Origin Of The Term Classical Conditioning

Often, it is possible to precisely identify the time and reason a new scientific term is introduced. Generally, this is possible because the author of the new term describes the reasons for introducing the term and justifies why the particular term was chosen. For example, the term instrumental conditioning was coined by Clark L. Hull to describe the type of learning in which the subject is "instrumental" in obtaining reinforcement. That is, the animal is the instrument, as in maze learning. Operant conditioning was chosen by B. F. Skinner because the subject must perform a behavioral "operation" to obtain reinforcement. In other words, the animal operates on a manipulandum in the environment, such as pressing a bar to obtain food. However, unlike instrumental and operant conditioning, there does not appear to be an instance in which a single individual coined the term classical conditioning. Therefore, only an inference can be made concerning the origin of the term classical conditioning.

Only in the most rare cases do authors comment on the origin of the term classical conditioning. Often in these cases, the term is inaccurately attributed to John B. Watson. This is understandable because Watson was largely responsible for publicizing the classical conditioning method and outlining how it could be used as a method of scientific investigation. However, Watson never actually used the term classical conditioning, instead referring to it as simply the "conditioned reflex." His 1930 edition of Behaviorism was his last significant scientific publication, and although the process of classical conditioning is referenced extensively, the term was never used.

Before the 1940s, the process of classical conditioning was referred to most often as the conditioned reflex, Pavlovian conditioning, or simply conditioning.

However, in the 1930s, scientists began to understand that the laws governing learning, in paradigms in which reinforcement was contingent on the organism's behavior, appeared to be fundamentally different from the laws governing the conditioned reflex. The latter type of learning would come be known as instrumental or operant conditioning. This created a need to distinguish these different forms of conditioning. It is my contention that the term classical conditioning developed as a contraction of the descriptive phase ''classical Pavlovian conditioning'' that was used to denote the ''well-known'' (i.e., classical) type of conditioning used by Pavlov (i.e., Pavlovian).

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