Pavlov and Skinner’s Theories


The given paper is devoted to the comparison of learning theories offered by Skinner and Pavlov. Being representatives of classical and operant conditioning, the scientists offered their views describing the process of learning and specific factors that impact it. The main reason for the selection of these paradigms and their contrasting is their critical importance for the field of behavioral psychology and relevance.

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That is why the paper outlines the central assumptions of both concepts, their theoretical framework, discuses and compares them to improve their understanding. Moreover, there are examples of how both classical and operant theories are employed in the modern world and what impact they have on the further evolution of the given field of science. At the end of the work, a conclusion with the summary of central findings is provided.


Psychology is one of the fundamental sciences that explains how the psyche of a person works and what processes or factors impact people’s behavior. For this reason, it is a powerful perception and learning tool contributing to the improved understanding of individuals’ actions, motifs, and responses to particular stressors. The scope of this field of knowledge is evidenced by the fact that it is employed to explain multiple processes in various spheres of human activity. Learning, as one of the basics of society, is also analyzed by psychologists with the primary goal to determine how a person acquires particular skills. Thus, theories offered by Pavlov and Skinner introduced two different ideas central to behavioral psychology and contributed to the formation of the concept of classical and operant conditioning.


Pavlov and Skinner can be considered pioneers in the sphere of conditioning as many of their ideas and experiences contributed to the appearance of new concepts and a better understanding of the behavioral theory. Their studies set a basis for further investigation in the given sphere and development of techniques and strategies for training, teaching, and changing some behaviors. Both scientists accept the idea that any response is conditioned and appears as a result of a particular stressor, which means that is can be modified in several ways (Myers & DeWall, 2018). However, Pavlov and Skinner offer opposing views on the given process, and these differences preconditioned the emergence of classical and operant conditioning as concepts explaining how certain stimuli affect individuals and their actions.

Pavlov’s Theory

Ivan Pavlov’s theory presupposes that conditioning is a process involving the emergence of an association between a naturally existing stimulus and a factor that was previously neutral. The given assumption was proved by a famous experiment with Pavlov’s dogs. The researcher noticed the existence of a direct correlation between dogs’ actions and specific stressors. The animals started to salivate, responding to a sound that was usually followed by feeding.

Even if they were not given food, dogs salivated, proving that they had acquired a specific unconscious reaction to an external stressor (Adams, 2020). This idea became the basis of the classical conditioning, assuming that some stimuli naturally and automatically trigger the development of unconditioned response or some other sort of behavior (Myers & DeWall, 2018). The given concept of behavioral psychology became an essential aspect of learning and training.

Skinner’s Theory

Skinner’s idea was different from Pavlov’s one as it preconditioned the use of specific facilitators to form the desired behavior. He assumed that the best possible way to study this issue is to analyze the causes of a certain action and its consequences (Zilio, 2016). To research this hypothesis, he uses Skinner’s box with animals inside it. The hungry rat accidentally used the lever, and food dropped from a container. After several repetitions, it developed a bond between this action and its consequences and started to utilize the mechanism consciously to acquire the desired reward (Myers & DeWall, 2018). It served as the basis for the idea of operant conditioning, stating that some reinforcements of punishments can be used to modify a behavior among individuals and attain the desired result.

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Comparison of Theories

In such a way, revolving around a similar concept, Pavlov and Skinner’s (or classic and operation) ideas are different. One of the major aspects is the character of behavior or whether it is involuntary or voluntary (Kwon & Silva, 2019). The classical idea focuses on the association of a spontaneous response and a stimulus as the ground of learning and generation of specific actions or reactions. At the same time, in operation conditioning, a learner acquires specific patterns because of the establishment of a link between a voluntary behavior and its result (Myers & DeWall, 2018). For this reason, it presupposes such terms as rewards and punishments that are used to regulate the actions of an individual and attain the desired outcome when Pavlov’s theory does not include such points.

Impact and Relevance

The importance of works and ideas offered by Pavlov and Skinner cannot be overestimated. Both scientists created new directions in investigating behaviors and learning among individuals. Today, classical and operant conditioning are basic concepts that should be considered by scientists or other specialists working in spheres that presuppose training or modification of actions or behaviors (Myers & DeWall, 2018). Moreover, the appearance of two different perspectives on the same issue sets a basis for debates and the further evolution of behavioral psychology as one of the tools to understand individuals better.

Today, both theories remain relevant and are widely used in multiple fields. Thus, the sphere of education is one of the central domains that benefit from Pavlov and Skinner’s assumptions as teachers’ primary duty is the generation of specific behavioral patterns among learners to help them to succeed in the future and generate knowledge. The classical conditioning is used to form links between a stimulus and an action; for instance, a bell, or claps are employed to make learners concentrate and be ready to engage in training activities (Kwon & Silva, 2019). At the same time, Skinner’s theory’s impact can be seen in the use of grading marks.

High ones are utilized to stimulate the desired behavior and motivate students to succeed with their academic activities when poor scores demonstrate the unacceptability of certain actions and the need for their reduction (Kwon & Silva, 2019). Both these ideas are also utilized in healthcare to develop specific behaviors or help people to recover after traumas.


Altogether, Pavlov and Skinner’s theory can be considered as two different perspectives on learning. Both scientists offered their vision of this issue, and their frameworks became a basis for classical and operant conditioning. The first researcher assumed that a specific action appeared unconsciously as a response to a potent, previously neutral stimulus when the second one favored the idea of rewards and punishments to control the required behavior and either reduce or increase the power of a reaction. Both concepts remain popular today and are used in education, healthcare, and many other spheres the presuppose training and learning.


Adams, M. (2020). The kingdom of dogs: Understanding Pavlov’s experiments as human–animal relationships. Theory & Psychology, 30(1), 121–141. Web.

Kwon, H. R., & Silva, E. A. (2019). Mapping the landscape of behavioral theories: Systematic literature review. Journal of Planning Literature. Web.

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Myers, D., & DeWall, N. (2018). Exploring psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Zilio, D. (2016). On the anatomy of psychology from neuroscience: A case study of skinner’s radical behaviorism and behavior analysis. Review of General Psychology, 20(2), 155–170. Web.

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"Pavlov and Skinner’s Theories." StudyCorgi, 21 June 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Pavlov and Skinner’s Theories." June 21, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Pavlov and Skinner’s Theories." June 21, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Pavlov and Skinner’s Theories." June 21, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Pavlov and Skinner’s Theories'. 21 June.

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