Operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning, is a type of learning in which children’s behavior is influenced via the use of incentives or punishments. An association is created to produce new learning by repeatedly associating the desired action with a consequence.
For example, a dog trainer may reward his dog with a goodie every time the dog raises its left paw. The dog discovers that lifting its left paw gives him food. It will repeatedly lift his paw for more goodies.
The quick psychology history lesson is that these terms are part of psychologist b.f. skinner operant conditioning theory that developed in reaction to john b. watson classical conditioning theory (think Pavlov’s dogs) and spawned the behaviorism movement in psychology.
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Behaviorism’s Foundation is Classical Conditioning
We can trace the origins of operant conditioning back to classical conditioning.
Classical conditioning, also known as Pavlov (classical conditioning)ian conditioning, entails learning a new behavior by association.
In the late 1800s, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov (classical conditioning) (classical conditioning) experimented with classical conditioning for the first time. When he entered the room to feed his dogs, he saw that they salivated.
Pavlov (classical conditioning) rang a bell every time he fed his dogs in his tests. The canines got conditioned to salivate when they heard the bell ring, even when there was no food available.
The unconditioned stimulus is food, which can naturally cause salivation. The conditioned stimulus was the sound of the bell, which began to cause salivation after being paired with food.
When the unconditioned stimulus (meal) and the conditioned stimulus (sound) become linked, the conditioned stimulus may elicit the same response as the unconditioned stimulus. This newly acquired reaction becomes a conditioned response. This is a type of associative learning.
Pavlov training served as the cornerstone for Behaviorism, a major field of research in psychology at the time. According to behaviorists, behavior is a response to external stimuli, and people only learn by association, not through ideas, feelings, or interior mental events.
Law of Effect & Operant Conditioning
Later, after seeing the influence of reinforcement in puzzle box studies with cats attempting to escape, psychologist Edward Thorndike developed the idea of instrumental conditioning. He referred to this as “trial-and-error” learning.
Thorndike developed the Law of Effect, which claimed that if a reaction was followed by a satisfying occurrence (reinforcer) in the presence of a stimulus, the connection between stimulus and response was reinforced. If a response-stimulus event was immediately followed by an unsatisfactory event (punisher), the connection was weakened.
B.F. Skinner, a psychologist, developed the idea of operant conditioning in the early 1900s by building on the notions of reinforcer and punisher and is known as the father of operant conditioning. .
Skinner thought that Pavlov (classical conditioning) training was much too basic to adequately describe complicated human behavior. He felt that seeing the causes and effects of action was the best approach to comprehend it.
Observable behavior could be altered in skinner’s theory of operant conditioning paradigm when it is followed by reinforcement or punishment.
Unlike classical conditioning, which includes unconscious reflexive action, operant behaviors are controlled by the individual. The use of reinforcement and punishment results in a purposeful and conscious learning process.
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B.F. Skinner created the Skinner Box and placed a small animal inside to explore operant conditioning. In the tests, the animal received food or water as reward every time it pressed a lever or a bar.
Punishment promotes target behavior whereas reinforcement lowers it.
Skinner defined principles of operant conditioning that may impact new learning through his experiments: reinforcement and punishment.
Skinner also talks about shaping. In behavioral psychology, the term shaping refers to the act of teaching a subject to do a certain behaviour by reinforcing repeated approximations of the intended response, similar to how you gradually steer your children toward desirable behaviours.
Positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement are the two types of schedule of reinforcement.
Positive refers to the addition of a stimulus, whereas negative reinforcement removes an unpleasant stimulus to increase the desired behavior in the future..
Positive reinforcement adds a positive outcome as a positive reinforcer to behavior, which strengthens or increases the chance that the desired action will occur again.
Example of negative reinforcement
- A parent offers their child a bonus (reinforcement) for cleaning the dishes (desired behavior).
- Management provides incentives (reinforcers) to their employees for completing the project on schedule (desired behavior).
- A teacher rewards students with gold stars (reinforcers) for raising their hands before speaking (desired behavior).
- Negative reinforcement involves the removal of an unpleasant stimulus in order to enhance the desired behavior in the future.
Examples of positive reinforcement
- If a child eats their vegetables, they do not have to clear the table (an unpleasant occurrence) (desired behavior).
- Taking out the trash (desired activity) eliminates the rotting stench (unpleasant stimuli) in the kitchen.
- Brushing one’s teeth (desired habit) helps to avoid tooth decay (unpleasant event).
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Punishment, like reinforcement, comes in two varieties: positive punishment and negative punishment.
Positive punishment involves the use of an unpleasant stimulus to weaken or remove a behavior. In our everyday lives, we generally refer to positive retribution as “punishment.”
Example of positive punishment
- A parent chastises their young children for using impolite words.
- A student is given time out by the teacher for disrupting the class.
- The trainer rewards a dog for avoiding leaping on people.
- The teacher assigns extra homework for making noise in class (aversive stimulus)
Negative punishment deprives a person of a pleasant stimulus in order to deter undesirable behavior.
- A parent confiscates their children’s phone because he or she refuses to do their schoolwork.
- The driver receives a speeding penalty from the police for exceeding the speed limit.
- A worker misses their lunch break since they arrived late to work.
- The application of operant conditioning is ubiquitous. It’s all over the place. It is used by parents, teachers, businesses, and the government.
Schedules of Reinforcement Is a Key Component
To be effective, behavior modification employing reinforcers and punishers must be used on a continual basis. When the reinforcement or punishment ends, the learned behavior diminishes and eventually vanishes, a process known as extinction.
Even Skinner was surprised to find that the number and pattern of reinforcer applications may impact how fast reinforcement works and how durable the learning remains.
Interval-based plans and ratio schedules are the two forms of reinforcement schedules.
Schedules based on intervals: reinforcers are supplied after a set length of time. The period might be constant (fixed-interval schedule) or variable (variable-interval schedule) (variable-interval schedule).
Reinforcers are provided after a specific number of answers on a ratio-based timetable. The number of answers might be constant (fixed-ratio schedule) or variable (variable-ratio schedule) (variable-ratio schedule).
According to research, behavior acquired using variable-ratio schedules is the most resilient and least prone to extinction.
When you consider the many ways that partial reinforcement schedules might be defined, things get a little more difficult. Partial reinforcement schedules are divided into four categories: ratio, interval, fixed, and variable. A ratio schedule is one that is created based on the frequency of a particular activity.
See also: Schedules Of Reinforcement
This insight is crucial because it allows us to utilize reinforcement and punishment in a variety of scenarios.
For example, we now know that when using prizes to promote desired behavior, we should only use them on occasion (variable-ratio schedule).
When a child tantrums at the market, we now know that we must not give in to the temptation to buy candy. Giving in on occasion will make it far more difficult to stop the habit.
We observe a lot of operant conditioning around us. Sometimes we do it on purpose, and sometimes we don’t. Recognizing the benefits and drawbacks of this sort of behavior change might assist us in avoiding mistakes and achieving the greatest outcomes.
Parents that are amazing employ encouragement all day, every day. Punishment should be used sparingly when other options have been exhausted. Even the finest parents lose their cool and shout at their children at times, but your objective should be to prevent that type of positive punishment.
Spanking or other forms of physical punishment should never be employed. Take a look at how you interacted with your children today and see if you can fit instances from your own life into these four categories now that you have a better knowledge of these words. If you’re a stickler for punishment, make tomorrow your mission to focus on reinforcement!
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- 5.Ferster CB, Skinner BF. Schedules of Reinforcement. Appleton-Century-Crofts; 1957. doi:10.1037/10627-000