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Conditioning (Classical and Operant)

Learning theories propose that behaviors (B) are controlled by their context. Context arising before an instance of the behavior is described as the antecedents (A), and context occurring after the instance of a behavior are described as the consequences (C). Behaviors can be voluntary (e.g., escaping from a situation) or might be involuntary (e.g., an increase in heart rate), or they can be thoughts, emotions, or mental events (e.g., counting in my mind as a form of distraction).
Three major learning theories of relevance to therapists are:
  • operant conditioning describes operant behavior which is controlled by consequences;
  • respondent conditioning (also called classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning) describes respondent behavior that is controlled by antecedents;
  • observational learning (vicarious learning) is defined as behavior that results from watching someone else’s behavior be rewarded or punished.
Persons (2008) presents a helpful account of how therapists can use learning theories to formulate their patient’s difficulties. Read more
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