Learning and Stress

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1. Describe how you can use operant conditioning principles to a) discontinue your undesired behavior and b) replace that behavior with the desirable behavior you identified.

Since I was in middle school, I have always had the bad habit of biting my nails. In the past, I have attempted to stop. I have tried to get acrylic nails, but I just ended up biting those too. I even made it my New Year’s resolution one year. So far, nothing has been successful. I would like to take this opportunity to try and stop biting my nails once and for all.

The textbook defines operant conditioning as ‘the process of modifying behavior through the use of positive or negative consequences following specific behaviors. It is based on the notion that behavior is a function of its consequences, which may be either positive or negative. The consequences of behavior are used to influence, or shape, behavior through three strategies: reinforcement, punishment, and extinction.’

While studying at the University of South Carolina, I took Psychology 101. During that class, we learned about B.F. Skinner and the ‘Skinner box.’ They put animals in the box and taught them different behaviors that resulted in a reward. They learned to do these behaviors, which would usually be pulling a lever, when they were given a certain cue, such as a light going on or a sound going off. This is one of the biggest studies of operant conditioning that we learned about and this is how I remember operant conditioning.

I plan to use operant conditioning to stop biting my nails by rewarding my self for each day I succeed at not biting my nails. Each day I am successful, I will add a dollar to my ‘manicure’ fund. Since a manicure costs around $14, if I am successful for 2 weeks, I will treat myself to a manicure. I typically bite my nails when I am stressed. I plan to bring a stress ball to work and class, and I will replace my nail biting with squeezing the ball. Each time I feel the urge to bite my...
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