APPLICATIONS OF OPERANT CONDITIONING
is a form of learning in which new responses are strengthen by presenting rewards
THE OPERANT CONDITIONING MODEL
The notion that rewards affect behavior has been around for at least 100 years.
Different individuals will work for different rewards: Example:
One child will do anything (mow lawn, scrub
bathtub, wash car) to make
Money to buy something he or she desperately
want to buy.
contrast, another son is not motivated by financial rewards and would
do household chores for money. Yet, he will quickly clean up the
area called his room, if doing so enables him to have a friend spend
We can paraphrase B.F. Skinners basic principle of Operant Conditioning as
followed by a reinforcer (reward) is strengthened and is therefore
to occur again.
Without being so technical, this simply says, When you want an action or event
repeated, reward the action or event.
Reinforcers, or Rewards are used to change behavior.
Skinner intentionally used the term reinforcer instead of reward to describe a stimulus that increases the frequency of a behavior because the word reward implies
pleasant and desirable. Page 52
Pleasant and desirable are subjective judgments. Some individuals will work for what others view as unpleasant consequences.
Therefore, reward would be misleading. The term reinforcer can be used
without any allusion to either pleasantness or desirability.
THREE IMPORTANT CONDITIONS OF OPERANT CONDITIONING
Three important conditions are necessary for Operant Conditioning to occur.
- The reinforcer must follow the response
- The reinforcer must follow immediately
(House Breaking Dog)
- The reinforcer must be contingent on the response (Field Trip)
WHAT BEHAVIOR CAN BE REINFORCED?
Virtually any behavior____ academics, social, or psychomotor_____ can be learned
or modified through Operant Conditioning.
As a Teacher, you should keep reminding yourself what student behavior you
want to increase and reinforce those behaviors when they occur. Example: (Rewarding and praise a Quiet Student who raises his/her hand to answer a question).
Unfortunately, undesirable behavior can be reinforced just as easily as desirable
ones. Aggressive and criminal activity often leads to successful outcomes. Crime
usually does pay, at least in the short run.
CONTRASTING OPERANT CONDITIONING AND CLASSICAL
Skinner suggests that there are really two different kinds of learning. Pg 54
two stimuli are
a response (R) is followed
paired (UCS and CS)
by reinforcing stimulus
Nature of Response:
Involuntary: elicited by a
Voluntary: emitted by the
CS à CR
R à S
(Reaction To) (Reinforcing
SOME BASIC TERMS IN OPERANT CONDITIONING
Free Operant Level = The frequency of an operant in the absence of reinforcement .
often a behavior occurs without manipulation)
Terminal Behavior = The form and
frequency of a desired response at the end of a
planned reinforcement program. (when
you achieve what you want)
= Occurs when a response is no longer followed
by a reinforcer.
Superstitious Behavior = Randomly administered reinforcement tends to reinforce
whatever response that has occurred immediately beforehand,
the organism will increase that response, thus displaying
what Skinner called superstitious behavior. An example
might be when basketball players who do certain things before
they shoot free throws.
A means of teaching a behavior when the free operant level
for that behavior is low. (To
shape a particular behavior, we
begin by reinforcing the first response that in any way
approximates the desired behavior and then continue to
reinforce it until the organism is emitting it fairly frequently.
At this point, we reinforce only those responses that more
resemble the desired behavior, then those that
resemble it more closely still, until eventually only the desired
behavior itself is being reinforced. In other words, shaping is
a process of reinforcing successively closer and closer
approximations to the terminal behavior until the terminal
A process of teaching a sequence of responses by first
reinforcing just one response, then reinforcing two responses
a row, then three in a row and so on. Example, Students in
a first grade classroom might learn to put their work materials
away, sit quietly at their desks, and then line up single file at
classroom door before going to lunch. Such complex actions
are more easily taught one step at a time through chaining.
NATURE OF REINFORCERS
We have discussed at length how reinforcers can be used to change behavior. Now lets discuss types of reinforcers:
Primary Reinforcers =
Ones that satisfies a biological need. (Food, water, oxygen,
warmth, physical affection).
Secondary Reinforcers = A previously
neutral stimulus that has become reinforcing to
an organism through repeated association with another
reinforcer. They do not satisfy any obvious biological
necessities, Example: Money, Grades, Praise, Success
Positive Reinforcers =
Food, praise, smiles and success are all positive reinforcers.
Negative Reinforcers = Actions
that increase a response through the removal of a
stimulus, usually an adverse or unpleasant one. Example:
cars sound a loud buzzer if the key is left in the ignition
when the drivers door is opened: removal of the key from the
ignition is negative reinforcement and presumably will increase
in frequency because it stops the buzzer.(Rats learn/ stop shock)
= An adverse action that decreases certain responses. Example:
Spanking, Humiliating, etc.)
FACTORS INFLUENCING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF REINFORCEMENT
At least three factors influence the effectiveness of reinforcement in Operant Conditioning: Timing, Magnitude
and Appeal, and Consistency.
Timing: Immediate reinforcement is very important in Operant Conditioning.
In most cases, greater delays in reinforcement lead to slower acquisition of response. (Test
Magnitude and Appeal: The larger
more appealing the reinforcer, the faster a response will be learned and the more frequently it will be exhibited. For example, in a study, three to five year old boys learned more quickly when they were reinforced with
such treats as candy, coins, balloons, and small toys than when the reinforcers were unexciting buttons. For older children and adults, large, delayed rewards are more effective than small, immediate ones, providing
that the individuals know that those delayed rewards will in fact be coming.
Consistency: One of the most critical
factors affecting both the rate at which responses are learned and the rate at which they can be extinguished is the consistency
SUMMARY OF OPERANT CONDITIONING
The basic principle of Operant Conditioning is that responses followed by reinforcement
increase the frequency of that response.
For operant conditioning to occur, a reinforcer must follow immediately after
a response and also be contingent on that response.
Free operant level or baseline of a response is its frequency in the absence
Terminal behavior is the form and frequency of the desired response at the
end of a reinforcement program.
EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF OPERANT CONDITIONING
B.F. Skinner contended that, in classroom situations, appropriate behaviors
are usually reinforced inconsistently and undesirable behaviors are often unintentionally reinforced.
Recent perspectives of Operant Conditioning differ somewhat from Skinners original
notions. For example, some theorists propose that behavior is better understood
by looking beyond specific S-R relationships to a larger context and longer time frame. In addition, some current explanations
of why operant conditioning takes place include a discussion of the cognitive factors that underlie conditioning. And many theorists now believe that behavior may never be totally predictable.