Operant Conditioning Paper

Operant Conditioning


Operant conditioning is a theory in the field of psychology that was developed by B.F Skinner. Skinner believed that for one to understand his/her behavior, the causes and the consequence of the action are important. In this theory learning occurs through punishments and rewards. Behavior can be changed through reinforcements or punishments. In operant conditioning, an action becomes addictive if it is rewarding, and the external environment is key in explaining behaviors in human actions (Pitts, 1971). Operant conditioning dismisses the internal thoughts to explain behavior, and people depend on reinforcements and punishments to learn. Skinner observed that there are three types of operant that can follow behavior. First is neutral operant; this is an environment that makes behavior remain the same, which means that behavior cannot be stopped or continued. Second are reinforcements; they increase the probability of repeating that behavior. Third are the punishers who decrease chances of repeating that behavior (Pitts, 1971).

Reinforcements are those external environments that make behavior repeated severally. Reinforcements are either negative or positive. On the other hand, punishments are environments that make people stop the disliked behavior; they are also negative or positive. Apart from reinforcement and punishment other principles of operant conditioning example are shaping; this is where simple tasks should be done. However, later an individual learns difficult tasks. Simple tasks are introduced, and since they are not common to the organism, they must be repeated end reinforced, but they become complicated with time. An example is; when children attend kindergarten they learn basic tasks, and reinforce them, but later in life they learn to accomplish difficult tasks (Khan & Spencer, 2009).

Extinction is another principle of operant conditioning; this is where behavior stops or becomes extinct when reinforcement terminates. Behavior that is common is stopped immediately after a reward had been removed. For example, when someone is working hard to get a reward, and that reward is no more available, they no longer put much effort in that task. Generalization is another principle that means that behavior can be repeated if a reward is available later. An individual may repeat behavior that previously got reinforced expecting to be rewarded. An example is students working hard expecting a reward for a task that previously got rewarded (Khan & Spencer, 2009). The last principle is discrimination where an individual learns that a certain behavior gets enforcement, thus; an individual does an action expecting a reward or no reward as he/she is able to differentiate general tasks that get rewards and those that do not.

Reinforcement is any event that increases behavior and the change of environment that makes any action addictive is reinforcement. There are two types of reinforcement: the negative and positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when preferred or liked events are presented after the behavior, which in turn becomes strong by praise or rewards. It means the behavior will occur so long as the reinforcement is there. Negative reinforcement involves removal of unfavorable events after the behavior has occurred; if a disliked environment is unavailable the behaviors occurs (Pitts, 1971).

In the two types of reinforcement, the aim is to increase the probability that the behavior will occur again. Both the negative and positive reinforcement increase the repetition of behavior. The two strengthen the behavior. The difference in reinforcements is the way external environment or the reinforcement gets on an individual. In positive reinforcement, a consequence that is rewarding affects the individual. An example is praising when a student answers a question correctly, the praise is a positive reinforcement; when it comes to the negative reinforcement the unpleasant environment gets removed to increase repetition of behavior. Positive reinforcement involves the addition of pleasant environment for behavior to be repeated, but negative reinforcement is where unpleasant environment dispatches.

The most effective form of reinforcement is the positive reinforcement which involves giving pleasant environment to reinforce behavior. The reason to choose positive reinforcement over the negative one is because it increases self-esteem and confidence in individuals reinforced. This is important especially in students. Positive reinforcement also creates a non-competitive environment because individuals become comfortable with praise and/ or reward. This means people have the self-effort without comparing themselves with others. Positive reinforcement also enables people to take the risk in situations. If an individual knows that there are or will be rewards, his/her behavior will occur; he/she will put efforts and take risks to accomplish it; at work people put effort to achieve some rewards, as well.

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If negative reinforcement becomes frequent, it brings low self-esteem to an individual.. It makes individuals nonresponsive if they receive no rewards. Negative reinforcement may make individuals feel threatened as it involves removal of unpleasant environment.

The scenario that the operant conditioning can be used to control behavior is in a classroom situation. Student behaviors are controllable by use of operant conditioning; reinforcement and punishment. Positive reinforcement is practical where there are praises and rewards are given. Students will work hard to get a better grade so as to be rewarded. Other students will also work hard to be rewarded as their classmates were. In a class, a student answering a question correctly gets praised, and next time others will try to answer more questions to get that praise. Positive reinforcement is commonly functional to motivate students.

Negative reinforcement is also practical in a classroom situation if a student smokes in school and is given a punishment afterwards. Then, revocation of punishment will make students work hard to escape the punishment. That is negative reinforcement. Another example is a student who sneaks out and gets caught and is fined; next time the students will not sneak to prevent paying the fine again (Reynolds, 1968).

Punishment is important in shaping a certain behavior; punishment is applied when a set behavior occurrence decreases. Positive punishment is where unfavorable conditions follow undesirable behavior, with an example of a classroom situation. If a student speaks when a teacher is in class, and the teacher punishes that student by making him/her do some tasks, the student is unlikely to repeat the behavior. Negative punishment is where a favorable event can be removed to control behavior (Reynolds, 1968). If students break a window several times, the school might be reluctant to repair it so that they feel cold and be careful. Negative punishment is practical in performance, where cut mark is present, and those who fail to reach it do not attend a comedy or a school trip. The above behavior examples can be controlled by use of operant conditioning namely reinforcement and punishment.

Continuous schedule of reinforcement

Teacher Student Consequence

Promises reward gets a good grade rewarded

Asks question answers correctly praised

To forgive if have a good grade caught smoking forgiven

Makes student pay for sneaking caught sneaking stops sneaking

The above reinforcement schedule is continuous every time the behavior occurs; reinforcement is available.

Different psychological theories are dependent on the internal environment for change of behavior, but Skinners operant conditioning provides a base where external environment determines why certain behaviors are present. These external environments include; reinforcement and punishment, which are critical in operant conditioning. In conclusion, most behaviors get motivated by the urge to either get reward or avoid punishment (Reynolds, 1968). These theories are applicable in different fields such as education and workplaces. In the education field, students work hard to avoid punishments and get the promised rewards, in workplaces, employees work hard to get rewards such as promotions. This theory is relevant in the contemporary world.

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