Operant Conditioning

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What is operant conditioning? How could it be useful in your life? There are many ways to explain the types of conditioning and other terminology that participates with the basic forms of learning. The history of operant conditioning and many examples will be given to thoroughly explain the operant conditioning and how it was developed.

Operant conditioning is the underlying frame of apprehension and knowledge. In other words it is a type of learning in which the likelihood of a behavior is increased or decreased by the use of reinforcement or punishment. Operant conditioning deals more with the cognitive thought process and it could be used on animals or humans.

The history goes way back to the year 1837 with Charles Darwin, who studied plants and animals. Darwin studied the way animals related with each other and their reactions. (1) “In 1888, George Romans was the first to investigate systematically the comparative psychology of intelligence using a anecdotal method.” In 1898, Edward Thorndike was the first empirical and theoretical analyses of animal learning. In 1900, C.L. Morgan studied animal psychology and the way the animals mind works. In 1904, Ivan Pavlov discovered the conditioned response. (1)“In 1925, Wolfgang Kohler developed first cognitive analysis of learning in animals.” Last was B.F. Skinner in 1938, who developed the basic concept of operant conditioning, claiming that this type of learning was not the result of stimulus-response learning.

An example of operant conditioning that happened in my life was when I was 7 years old was when I went to the dentist office like I have done prior years before. I always enjoyed going to the dentist office because I got a new toothbrush and a sticker. This year was a little different. When the dentist came over to check my teeth he said that I have a cavity and needed to get it filled as soon as possible. So that same day my mother and the doctor decided to do this. When the doctor pricked me with a needle and used a high speed to drill into my tooth, I began to cry. Once he was finished he told me that if I was to brush and floss everyday I would not get cavities. The next 6months came around and I sat in the chair very nervous. I heard the drill on another patient and I began to cry. The dentist came over and looked at my teeth and said due to my excellent brushing and flossing I have no cavities. I will always remember the sound of the drill and will get nervous, this is because I had a bad experience and do not want to go through with it again. So therefore I will always brush and floss to prevent going through what I had to go through.

In operant conditioning, the subject must first emit the response that the experimenter plans to reward. (2)“Shaping is the name given to those initial steps needed to get the subject to engage in the behavior that is to be rewarded.” In other words shaping can also be defined as a procedure in which reinforcement is used to guide a response closer and closer to a desired response. In shaping, the form of an existing response is gradually changed across successive trials towards a desired target behavior using differential reinforcement. The principles of shaping are present in everyday interactions with the environment.

A great example that I once saw on the discovery channel was a female named Tracy wanted to teach her dog, Alvin, to bring her the TV remote control. She places the remote in Alvin’s mouth and then sits down in her favorite TV–watching chair. Alvin doesn’t know what to do with the remote, and he just drops it on the floor. So Tracy teaches him by first praising him every time he accidentally walks toward her before dropping the remote. He likes the praise, so he starts to walk toward her with the remote more often. Then she praises him only when he brings the remote close to the chair. When he starts doing this often, she praises him only when he manages to bring the...
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