Operant Conditioning � PAGE �1�
RUNNING HEAD: OPERANT CONDITIONING
Operant Conditioning Paper
Learning and Cognition / PSY 390
April 26, 2010
Dr. Christa Lynch
Operant Conditioning Paper
Operant conditioning was first introduced by B.F. Skinner through his work with respondent behavior and operant behavior. Along with these two types of behavior, Skinner suggested two types of conditioning related to learning: type S, sometimes referred to as respondent conditioning and similar to classical conditioning, and type R, also called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is an approach to learning that occurs through reward and punishment by creating a connection between a specific behavior and a consequence for that behavior. Skinner utilized the term 'operant' to refer specifically to an "active behavior that operates upon the environment to generate consequences" (McLeod, 2007, ¶ 4).
The theory of operant condition suggests two major principles: (1) any response that is followed by a reinforcing stimulus is likely to be repeated; and (2) a reinforcing stimulus is anything that increases the rate with which an operant response occurs (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2009). In this type of learning, the focus is on behavior and its positive or negative significance - the owner of the behavior must respond in a manner that produces the reinforcing stimulus. Contingent reinforcement exemplifies this process because the reinforcer is dependent upon certain responses from the organism whose behavior is being modified. Other major concepts of Skinners Theory of Operant Conditioning include: the Skinner box, cumulative recording, shaping (including differential reinforcement and successive approximation), extinction, spontaneous recovery, secondary reinforcement, generalized reinforcers, chaining, and positive or negative reinforcers (2009).
Positive and negative reinforcers are two of the most important concepts in operant conditioning. Primary positive reinforcement occurs when something naturally reinforcing (and related to survival) is added to the situation in order to increase the probability of the behavior's recurrence. A primary negative reinforcer occurs when something naturally harmful to the organism and, when removed from the situation, increases to chances of that response's recurrence (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2009). According to Hergenhahn and Olson (2009), "Some reinforcements consist of _presenting_ stimuli, of adding something, to the situation. These we call _positive_ reinforcers. Others consist of _removing_ something from the situation. These we call _negative_ reinforcers" (p. 203). Punishment (both positive and negative) occurs as a consequence of a negative reinforcer, or the removal of a positive reinforcer. This essentially involves taking away something that the organism wants, or giving it something it does not want (2009).
Determining which reinforcer is more effective (positive or negative) depends greatly upon the specific circumstances surrounding the behavior being modified. Most individuals believe positive reinforcement is more effective because an individual is more likely to repeat a behavior if there is a reward involved. For example: a child who completes his or her chores and receives an allowance is likely to continue the behavior knowing the reward (the allowance) will be the result. On the other hand, negative reinforcement has different types of rewards and can also be effective. For example: if a child is taken to the grocery store and does not want to be there, screaming and crying (which results in embarrassing the parents) can lead to the removal of the child from the store, resulting in rewarding the child (by allowing them to leave and obtain his or her desired results) for their negative behavior.
Once it has been determined that a behavior needs to be modified using operant conditioning, a schedule of reinforcement is created....
References: Hergenhahn, B., & Olson, M. (2009). _An Introduction to Theories of Learning_ (7th ed.). Boston: Prentice Hall Inc. .
McLeod, S. A. (2007). _B.F. Skinner: Operant Conditioning_. Retrieved January 14, 2010, from http://www.simplypsychology.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/operant-conditioning.html
Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2007). _Organizational Behavior_ (12th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Wickens, J. (2009). _Shaping Behavior - Schedules of Reinforcement_. Retrieved January 12, 2010, from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2468806/shaping_behavior_schedules_of_reinforcement.html?cat=3
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