Operant Conditioning Vanessa Mejias November 28, 2011 Ross Seligman PSY/390 Operant Conditioning In a world that was ruled by psychoanalytic studies, and Thorndike’s puzzle box to explain behaviorism, B. F. Skinner was a revolutionary in the world of psychology. His studies and reports on operant conditioning has not only survived ridicule and skepticism in his time but has also survived the passage of time and social evolution to incorporate his theories several decades later.
By learning from and expanding upon Skinner’s schedule of reinforcement the world of social and academic learning has evolved from a puzzling act to a learned process that could be understood the world over. During his research Skinner developed a theory to modify behavior believing that behavior can be created because of a positive or negative stimulus or environment, instead of just instinctually responding to stimuli, like scratching an itch. While he did not create the foundation of behavior modification, his research allowed him to expand upon already existing theories developed by Pavlov and Thorndike.
Skinner’s theory consisted of two types of behavior, respondent and operant behavior (Olsen & Hergerhahn, 2009). To go along with, and help modify unwanted behavior Skinner developed two types of conditioning. Type S also known as respondent conditioning and Type R also known as operant conditioning. Type S conditioning is the equivalent to classic conditioning as described by Pavlov and focuses primarily on the significance of the stimulus creating a preferred response or behavior (Olsen & Hergerhahn, 2009).
Whereas type R conditioning is similar to Thorndike’s instrumental conditioning, by focusing upon the response after the stimulus (Olsen & Hergerhahn, 2009). The theory of operant conditioning focuses on the four types of stimuli that can elicit a response. Positive reinforcement is an act that adds to a reinforcement that will emit an increase in behavior, while negative reinforcement is an act that takes away a reinforcement that will create an increase in behavior.
Whereas punishment follows the same guidelines with positive and negative punishment however the difference lies in the behavior. While reinforcement will increase behavior punishment is supposed to decrease behavior. Extinction however is the act of eliminating the reinforcement or punishment to eliminate the behavior and go back to the behavior prior to attempted modification. The differences between positive and negative reinforcements are not that profound. In actuality the similarities are sounder than the differences.
Reinforcement is the act of increasing behavior, however it is the type of reinforcement used that causes the differences. If positive reinforcement is used then the stimuli will add to the behavior, for instance a dog is told to sit while the trainer pushes down on the hind side. Once the dog sits he or she is given a treat. Again the act is repeated with the same reinforcement given, so in this instance the dog is learning that once the required behavior is preformed it will receive a treat, the treat is adding to the increased and desired behavior.
However, in the form of negative reinforcement a stimuli is taken away to increase the desired behavior. For instance, if a child wants a donut but will not eat their food, then the caregiver will take away the donut and tell the child they need to eat their lunch before they have their snack. In this instance the snack is taken away so that the child will increase the behavior of eating what is required before unhealthy foods. Although reinforcement, punishment and extinction all have their uses, it is debatable which is more effective.
Skinner determined that punishment was not as effective as reinforcements. However the debate is whether positive or negative reinforcement is more effective. Upon review, it seems that positive and negative reinforcement has the same affect yet need to be administered under different circumstances based upon the behavior required, the environment, personality and cultural influences that play significant parts in an individual’s behavior.
Throughout Skinner’s research he created a method in which behavior modification could be observed. This is called a schedule of reinforcement. Although Pavlov started to experiment with partial reinforcement with classical conditioning, it was the comprehensive research that Skinner performed that resulted in the complete understanding and effectiveness of scheduled reinforcement.
An example of operant conditioning that uses scheduled reinforcement is toilet training. Toilet training incorporates operant and classical conditioning, however it is through the use of reinforcement that creates a positive outcome. During toilet training the child is introduced to the continuous reinforcement schedule, which means that every time the child controls their bladder and uses the toilet a reinforcement will be given.
After a time this schedule can be altered to incorporate the fixed interval reinforcement schedule, what this means is that after a set amount of time the child will use the restroom on their own and receive a reinforcement afterwards, so the child will learn to anticipate the reinforcement prior to the use of the toilet. Once toilet training is complete the child will go from operant conditioning [using the toilet for reward], to classical conditioning [using the toilet to feel relief from the discomfort of a full bladder].
Although Skinner’s methods have been ridiculed and are abstract compared to other behaviorists’ theories, his research has allowed the field of psychology to move onto other avenues of possibilities. Whereas, Thorndike, Hull, Pavlov and other known greats have set the foundation to psychology, it was Skinner’s methods and emphasis on operant conditioning that allowed mankind to evolve in the understanding of behavior in animals and humans alike.
As a result of Skinner’s radical views educators, animal trainers, psychologists, and caregivers are given hope that change in one’s behavior is attainable and eliminates the ‘blame’ method of humanity. Skinner’s work defines what it means to be ‘responsible for one’s own actions’. References Olsen, M. , & Hergerhahn, B. R. (2009). An Introduction to Theories of Learning [University of Phoenix Custom Edition eBook]. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. Retrieved from University of Phoenix, PSY390 website.
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