Eating Disorders: A Matter of Gender?

Eating Disorders: A Matter of Gender?

Preoccupation with food, sustaining a particular body image and extreme anxiety or fear about gaining weight are the most common factors in the majority of eating disorders. The most common forms of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Those with anorexia are known to restrict themselves from eating, while those who are afflicted with bulimia tend to binge and purge their food, (eating extremely large amounts of food in a single sitting, and then forcing themselves to vomit afterward.)  Both of these types of disorders have some similarities, which will be discussed later in this paper, (Pilecki, Jozefik, & Salapa, 2013).

Anorexia nervosa is considered to be the most dangerous out of the two main eating disorders. It is a mental illness that is potentially life threatening because it causes severe weight loss triggered by self-starvation, (Muller, 2016). Anorexia sufferers display dissatisfaction with their perception of their bodies, and they have a body weight lower than the healthy recommendation for their age and height. If caught early, anorexia can be treated, if not treated, continuing undernourishment can cause fatal consequences including: loss of muscle, low blood pressure, lethargy, heart damage, brittle bones which break easily, kidney failure and anemia, which is a condition where the blood is unable to carry enough oxygen to the organs, cells, and brain leading to tiredness, clouded judgment, dry, blotchy, or yellow skin, In advanced stages of anorexia, the organs will fail, and the bodily functions shut down, resulting in death, (Muller, 2016).

Bulimia nervosa, the second most common eating disorder is a disease in which a person consumes large amounts of food and then purges to prevent weight gain, (Muller, 2016). Bulimia is also a mental disorder categorized as those who engage in binging, (participate in uncontrolled eating) and are purging at least twice a week for three months or longer. The method that bulimics use to purge can vary in many ways. They may use diuretics or laxatives, or self-induce vomiting, (Muller, 2016).

Unwarranted vomiting diminishes the body of vital nutrients, and aggravates the esophagus with the hydrochloric acid from the stomach, which then triggers sore throat and breaks down the enamel on teeth. An outline of cardiac risk in patients with chronic eating disorders shows that purging creates gastrointestinal problems, swollen salivary glands, and severe dehydration, leading to an imbalance in minerals including potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium, which are essential for helping to conduct electric impulses in the heart. One in 10,000 Americans has bulimia, (Muller, 2016).

Eating disorders are psychological illnesses defined by abnormal eating habits that result in severe maladies to an individual’s physical and mental health.  Eating disorders generally affect children, adolescents, and young adults, and often develop between the ages of 11 to 25, with a mean age of 18, (Volpe, Tortorella, Manchia, & Monteleone, 2016).  Statistics have also shown that 42 percent of third grade girls want to be thinner, and up to 81 percent of ten year olds are afraid of gaining weight, (Muller, 2016).

Those who suffer from eating disorders are determined to achieve their idea of flawlessness, even if they have to damage their bodies to reach that goal. According to studies, females tend to have the highest risk with a female-to-male ratio of nine to one, with onset usually beginning in girls aged from 15 to 19, (Striegel-Moore, Rosselli, Perrin, DeBar, Wilson & Kraemer, 2009).

While eating disorders are known to affect females at a much higher ratio, there have been numerous studies conducted in recent years which seek to distinguish the differences in the ways that eating disorders affect the different genders, and to determine whether males are truly less likely to suffer from eating disorders over all, or whether their struggles are simply under-reported, or even if males are perhaps suffering from different forms of eating disorders altogether, (Lewisohn, Seeley, Moerk, & Siegel-Moore, 2002).

According to one study in particular, women showed elevated drives for thinness, body dissatisfaction, bulimia, and inappropriate compensatory behavior, while men only showed elevated drives for excessive exercise. In the same study, men were more likely to report an overeating episode within the past three months, but women reported that they were more likely to feel badly after overeating. Women reported being two times more likely to have wanted treatment for their issues with eating problems, (Lewisohn, Seeley, Moerk, & Siegel-Moore, 2002).

One study of one hundred and eighty-seven women between the ages of 18-62 showed that there was a significant correlation between emotion suppression/depression and eating disorders in general, but that the strongest correlations were found between those with anorexia and those who exhibited anxiety and depressive symptoms, while there were no significant correlations found with bulimia, (Muller, 2016).  Almost 50 percent of people with eating disorders suffer from depression, while only one out of ten people with eating disorders seek therapy, and yet eating disorders are the cause of more deaths than any other mental illness, (Muller, 2016).

Recent research indicates that a person might be genetically prone to an eating disorder.  Researchers found that if one identical twin has eating disorder, the other twin will likely suffer from it as well, and that people with a relative suffering from anorexia are eight times more likely to develop the condition than those who don’t have a relative with an eating disorder, (Bould, Koupil, Dalman, Destavola, Lewis, & Magnusson, 2015).

As previously stated, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two of the most common eating disorders, though they are not the only two eating disorders that exist. The warning signs and symptoms vary, and people suffering usually face physical and behavioral problems. Even though anorexia and bulimia nervosa are separated into categories, some people will switch from being anorexic to being bulimic, or vice versa, or may even show symptoms and experience more than one eating disorder at the same time. It is projected that virtually one in 250 females and one in 2000 males will experience anorexia nervosa, which generally develops in adolescence or young adulthood. Close to five times that number suffer from bulimia nervosa, (Striegel-Moore, Rosselli, Perrin, DeBar, Wilson & Kraemer, 2009).

Diagnosis can be challenging due to the complex psychological issues surrounding eating disorders.  Making diagnosis even more difficult is the fact that those with eating disorders have been shown to suppress their emotions, (Sternheim, Evers, & Danner, 2014).

One study focused on the gender differences between males and females in the prevalence of eating disorder symptoms.  In this study, it was shown that while generally, females are the most likely to suffer from anorexia and bulimia, there seems to be no real difference in the ways that the genders are affected when it comes to other binge eating disorders in general.  This study was meant to expound upon previously completed studies in which those of different genders were examined for behavioral symptoms of eating disorders.  However, once the study was complete, a potentially new ‘symptom’ was discovered, whereby those who suffer from eating disorders also engage in the behavior of either excessive body checking, or body avoidance.  Excessively checking one’s weight or looking at one’s size in a mirror was shown to be more common than body avoidance, but body avoidance was still present in some sufferers, (Striegel-Moore, Rosselli, Perrin, DeBar, Wilson & Kraemer, 2009).

In conclusion, it is very apparent that there needs to be more research on the subject of eating disorders, and their effects on males versus females.  While we already know without much doubt that females do tend to suffer from anorexia and bulimia at a much higher rate than males, the evidence shows us that there are probably a large number of men who do not report their eating disorder symptoms for some reason, and that there may be a form of eating disorder that we are either unaware of, or just on the cusp of discovering, and we are going to have to continue to conduct research studies in order to determine what the proper steps need to be in order to get help for the sufferers of these disorders.






Bould, H., Koupil, I., Dalman, C., DeStavola, B., Lewis, G., & Magnusson, C. (2015). Parental mental illness and eating disorders in offspring: Parent mental illness, offspring eating disorders.  The results of the study International Journal of Eating Disorders, 48(4), 383-391. doi:10.1002/eat.22325

Cassin, S. E., & von Ranson, K. M. (2005). Personality and eating disorders: A decade in review. Clinical Psychology Review, 25(7), 895-916. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2005.04.012

Lewinsohn, P. M., Seeley, J. R., Moerk, K. C., & Striegel-Moore, R. H. (2002). Gender Differences in Eating Disorder Symptoms in Young Adults. International Journal Of Eating Disorders,32(4), 426-440.

Morris, J., Simpson, A. V., & Voy, S. J. (2015). Length of stay of inpatients with eating disorders. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 22(1), 45-53. doi:10.1002/cpp.1865

Muller, S. (2016, Feb 23). Top statistics about eating disorders. University Wire Retrieved from

Pilecki, M. W., Józefik, B., & Sałapa, K. (2013). The relationship between assessment of family relationships and depression in girls with various types of eating disorders. Psychiatria Polska, 47(3), 385-395.

Sternheim, L., Evers, C., & Danner, U. (2014). The importance of distinguishing between the different eating disorders (sub)types when assessing emotion regulation strategies. Psychiatry Research, 215(3), 727-732. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.01.005

Striegel-Moore, R. H., Rosselli, F., Perrin, N., DeBar, L., Wilson, G. T., May, A., & Kraemer, H. C. (2009). Gender difference in the prevalence of eating disorder symptoms. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 42(5), 471-474. doi:10.1002/eat.20625

Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. (2012). Eating disorders in men: Underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood. Eating Disorders, 20(5), 346. doi:10.1080/10640266.2012.715512

Volpe, U., Tortorella, A., Manchia, M., Monteleone, A. M., Albert, U., & Monteleone, P. (2016). Eating disorders: What age at onset? Psychiatry Research, 238, 225.

Wilson, G. T. (2010). Eating disorders, obesity and addiction. European Eating Disorders Review : The Journal of the Eating Disorders Association, 18(5), 341-351. doi:10.1002/erv.1048








One of Many Alzheimer’s Disease Research Papers….

Alzheimer’s Disease Issues and Analysis


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most well-known form of dementia, (Alzheimer’s Disease, n.d.) There is no cure for the disease, which gets worse as it progresses, and eventually leads to death, (Cell Press, 2013.). It was first discovered by German psychiatrist and neuroanatomist Alois Alzheimer in 1906 and was so named after him, (Hippius & Neundorfer, 2003.)  Most often, AD is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although the less-prevalent, early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier. In the U.S., 5.4 million people suffer from AD, and that number is expected to triple by 2050, (Alzheimer’s Disease, n.d.)

Though AD develops differently for every individual, there are many common indicators. Early symptoms are often incorrectly thought to be ‘age-related’ concerns, or displays of anxiety, and up until the 1960’s, even the scientific community believed that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s were expected in older age, referring to them as “senile dementia,” (Mastin, 2010.)  However, we now know that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, (Alzheimer’s Disease, n.d.)  In the early stages, the most common, and well known, symptom is trouble in remembering recent events, (Alzheimer’s Disease, n.d.)

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Statistics

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging, the only surefire way to confirm AD is by autopsy after death. However, several examinations can be performed which can generally confirm a diagnosis of presumed Alzheimer’s disease (About Alzheimer’s, n.d.)  When AD is assumed, the diagnosis can frequently be confirmed with tests that evaluate performance and thinking abilities, usually followed by a brain scan, (Alzheimer’s Disease, n.d.)   As the disease progresses, symptoms can include confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, trouble with language, and long-term memory loss. As the victim declines, they may withdraw from their families and society. Inevitably, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death, (About Alzheimer’s, n.d.)

Since the disease is different for each individual, forecasting how it will affect the person is difficult. AD can progress undiagnosed for years. The average life expectancy of a person diagnosed with AD is three to ten years, but could be even less depending on the age of the person when the condition is diagnosed, (Zonetti, Solerte, & Cantoni, 2009.)

Research shows that the AD may be brought on by and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, as well as declining amounts of the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, (Hoyer & Roodin, 2009.)   Another theory is that AD could be caused by genetics.  Several genetic markers exist for the disease; presenilin-1, presenilin-2, and SORL1 associated with the amyloid precursor protein (APP) are thought to be associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, (Hoyer & Roodin, 2009.)  There are no existing treatments that stop or reverse the progression of the disease, but  mental stimulation, exercise, and calorie restriction have been suggested as ways of reducing/coping with symptoms, or extending life in Alzheimer’s patients, (Hoyer & Roodin, 2009.)

The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are frequently mistakenly accredited to getting older, or stress (Zonetti, 2009.)  Thorough testing can reveal mild cognitive difficulties up to eight years before a person fulfills the clinical criteria for diagnosis of AD. These early symptoms can affect the most complex daily living activities. The most noticeable symptom is memory loss, which shows up as difficulty in remembering recently learned facts and inability to acquire new information, (Alzheimer’s Disease, n.d.)

There are two types of AD; Early Onset AD, in which indicators appear before age 60, and Late Onset AD, in which symptoms appear after age 60.  Early Onset AD is less common than Late Onset AD, but tends to worsen quickly, and can run in families. Late Onset AD is more common, and may run in families, but the role of genetics is unclear, (Alzheimer’s disease; Medline, n.d.)

Aside from the most notable warning sign, (memory loss,) there are many other signs and symptoms which loved ones may notice in potential Alzheimer’s victims.  Some people may abruptly have trouble carrying out familiar tasks.  While most people find themselves doing things which seem absent-minded from time to time, Alzheimer’s victims may forget to complete entire portions of their days, (Hoyer & Roodin, 2009.)  A person with AD may develop problems with language such as forgetting simple words, or substituting inappropriate words.  In fact, a 2011 study at Cornell University discovered that difficulties with finding the “right” word when speaking may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, (Costigan, 2011.) Alzheimer’s sufferers may randomly become lost or disoriented in their own neighborhoods, or forget what year it is.  According to Charles Duffy, a lead investigator in neurology at the University of Rochester, this is due to something called “motion blindness,” and not simply to forgetfulness.  Duffy conducted a study which he says proves that living with Alzheimer’s disease can be loosely paralleled to walking around in a snow storm.  He says that people with AD literally cannot visually see what is going on around them, (Rickey, 1999.)    People with AD may also exhibit extremely poor decision making, to the point of causing danger to themselves or others, or problems with intellectual thinking, such as doing simple math, or creating a grocery list.  Misplacing things is another sign of Alzheimer’s; sometimes, people will place things in completely inappropriate places, and then be unable to find them.  Mood swings and drastic personality changes could be symptoms of AD, as could the complete and utter loss of initiative and the loss of empathetic behavior, (Hoyer & Roodin, 2009.)

In people with AD, it is usually the growing deficiency of learning and recollection that ultimately leads to a definite diagnosis.  AD does not affect all memory capacities equally. Long term memory is affected less than new facts or memories, (Mastin, 2010.)

Researchers see it as extremely important to diagnose Alzheimer’s patients early, so that they can be treated with new, sometimes experimental, treatments when they become available.  AD is broken up into “phases” of severity, which vary based on the expert, but in general, the phases range from mild, to moderate, to severe.  The earliest phase is preclinical, which is when brain changes can be observed, but there may be little to no other manifestations of the disease yet.  The second phase of AD is when small, mild cognitive impairments begin to present themselves, and the third phase is full-blown dementia, when memory, thinking, and behavior have become so impaired that the patient’s daily life is  unmanageable, (Park, 2011.)

Eventually, AD sufferers will require around the clock care, and will not be able to perform even the simplest chore without the aid of someone else.  Bathing, going to the bathroom, and eating will all require help.  These are the most familiar images most people have of AD, and the most upsetting, (Park, 2011.)

Suicide in Alzheimer’s Sufferers

With these types of bleak odds, it is not really surprising that statistics show that the suicide rate for the elderly is higher than for that of any other age group, (McIntosh, 1995).  The elderly, particularly elderly males, and even more specifically those who are Caucasian, have been shown to commit suicide at a rate of 40.2 to 100,000, while only 6.0 elderly women in every 100,000 have been shown to commit suicide.  Additionally, whites were shown to kill themselves at a rate of 21.0, as opposed to the rate of 8.3 for that of other races, (McIntosh, 1995).  The researchers for this study concluded that in the future, the elderly population is likely to increase, but that this will not be likely to have an effect on elderly suicides, because suicidal risk is affected by factors such as future attitudes about aging, the old, suicide, disease, pain management, health services for the elderly and terminally ill, and economic conditions, (McIntosh, 1995).

Another study conducted at the Academic Department for Old Age Psychiatry, Prince of Wales Hospital and the School of Psychiatry, University of NSW, in Australia showed that a culmination of biological, psychological, and social factors may lead to suicide.  In this study, three specific cases of suicide were analyzed.  In each case, the individual was autopsied, and their brain was dissected.  Their previous psychological history was also examined.  It was concluded that preventing self-harm is largely dependent upon the recognition of psychological problems, especially getting involved where possible.  Depression is the most prevalent risk factor in late life suicide, and therefore, the study showed, that these suicides could be prevented if affective disorders could be eliminated or treated properly. It is assumed that the reason that depression is experienced late in life when it has not been experienced previously is that affective disorders are a manifestation of dementia, (Peisah, Snowdon, Kril,& Rodriguez, 2007).

Another recent study suggests that dementia patients who committed suicide were younger dementia patients who did not commit suicide.  This finding was consistent with previous research in the VA population, but was in opposition to the epidemiological research which had previously shown that those in the general population who were >60 years old were at greater risk for suicide. This study also found that earlier age of onset carries a higher likelihood of a genetic history of dementia which may influence the patient’s outlook on their futures. Additionally, the prescription of an anti-anxiety medication was shown to be a strong predictor of suicide.  There was a definite comorbidity of anti-anxiety drugs with suicide risk among depressed patients, (Seyfried, Kales, Ignacio, Conwell, & Valenstein, 2011).

The prescription of these anti-anxiety drugs was found to be a stronger predictor of suicide than a prior anxiety diagnosis.  According the researchers in this study there was no comorbidity found between suicide in dementia patients and those who suffered from other medical illnesses.  A noteworthy finding of this study showed that the majority of suicides occurred in those with new dementia diagnoses.  This seems to confirm that nursing home care can decrease the risk of suicidal behavior, probably because these facilities offer supervision, and decreased access to dangerous objects such as firearms, (Seyfried, Kales, Ignacio, Conwell, & Valenstein, 2011).

While an extensive amount of research has been done on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and suicide in the elderly, it is clear that more exploration needs to be done, and more attention needs to be paid to this issue, and that there is a lot more that can be learned in order to try to help those who suffer from these disorders, and to intervene when possible.





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Hippius, H., & Neundorfer, G. (2003, April 25). The discovery of Alzheimer’s disease. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from

Hoyer, W. J., & Roodin, P. (2009). Adult development and aging (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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McIntosh, J. L. (1995). Suicide prevention in the elderly (age 65-99). Suicide & Life – Threatening Behavior, 25(1), 180-92. Retrieved from

Park, M. (2011, April 19). 3 stages of Alzheimer’s disease introduced – – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from

Peisah, C., Snowdon, J., Kril, J., & Rodriguez, M. (2007). Clinicopathological findings of suicide in the elderly: Three cases.Suicide & Life – Threatening Behavior, 37(6), 648-58. Retrieved from

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Seyfried, L. S., Kales, H. C., Ignacio, R. V., Conwell, Y., & Valenstein, M. (2011). Predictors of suicide in patients with dementia.Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 7(6), 567-573. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2011.01.006

Zonetti, O., Solerte, S., & Cantoni, Z. (n.d.). Life expectancy in Alzheimer’s disease… [Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2009] – PubMed – NCBI. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from





In no certain order-B.F. Skinner versus Ivan Pavlov:  Theories of Operant and Classical Conditioning

Psychological Conditioning-B.F. Skinner versus Ivan Pavlov:  Theories of Operant and Classical Conditioning

February 18, 2017


This paper will examine the theories and practices of two well-known psychologists: B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov.  Both of these men held their own distinct theories on the method of conditioning in both humans and non-humans.  Ivan Pavlov came up with the theory of classical conditioning by testing on animals.  He theorized that a neutral stimulus could be used to condition animals to have a certain response. The most notable example of this is Pavlov’s dog experiment, wherein he would ring a bell, (which is a stimulus that would have previously been considered neutral because it did not produce a response,) and then he would feed the dog.  The dog began to associate the bell with being fed, and started to salivate when it heard the bell ring.  Pavlov had successfully created a connection in the animal’s brain caused by presenting the stimuli.

B.F. Skinner researched, and held to, the theory of operant conditioning, whereby an individual would become conditioned by their environment.  In his theory, behaviors could be either strengthened or weakened by applying awards and punishments to certain behaviors.  He theorized that by providing positive reinforcement, (praising one’s actions, for example,) an individual would learn to keep performing the desired behavior.   However, by withholding praise, one would learn not to repeat a certain behavior.

This paper will attempt to thoroughly clarify the lives and philosophies of each of these psychologists, and to explain various aspects of the ongoing research in the application of conditioning in psychology, and to point out both praises and criticisms of both classical and operant conditioning.


B.F. Skinner versus Ivan Pavlov:  Theories of Operant and Classical Conditioning

            Of all of the well-known behavioral psychologists, B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov are two of the most famous.  However, there has been much debate as to whose assertions on conditioning were correct.  Some argue that one or the other was entirely accurate with his individual theories, while others believe that both were correct in some ways.  Even those who disagree with one of the theorists generally admit that both theories on conditioning are accurate, at least to some extent (Kirsch & Lynn, 2004).

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

            Chambers Biographical Dictionary (2011,) states that Ivan Pavlov was born in 1849, near Ryazan, Russia. His father was a priest, and early in his life, Pavlov had aspirations of becoming a priest as well.  However, he later decided to pursue a more scientific career, and began to study physiology, and worked as the chief of the division on physiology at the Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine. There, he was encouraged by officials at the institute to perform parts of his training in a laboratory environment, which allowed Pavlov to have access to a number of talented researchers and assistants (Pavlov, 2011).  His work was chiefly based in the areas of the circulatory system, the digestive system, and higher nervous activity including the brain.  Throughout Pavlov’s life, he was always interested in the inner workings of animals, and how they related to those of humans, thus much of his research was in this area. Pavlov later won the Nobel Prize in Physiology (Pavlov, 2011).

While he conducted many experiments throughout his career, Pavlov is, perhaps, best remembered for his dog experiment.  Pavlov decided to conduct an experiment where a bell was rung anytime that food was offered to a dog.  Over time, the dog learned that the sound of the bell meant that food was present, and began to salivate when it heard the bell ring, even when there was no food.   This experiment allowed Pavlov to compare and contrast the learned response of a dog salivating in response to the bell ringing, with the dog’s natural response of salivating when food was presented (Pavlov, 2014).

Since he was still concerned with the study of physiology, Pavlov prohibited any use of language which he considered psychological in nature from being used in his laboratory.  If he overheard his assistants talking about the dog’s ‘feelings,’ or saying that the dog ‘understood’ or ‘knew’ something, he would make the assistant pay a fine (Crain, 2011).

Pavlov believed that once a reflex had been conditioned to a particular stimulus, he could elicit the same reflex via a stimulus that was slightly different.  For example, a dog may learn that the sound of a bell signifies that food is coming, but the sound of a bell with a completely different sound may illicit the same reflex.  However, he also believed that over time, the dog will learn that if only one type of bell signifies food, to ignore the sounds of the other bells, and to only respond to the one that it knows will bring food (Crain, 2011).

Pavlov’s theory also stated that once a stimulus was established, it would not be everlasting.  He learned that, although he could create a conditioned stimulus/response connection, (associating a bell with food, thus causing salivation,) that he could easily undo the response, (ringing the bell intermittently without presenting food, which eventually lead to a smaller and smaller levels of salivation.)  He theorized that any stimulus/response connection could be undone (Crain, 2011).

According to the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Operant and Classical Conditioning, even before Pavlov began his investigation, researchers had been making advances in the study of human behavior that appeared to be Pavlovian in theory, (for example, Locke had theorized that knowledge is based upon associations,) but Pavlov himself gets credit for first discovering and researching classical conditioning as it is known today, because he chose to go beyond what had already been proposed, and to determine multiple principles of association by conducting various experiments.  Pavlov was the first to take the theory of learning and conditioning from basic ideas to an actual scientific principle which could be experimented on, studied, and proven.  Pavlov’s theory of conditioning is defined by its method, which involves the strict control over the stimuli which are present (Murphy, 2014).

Though many agree that Pavlov’s theory is correct, there are some critics who take issue with his ideas.  Some believe that Pavlov’s experiments were too simplistic in their design, and that more in depth analysis needed to be done in order to gain a true understanding of learning.  It has also been said that since classical conditioning can generally only be achieved through new stimuli and innate reflexes that it is not always applicable (Wenger, 1937).

In recent years, scholars have continued building upon the study of conditioning, which they have based upon Pavlov’s early results.  One study, as discussed in the article Unconditioned Responses and Functional Fear Networks in Human Classical Conditioning, focused on the unconditioned responses and functional fear networks in classical conditioning, while showing that non-painful, but undesirable unconditioned stimuli can yield regional responses similar to those recounted in previous pain studies.  When the stimulus was anticipated, but did not occur, brain activity was visible which could be compared to the activity seen during intense anxiety,  this shows that expectancy is a factor in conditioning, and that fear is a leads to altered regional influences among the brain regions involved in predicting safety and danger (Linnman, Rougemont-Bucking, Beucke, Zeffiro, & Milad, 2011).

Burrhus Frederic Skinner

According to the book Psychology’s Grand Theorists: How Personal Experiences Shaped Professional Ideas, by (Demorest, 2005), Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born to a middle class family in 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania.  Demorest states that Skinner initially set out to study literature, and wanted to be a poet, but eventually decided to study psychology when he entered the graduate program at Harvard.  There, his theories and ideas, (though they were thought to be fanatical,) brought him a great amount of attention from the psychological community, he was known to be extremely meticulous in the details of his research, and eventually became enormously respected.  Skinner wrote two books, one of which was a novel, which perpetuated his desire to improve society through behavioral control (Demorest, 2005).

Demorest goes on to discuss Skinner’s model, which has several basic principles.  First, he proposed that there is a difference between two kinds of behavior, (respondents and operants,) and that respondents are behaviors which are caused by a response to a stimulus in the environment.  He also proposed that most behavior which is carried out by operants, however, is the most complex.  Operants are not caused by external stimuli, but are instead enacted by the organism in order to operate on the environment (Demorest, 2005).

In other words, respondent behavior is carried out after something transpires to make it happen, but operant behavior is carried out for the purpose of making something happen.  He maintained that these two types of behavior are not the same as a voluntary or involuntary response, because this way of thinking assumes that respondent behaviors are not controlled by the organism.  He asserted that, instead, all behaviors are under complete control of their environment, even if they are thought to be voluntary.  Voluntary responses would not exist if there was no reward or punishment given (Demorest, 2005).

Operant behavior is that which is controlled by its consequences, as discussed by Staddon, 2003, in an article on operant conditioning in the Annual Review of Psychology, which attempts to review studies and hypothetical methodologies of two major classes of operant behavior.  It has been shown in these studies that temporal control may be involved in a wide variety of operant conditioning procedures in a variety of unpredicted ways, and that operant conditioning is the study of reversible behavior which is maintained by reinforcement schedules (Staddon & Cerutti, 2011).

Skinner also alleged that there are three major processes which are controlled by their environmental consequences: reinforcement, extinction, and punishment.  In reinforcement, a behavior will increase in frequency because it is being positively reacted to.  In extinction, a behavior will decrease, because there is no positive reinforcement, and in punishment the behavior will decrease because it is followed by something negative, or the removal of something positive (Demorest, 2005).

Skinner believed that punishment is probably the most common means of attempting to control human behavior, but he was averse to its use.  He believed that punishment does not really work, even though it may seem to do so initially, in the sense that, in general, the immediate consequence of punishment is a lessening of the unwanted behavior.  However, he believed that once the punishment was no longer a threat, the behavior would reappear, and that punishment also leads to negative emotions, such as fear and anger, and that this is not representative of a true behavioral change, but instead, a temporary reaction (Demorest, 2005).

Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning is based upon the notion that learning is a change in explicit behavior.  According to this theory, one’s behavior changes based upon the individual’s responses to stimuli in their environment.  This theory varies from the theory of classical conditioning presented by Ivan Pavlov in the sense that Pavlov believed that a neutral stimulus will not produce a response by itself, but that an unconditioned stimulus will produce an unconditioned response.  Both of these responses lead to learning, but classical conditioning is a comparison of two stimuli, while operant conditioning is a comparison of a behavior and a response (Demorest, 2005).

Skinner believed that there were several principles of conditioning. For example, he proposed that operant behavior is not learned all at once, but that behavior is shaped gradually over a period of time.  He also believed that behavior can be shaped at a higher rate if a response is reinforced promptly, and that by waiting too long after a behavior has occurred to offer a response, that it is less likely to be reinforced.  Another of his principles focused on ‘behavior chains,’ which builds upon the idea of gradually shaping behavior.  Another principle that Skinner proposed was that while a new behavior takes time to learn, once it is learned, it can grow and then, more and more behaviors can be learned because of the initial behavior (Crain, 2011).

Similar to Pavlov’s respondent behavior experiments, Skinner’s experiments on operant behavior were also shown to have the ability to be extinguished.  In operant behavior, a child may learn that if it cries, it will receive attention.  Over time, this behavior may become annoying to the parent, who has to constantly provide attention to the child to keep them from crying.  The parent may then stop giving the child attention when they cry, and eventually, the child will ‘unlearn’ the behavior, because the stimuli no longer produces the desired response (Crain, 2011).

The majority of his principles were focused on positive behavioral reinforcement.  However, Skinner also suggested that behavior could be shaped by negative reinforcement, but he believed that punishment is not useful in strengthening a particular behavior, but in eliminating it, but he objected to punishment as a means of behavior control, and insisted that any behavior which seems to disappear when a punishment is presented will reappear later (Crain, 2011).

Aside from his research on conditioning, Skinner contributed much to the theory of psychology. The article On Certain Similarities between Mainstream Psychology and the Writings of B. F. Skinner (Goddard, 2012), discusses Skinner’s theories as they relate to modern psychology.  In the article, Skinner’s theories on the role of the unconscious, human language, human perceptions of conformity bias, the role of dispositions in psychology, and mindfulness are discussed.  There is also a discussion of the fact that one’s environment can unconsciously affect human behavior.  The article attempts to push Skinner’s ideas and research into the spotlight, and to make certain that his work is respected in modern day psychology (Goddard, 2012).

Classical versus Operant Conditioning

In The Role of Cognition in Classical and Operant Conditioning, from the Journal of Clinical Psychology, it is said that in the field of behavioral psychology, the theories of both Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner are respected and believed to hold merit.  However, the idea of conditioning as a cognitive process has always been fiercely debated, and there are many modern day psychologists who believe that classical and operant conditionings are completely opposite.  There are also those who believe that cognition and conditioning are rival hypotheses (Kirsch & Lynn, 2004).

The Journal of Clinical Psychology also states that while there is little doubt that both types of conditioning can reliably lead to changes in behavior, there has still been much speculation that since conditioning comes to fruition based upon stimulus-response. This theory is states that conditioning is not really a form of learning at all, but an involuntary change in behavior that individuals have no control over (Kirsch, 2004).

Traditionally, operant and classical conditioning have been loosely defined as types of learning in which stimulus-response associations are formed.  An article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology discussed the fact that in recent years, conditioning theorists have come to believe that conditioning is any procedure which leads to a change in behavior.  It is believed that conditioning trials produce expectancies, and it is the expectancy that produces the response (Kirsch, et. al., 2004).

Skinner himself pointed out that Pavlov studied responses that were best thought of respondents, (which are responses that are spontaneously produced by known stimuli.)  He believed that Pavlov’s experiments only showed another side to natural reflexes, instead of truly affecting learning.  He also criticized Pavlov’s experiments in the sense that the subjects of Pavlov’s research were generally harnessed in, and that in his own research, the subjects were able to move about freely, which was able to prove operant behavior is reinforced by certain stimuli.  He believed that any prior stimuli which may have elicited the same response would be eliminated in a Pavlovian experiment.  He believed that his operant behavior is much more closely related to human life than respondent behavior (Crain, 2011).

In the past, the effect of cognition on either classical or operant conditioning has been thought of as a given fact.  There has been little debate about the topic, because it has seemed to be assumed that one has expectancy, or is consciously aware, of what is to come, and this was believed to be true no matter how simple or complex the organism. However, some studies have shown that this is not the case.  In a study which compared the theory expectancy is not a causal relation between expectancy and response to cognitive theory, which mediates the effects of conditioning, and asserts that conditioning trials produce expectancies, and that it is the expectancy which produces the response.  These studies showed that the more complex the organism, the smaller the role of automatic conditioning processes, and the larger the role of cognition (Kirsch, et. al., 2004).

As stated earlier, Pavlov was highly opposed to the idea that his subjects had thoughts or feelings of their own.  The same was true for Skinner, who believed that even though thoughts are present, they are never anything more than products of learned behavior.  He believed that any thought that exists only exists because in the past, the behavior that is being thought of has led to a positive reinforcement.  Skinner acknowledged that feelings exist, but argued that feelings do not cause behavior either.  He believed that emotions should be looked at as products of environmental control (Crain, 2011).

Others have attempted to continue, and expound upon, the research and theories of their predecessors, while also attempting to repair any shortcomings they perceive. The article Classical Conditioning since Pavlov (Bitterman, 2006), discusses the fact that while Pavlov’s work was revolutionary, that there has been little research done to try to gain any new knowledge on the theory of classical conditioning, and states that recent papers written on the subject have not given hope that a new, more satisfactory theory is on the horizon (Bitterman, 2006).

Bitterman explains that there are several criticisms of Pavlov’s research and theories, such as the assumption that Pavlov was incorrect about the importance of conditioned stimulus-unconditioned stimulus connection, and that conditioning is based not upon that connection, but rather, upon contingency, or the idea that behavior is imminent.  However, Bitterman concludes that the reason that there has been no significant advance in the theory of classical conditioning is that there is no advancement to be made, and that Pavlov was a pioneer, whose theories and research were incredibly advanced, as such that there is not much room for improvement (Bitterman, 2006).


            Throughout the history of the study of psychology, there have been many revolutionary ideas.  Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner are only two of the psychologists who have made an enormous impact on the field of psychology as a whole.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to try to determine whose theory on conditioning was more accurate.  It is safe to say that both Pavlov and Skinner’s theories hold merit, and that it is important to respect the works of both men, and to learn what each of them had to contribute, while incorporating their theories and ideas into any new research being conducted.




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