Mental Health Theories

In mental health there are a variety of mental health theories that have helped health professionals with providing efficient and quality mental health care over at least a hundred years. Today I will be comparing and contrasting two behavioral theories that include Ivan Pavlov’s findings on classical conditioning and B.F Skinners research on operant conditioning which were both founded in the 1900s. Both these men are famous for their research and findings in classical and operant condition.

Both of these behavioral theories although very similar also have their differences which will be explained throughout the text.

Ivan Pavlov who was born in Ryazan, Russia on September 14, 1849 by his father Peter Pavlov a village priest, in his early education he went to school at a church and then a theological seminary in Ryazan (Noble Media AB, 2018). Pavlov left his religious life altogether and committed his life to science and he enrolled in 1870 in psychics and mathematics faculty to take natural science and this is where his story really began.

He studied medicine in Germany and Russia and even won a Noble prize in 1904 for his studies in digestive physiology (Noble Media AB, 2018). He was very successful with his studies from the very beginning of his schooling in science.

Classical conditioning was a term invented by Ivan Petrovitch Pavlov which is when involuntary behavior or reflexes could be conditioned to respond to neutral stimuli (Varcarolis, 2017). This brings us to Pavlov’s famous dog experiment where dogs became used to receiving food after a bell was rung later in the experiment the dogs would drool or salivate to the ring alone.

Get quality help now
Marrie pro writer

Proficient in: Behaviorism

5 (204)

“ She followed all my directions. It was really easy to contact her and respond very fast as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

In simple terms this experience was done to prove that living organism learn through their interactions with the environment and this can then shape his/her state of mind (Noble Media AB, 2018).Classical conditioning involves unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus, and conditioned response. An example of classical conditioning would be a PSTD victim to start having palpitations and hyperventilate after hearing fireworks or a car backfire.

Burrhus Fredrick Skinner more renown as B.F. Skinner an American psychologist was born on March 20, 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania by a mother who was a housewife and a father who was a lawyer and grew up in a loving and stable home (B.F Skinner Foundation, 2016). Skinner first attended Hamilton college in New York wanting to become a writer at the age of 24 he entered Harvard’s Psychology department and that’s where his life and career really began. B.F. Skinners studies in operant conditioning involved applying punishment or reinforcement after a behavior and focused on weakening or strengthening voluntary behaviors by doing so (Varcarolis, 2017). Skinner conducted his experiment using animals and in this specific experiment he used what was to become known as the “Skinner Box” which was compared to a Thorndike’s puzzle, he placed a hungry rat in the box which had a lever the rat eventually found that when it hit the lever food came out and then repeated doing so this showed positive reinforcement (McLeod, 2018). Skinner then showed negative reinforcement by putting a rat in the box and when it hit the lever it would be shocked by an electrical current which obviously it did not like eventually after being put in the box a few times the rat would know to go straight to the lever to shut off the current (McLeod, 2018). Another example is if you study hard and receive good grades you will continue to do so or if a person jaywalks and gets a ticket they will less likely to do it again because of the ticket they received previously for doing the same act.

There are similarities and differences between the two theories. Most of the similarities are found in the application portion of these two theories both are put to use to teach a new behavior to a person or animal. They also involve associative learning between highly correlated events. Both of the theories generalized gradients are similar as well (McLeod, 2018).Some differences include whether the behavior is involuntary or voluntary. Classical includes associating an involuntary response and stimuli and operant is about association with voluntary behavior and the reinforcement of consequences (Varcarolis, 2017). Also, in operant conditioning there are rewards that are offered for certain behaviors in classical there are no prizes or incentives offered. Another difference is that in classical conditioning the participant is unaware or passive while in operant it involves the participant to be active and preform an action to get a reward or consequence. Lastly, classical is a more naturally occurring because it comes from forming association with a naturally occurring event where as operant the test subject must act out a certain behavior which can then be positively or negatively reinforced. (B.F Skinner Foundation, 2016).

Some examples of these theories being put to use in using practice would be a patient that has been on some sort of restrictions for behavior then shows good behavior and therefore regains special privileges like recreational time or phone calls this is an example of operant conditioning. I could personally see how operant conditioning is used a lot in mental health because some people need help reinforcing good behaviors if all they have been doing for some time is bad this is where this theory comes into play. Classical conditioning could be used in therapy sessions where people have fears of snakes and while they are practicing relaxation skills they would show pictures of snakes so eventually the patient associates relaxation with snakes and gets over that fear. I could see where both of these theories could come into use when being a nurse whether at a mental health facility, hospital, clinic etc.

All in all, Pavlov and Skinner are two men who will be forever known in history for their radical experiments and innovative ideas when it comes to not only medicine, but everyday life experiences. Pavlov with his noble prize for his research that proved that hunger can activate gastric juices in the body and Skinner with his use of pigeons to guide missiles in the war prove they are both one of a kind intellectual man. These two men coined the ideas of classical and operant conditioning and made their theories well known around the world. Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals around the world will continue to use these applications in mental health for years to come just like they have for the past hundred years.



B.F Skinner Foundation. (2016). Biographical Information. Retrieved from B.F. Skinner Foundation:

McLeod, S. (2018). Skinner-Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from Simple Pyschology:

Noble Media AB. (2018, January 10). Ivan Pavlov Biographical. Retrieved from The Noble Prize:

Varcarolis, E. M. (2017). Essentials of psychiatric mental health nursing: A communication approach to evidence-based care (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Elsevier.

Cite this page

Mental Health Theories. (2019, Nov 16). Retrieved from

Mental Health Theories
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7