprive me of television or tell me to go to my room in order to get me to behave myself in social situations. It was extremely effective. In order to avoid the negative punishment, or something pleasant being removed from my life, I was apt to obey my parents and stop hitting my brother.

I never realized the psychological theories behind my childhood, but I suppose it’s natural to know how people react to certain actions. Conditioning is definitely an effective means of getting a child to behave.

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