Operant Conditioning

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Operant conditioning was a term used by Burrhus Frederic Skinner to describe the effects positive and negative consequences of a behavior have on the future occurrence of that behavior (Levine, 1999). Skinner believed that all behaviors are the result of reinforcement. Operant conditioning functions under the idea that for each action there is a reaction, those reactions are the reinforcements that increase or decrease behavior. There are four types of operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. Using and understanding these makes it possible to control behaviors, to increase a desired behavior or decrease an undesired one. Positive and negative reinforcements both work to increase the occurrence of a certain behavior but in different ways. Positive reinforcement works to increase a behavior by a positive consequence, for example a child is given a piece of candy for being quiet. This candy acts as a positive stimulus, reinforcing the behavior. According to Olson and Hergenhahn (2009), “A positive reinforcer, is something that, when added to the situation by a certain response, increases the probability of that response’s recurrence” (p. 88). In the example the child is given something they enjoy for showing the desired behavior, which teaches him that if he exhibits that behavior there will be a reward.

Negative reinforcement increases a desired behavior by introducing the means to stop a negative consequence, for example the same child has his hair pulled every time he speaks, to stop this he must be quiet, which reinforces the desired behavior and makes it more likely to occur in the future. According to Olson and Hergenhahn (2009),” A negative reinforcer, is something that, when removed from the situation by a certain response, increases the probability of that response’s recurrence” (p. 88). In the example the child feels pain until the desired behavior is exhibited, reinforcing the idea that being...
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