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Pavlovian and Skinnerian Processes Are Genetically Separable


Björn Brembs

Universität Regensburg



Abstract: The commonalities and differences between operant and classical conditioning have been debated ever since Skinner and Konorski embarked on their epic exchange about "two types of conditioned reflex and a pseudo type" in the 1930s. New techniques that surmount experimental design problems identified in early research allow for a much improved separation of the two types of conditioning. These technical advances, combined with modern genetic manipulations, provide evidence that Pavlovian and Skinnerian processes separate not between the learning procedure (operant vs. classical), but between learning content (self vs. non-self). The picture emerging today reinforces Skinner's early insight that operant conditioning is a composite situation, comprised of a 'Pavlovian' component (learning about stimuli — 'world-learning') and a 'Skinnerian' component (learning about the consequences of actions 'self-learning'). A research program that distinguished these processes genetically is described.



Björn Brembs is Professor of Neurogenetics at Universität Regensburg. He obtained his doctorate in genetics and neurobiology from Universität Würzburg, and has done post-doctoral research at the University of Texas Houston Health Science Center. Thematically, Dr. Brembs’ research concerns the general organization of behavior with regards to reward and punishment with the objective of better understanding how brains accomplish adaptive behavioral choice. See http://brembs.net/about.html