Phylogeny of operant and classical conditioning

Hennessey et. al.’s example of Classical conditioning in paramecia (1979) is a “willy-nilly” approach to conditioning that actually exemplifies operant conditioning (see Rescorla, 1988). However, as is typical of such misrepresentations where explicitly unpaired stimuli are used, cause and effect is still reported.

This willy-nilly approach to cause and effect is also the one commonly used by animal trainers and behaviorists who have bastardized the concept of Pavlovian (aka classical) conditioning. However, receptor-mediated events are required to demonstrate classical conditioning. Since there was no evidence of a receptor-mediated event in the paramecia, the authors rightfully commented on the likelihood that a forthcoming invertebrate model might best differentiate classical conditioning from the willy-nilly operant conditioning, like tone and shock pairing (Rescorla, 1988). The problem with discussion of conditioning in paramecia is that the observed behavioral change cannot be attributed to synaptic interactions.

All links here are to free full text articles that establish the basis for my use of the honeybee model organism as an invertebrate species that links receptor-mediated cause and effect to behaviors in species from microbes to man (Kohl, 2012). In the classical conditioning of honeybees and people, sensory stimuli from the environment must epigenetically alter intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression. These epigenetic effects occur due to nutrient chemicals and pheromones in microbes. But in the honeybee model organism and in other models of brain-directed classically conditioned behavior, the epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals and pheromones occur via receptor-mediated events in hormone-secreting nerve cells of brain tissue. These receptor-mediated events are required to link sensory stimuli directly to classically conditioned hormone-driven behavioral affects (i.e., via the effects of the sensory stimuli on hormones).

People who are not familiar with the basic principles of biology and levels of biological organization may continue to assert that classical conditioning was demonstrated in paramecia despite the willy-nilly tone (i.e., vibratory tone) and shock pairing that characterizes operant conditioning, and that also distinguishes it  (e.g., as training)  from receptor-mediated classical conditioning. Others, like me, who have learned how to model behavioral development using the molecular biology that is common to all species, will continue to laugh at any assertions that willy-nilly tone and shock pairing is classical conditioning.

The willy-nilly approach is also silly in the context of any attempt to demonstrate more than a correlate of animal training. Those who are interested in learning about cause and effect may therefore want to differentiate classical conditioning from operant conditioning by referring to classical conditioning as Pavlovian conditioning, which it is, and referring to operant conditioning as willy-nilly silly conditioning, which it is.


About James V. Kohl 1308 Articles
James Vaughn Kohl was the first to accurately conceptualize human pheromones, and began presenting his findings to the scientific community in 1992. He continues to present to, and publish for, diverse scientific and lay audiences, while constantly monitoring the scientific presses for new information that is relevant to the development of his initial and ongoing conceptualization of human pheromones. Recently, Kohl integrated scientific evidence that pinpoints the evolved neurophysiological mechanism that links olfactory/pheromonal input to genes in hormone-secreting cells of tissue in a specific area of the brain that is primarily involved in the sensory integration of olfactory and visual input, and in the development of human sexual preferences. His award-winning 2007 article/book chapter on multisensory integration: The Mind’s Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences followed an award winning 2001 publication: Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology, which was coauthored by disinguished researchers from Vienna. Rarely do researchers win awards in multiple disciplines, but Kohl’s 2001 award was for neuroscience, and his 2007 “Reiss Theory” award was for social science. Kohl has worked as a medical laboratory scientist since 1974, and he has devoted more than twenty-five years to researching the relationship between the sense of smell and the development of human sexual preferences. Unlike many researchers who work with non-human subjects, medical laboratory scientists use the latest technology from many scientific disciplines to perform a variety of specialized diagnostic medical testing on people. James V. Kohl is certified with: * American Society for Clinical Pathology * American Medical Technologists James V. Kohl is a member of: * Society for Neuroscience * Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology * Association for Chemoreception Sciences * Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality * International Society for Human Ethology * American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science * Mensa, the international high IQ society