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Operant and classical conditioning have many similarities but there are important differences in the nature of the response and of the reinforcement. In operant conditioning, the reinforcer's presentation or withdrawal depends on performance of the targeted response, whereas in classical conditioning the reinforcement (the unconditional stimulus) occurs regardless of the organism's response. Moreover, whereas the reinforcement in classical conditioning strengthens the association between the conditional and unconditional stimulus, the reinforcement in operant conditioning strengthens the response it was made contingent upon. In terms of the responses studied, classical conditioning almost exclusively focuses on reflexive types of behavior that the organism does not have much control over, whereas operant conditioning focuses on non-reflexive behaviors that the organism does have control over.

Whether the theoretical underlying conditioning processes are the same is still an open question that may ultimately be unresolvable. Some experimental evidence supports an important distinction in how associations are formed in the two types of conditioning. Two-process learning theories are those that see classical and operant conditioning processes as fundamentally different.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshConditioning - Historical Roots, Classical And Operant Conditioning, Comparison, Current Research/future Developments