It is easy to confuse classical conditioning and operant conditioning, which is why it is so necessary to have strong, clear, personal examples in your head of each. Here are a couple of examples of operant conditioning from my life:
I love running. I love running long distance. I run five days a week. A short run for me is 10 km, a moderate run, 15 km, and a long run,
20+ km. Most people couldn’t make themselves run 30 or 40 kms even if their lives depended on it. Me? I’m out there every other weekend running 20 – 35 km. So what gives?
Operant conditioning. Every time I run a 10 – 20 km, I get several big rewards. First of all, I’ll start feeling the effects of endorphins — the body’s natural pain killers. Opiates are agonists for endorphins. So, you get the idea of how big of a reward it is. Second, I get a rush of dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of love and other pleasures. I am proud of myself when I run distances and that helps produce dopamine. And third, people react so positively when you tell them about running 20 kms or 30 kms. Most people are at least somewhat awestruck and that is good for my ego.
So, there you have it. What keeps me pounding out the kilometers week in and week out? Operant conditioning — the rewards of running.
I can’t think of a better example.