Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Operant Conditioning

          B.F Skinner based his work on the work of Edward Thorndike who developed the law of effect theory (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). Through his work Skinner went on to identify fundamental principles of learning, based on experiments with pigeons and rats. From these experiments, Skinner developed an explanation as for how humans learn behaviors or change behaviors, and went on to infer that patterns of reinforcement shape behavior, which is operant conditioning. Comparing and contrasting positive and negative reinforcement in operant conditioning gives an understanding of how both are a necessity in operant conditioning. Both positive and negative reinforcement are a necessity in operant conditioning; one form of reinforcement is more effective than the other. Several reasons exist to why one form of reinforcement is more effective than the other. A given scenario can show how to apply operant conditioning to shape behavior and how the creation of a reinforcement schedule can apply to a certain selected behavior.
Theory of Operant Conditioning
          B. F. Skinner developed the “term” operant conditioning in 1937 (Staddon & Cerutti, 2003). Skinner's theory of operant conditioning explains how organisms acquire learned behaviors that they exhibit. The main focus of operant conditioning is to use reinforcement as a reward or punishment to increase or decrease the likelihood of behavior (Staddon & Cerutti, 2003). Operant conditioning is a means or method of learning, which occurs through or by reward and punishment for an organism’s behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). Basically, a learner receives either reward or punishment for behavior. The learner actively has to participate in and perform a certain type of behavior to receive either a reward or punishment. In operant conditioning, behavior, and the resulting consequences of said behavior are the emphasis. Therefore, there is an association in relation to behavior and the consequence of said behavior.
A belief of Skinner was that reinforcement makes an organism what it will be. Basically, he believed that reinforcement controlled behavior and that there is a need of reinforcement to condition behavior. Reinforcement is either a reward or punishment, depending on the displayed behavior. Skinner's theory of operant conditioning explains how organisms acquire learned behaviors they exhibit.
Positive and Negative Reinforcement
          In operant conditioning, reinforcement is a means to either increase or decrease the likelihood of which a behavior occurs again (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). Reinforcement is a necessity of operant conditioning and a necessity of the learning process. Basically, reinforcement is a tool of operant conditioning either positive or negative. When positive reinforcement occurs, the outcome of behavior is desirable, and as such, behavior strengthens by a desirable outcome, as in the case of positive reinforcement following desirable behavior. When negative reinforcement occurs, an increase in behavior occurs to remove an averse stimulus, and said behavior strengthens when the removal of the averse stimulus occurs. Therefore, a positive reinforcement is an addition of a positive consequence that follows a certain behavior, although a negative reinforcement is the removal of a negative consequence that follows a certain behavior. Both positive and negative reinforcements foster the likelihood of the reoccurrence of a behavior preceding a consequence.  
Effective Reinforcement
          It seems that positive reinforcement is a more effective type of reinforcement, instead of negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement has a positive emotional effect, and it identifies desirable behavior and consequences of desired behavior. To institute a negative reinforcement, this first involves the introduction of an averse stimulus between the operant, and the response because the withdrawal of an averse stimulus is what makes negative reinforcement effective. Therefore, a form of punishment or the introduction of a negative reinforcer is necessary in a situation to remove the negative reinforcer. One argument of Skinner was against the use of punishment because punishment last only as long as one enforces it (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). Punishment does not always result in desirable behavior. Therefore, positive reinforcement for desirable behavior is a more effective reinforcer.
Operant Conditioning Scenario
          As a divorced single parent of three children, ages 11, nine, and five; often the opportunity arises to apply operant conditioning to shape behavior. As the children are in school implementing rewards, and punishment to reinforce desirable behavior and desirable grades in school is necessary. If bad behavior was not reported by the children’s teachers and if the children received weekly satisfactory grades on weekly assignments; weekly allowance was the reward, and for satisfactory progress reports and report cards extra allowance was the reward. The punishment is no allowance for bad behavior or unsatisfactory grades. What occurs with the children is a form positive reinforcement of operant conditioning. The desired behavior in school of each of the children and the desirable grades increased in order for them to receive a reward.
Reinforcement Schedule for Scenario
          As for the operant conditioning scenario, positive reinforcement of desirable behavior and desirable grades receives a weekly reward of allowance. This is an example of a continuing reinforcement schedule, which is an effective reinforcement schedule because the children understood that desirable behavior and desirable grades received a reward (allowance), and that undesirable behavior and undesirable grades resulted in no reward (allowance) or punishment. The emphasis in this scenario is on the reward of allowance instead of the punishment of not receiving an allowance. This helps the children stay focused on positive reinforcement (receiving a reward) instead of negative punishment (not receiving a reward).   
          Skinner’s development of the operant conditioning theory was influential in psychology at the time of its development and still to this day. Operant conditioning, lead to the importance of how reinforcement as either a reward or punishment increases or decreases the likelihood of behavior. Also in operant conditioning through reward or punishment learning occurs. Two type of reinforcement exist, which are positive and negative reinforcement. Both forms help to increase or decrease the likelihood of behavior; positive reinforcement is the more effective type of reinforcement. The given scenario is an example in which applying operant conditioning shapes behavior. Creating a reinforcement schedule for the selected behavior increases the future likelihood that the children’s desirable behavior continues.  

Staddon, J. E. R., & Cerutti, D. T. (2003). Operant conditioning. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 115-           44. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/205795898?accountid=458

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