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Operant Conditioning

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Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning focuses on learning voluntary behavior that is under control of the muscle system of the body. Operant conditioning involves a much broader range of behavior than does classical conditioning. Operant conditioning is the result of an ideal that individuals learn to function in their environment to attain a preferred outcome.

Operant conditioning refers to the process of reinforcing a response that is made in the company of a stimulus.

In operant conditioning an environmental stimulus is followed by a response which is followed by an environmental outcome that can be either a positive or a negative reinforcer. (Keller, 1967)

In operant conditioning if a response occurs in the presence of a stimulus and this response is reinforced, this will increase the likelihood that in the future when in the presence of the same stimulus the response will be enforced. It is noted that the stimulus does not create the response and it is not sure that an operant response will be presented after the stimulus is present. Operant conditioning simply indicates that the possibility of a response in a given situation is more likely to happen if it has been positively reinforced in the past.

The philosophy of operant conditioning has been demonstrated in many experiments using different types of species such as animals and humans. B. F. Skinner has done so much work on operant condition. (

In today’s life we are pulled and pushed by many events in our environment. We sometimes just don’t act to a stimulus, we also conduct ourselves in ways that seem designed to create or get certain environmental changes or stimuli. My dog may begin to bark when it wants to go outside. If you want something while eating you may say pass me this or that please. Most of the days in our lives seem to demonstrate this type of behavior. I am sure that if my dog could control more of its life it would demonstrate a similar behavior. In the case of Pavlov’s dog, it would have done more than just salivate when the stimuli (food) was introduced. It would have tried to push a lever, tear a bag open or something to get the food.

These actions mentioned above are called instrumental responses because they function like instruments to work some type of change on the environment. We learn to repeat certain behaviors because they are rewarded by the environment. They are known as operant responses because they operate in the world to produce some type of effect. B.F.Skinner came up with the term operant conditioning, which refers to the learning process by which the consequence of an operant response affects the likelihood that the response will occur in the future. (Gray, 1991)

B. F. Skinner was a college English major and writer. Skinner entered graduate school to study psychology and became one of modern behaviorism’s most powerful and controversial figures. (Myers, 1992) Skinner believed that we learn at an early age to operate in our environment to get rewards and how to avoid punishment or negative results. We learn from life’s experience that positive or negative responses are contingent upon our own behavior. We also learn to operate in our own environment to bring about a certain preferred response. (

A response creates a result such as giving a definition of a word, striking a ball during a game, or solving a math problem. When a certain stimulus response pattern is rewarded, the individual is trained to respond.

Reinforcement is a key factor in Skinner’s stimulus response theory. A reinforcer is anything that strengthens the desired response. It could be a verbal praise, a good grade on a school paper, or a personal feeling of a job well done. There is also a negative reinforcer which is any stimulus that ends in the increased frequency of a response when it is removed.

Skinner attempted to offer behavior clarification for a long range of cognitive phenomena. For example he explained the motivation in terms of dispossession and strengthening schedules. He tried to account for verbal learning and language within the operant conditioning model. (Skinner, 1971)

Skinner developed a behavior technology that allowed him to teach pigeons to behave in an unlike pigeon manner. Such as not walking like a pigeon, playing ping pong and keeping a guided missile on target by pecking at a moving target displayed on a screen.

Skinner designed a Skinner box. This box was a sound proof box chamber with a bar or key that when pressed or pecked would release food or water and with a device that would count how many times it was pressed.

In Skinners experiments he used a procedure in which the animal would receive a reward such as food

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