The role of cognition in classical and operant conditioning

J Clin Psychol. 2004 Apr;60(4):369-92. doi: 10.1002/jclp.10251.


For the past 35 years, learning theorists have been providing models that depend on mental representations, even in their most simple, deterministic, and mechanistic approaches. Hence, cognitive involvement (typically thought of as expectancy) is assumed for most instances of classical and operant conditioning, with current theoretical differences concerning the level of cognition that is involved (e.g., simple association vs. rule learning), rather than its presence. Nevertheless, many psychologists not in the mainstream of learning theory continue to think of cognitive and conditioning theories as rival families of hypotheses. In this article, the data pertaining to the role of higher-order cognition in conditioning is reviewed, and a theoretical synthesis is proposed that provides a role for both automatic and cognitively mediated processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression Therapy
  • Psychological Theory
  • Sublimation, Psychological