, pub-7771400403364887, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Operant conditioning

Hot Widget

Type Here to Get Search Results !

Operant conditioning

Love gives a gig
Operant conditioning

What makes behaviours, desirable or undesirable, to persist? The answer to this question lies in operant conditioning whose major proponent was B.F. Skinner. Operant conditioning

is a mode of learning in which the frequency of a behaviour is increased or decreased

depending upon its consequences. Unlike classical conditioning, in which the original 

behaviours are the natural, biological responses to the presence of some stimulus such as food, water or pain, operant conditioning applies to voluntary responses, which the 

organism performs deliberately in order to produce a desirable outcome. The term operant 

emphasizes this point. The organism operates on its environment, producing certai outcome/results that determine whether the behaviour will recur or not. It is also called 

instrumental conditioning because the behaviour of the organism is instrumental or facilitative in achieving a certain outcome or a goal. The organism is instrumental or 

responsible for generating reward for its activity or behaviour.

Skinner’s experiment

In developing his theory, Skinner conducted many experiments using animals such as rats and pigeons. In one experiment, a rat was placed in what is known as a Skinner box or an operant chamber. Within the box was a food delivery mechanism with a press bar and some food pellets. The food-deprived rat is free to move within the confined area. In search of 
food, the rat would move within the box and accidentally or out of curiosity presses the bar and as a result, some foodpellets drop out. After gaining this outcome, the rat would continue with its apparently random activity and eventually it would press the bar again and obtain more food pellets. As time passed, the rat pressed the lever more and more frequently and finally it learned to consistently operate the lever to obtain food.

According to Skinner, what stimulated the bar-pressing behaviour of the rat was not very

important. What is significant is that the rat pressed (response) the bar and as a result 

received food (reinforcement). Whether or not the rat will repeat the behaviour is determined by the consequences of the behaviour. If the consequences are negative, the chances are that 

the behaviour will be avoided. On the other hand, if the consequences are pleasant, the 

behaviour will be repeated and sustained for as long as it is reinforced.There are many real-life examples of operant conditioning. Some of these are summarized in 

the figure below:

Examples of operant conditioning

Now that you know what operant learning is, let us look at reinforcement which is

probably themost important aspect of this type of conditioning.


Reinforcement: This is any action or event that increases the probability that a response 

will be repeated. From what we have discussed about operant conditioning, it is clear that a 

person’s behaviour can be controlled through reinforcement. In order to sustain a particular 

desirable behaviour, the frequency of reinforcement must be increased, whereas to suppress 

undesirable behaviour reinforcement must be decreased and finally eliminated.

Types of reinforcement

Positive reinforcement involves giving a reward. For examples, if a child is praised for some behaviour such as setting the table, the consequences of the action (praise) is 

desirable orpleasant and the child is likely to repeat the behaviour.

Negative reinforcement on the other hand, is the removal of an unpleasant or annoying 

stimulus in order to strengthen behaviour. For example, a child may avoid going to school because he/she is punished. The child repeats the behaviour (not going to school) to avoid the 

unpleasantness (being punished). Another relevant example, is that of withholding 

punishment if students show tremendous improvement in their work. This may motivate 

them to work even harder. Both positive and negative reinforcement increase the probability

of the behaviour recurring.Primary reinforcement is a reinforcement that strengthens behaviour through the 

satisfaction of a basic physiological need such as hunger, thirst, sleep and so on. Secondary 

reinforcement on the other hand, is reinforcement that strengthens behaviour because it 

satisfies a psychological need. Some examples of secondary reinforcements are praise, 

money, medals, certificates, free time etc.

Schedule of reinforcement

According to the operant conditioning theory, behaviour can be controlled through

reinforcement. If you want to sustain a particular behaviour you can increase the frequency 

of reinforcement and to suppress undesirable behaviour you can decrease the frequency of

reinforcement. The process whereby behaviour is reinforced is referred to as a schedule of

reinforcement. There are two major types of reinforcements, namely continuous and.

intermittent or partial reinforcement.

Continuous reinforcement

Continuous reinforcement involves rewarding an organism every time it makes a correct

response. This schedule is very effective when an organism is learning new behaviour. It

facilitates the mastery of a behaviour fairly quickly. Continuous reinforcement is 

advantageous inthe sense that it accelerates the acquisition of new behaviour or learning. The 

disadvantage is thatwhen reinforcement is withdrawn, the newly acquired behaviour may 

become extinct. However, it may not be possible to reinforce every correct response.

Intermittent reinforcement

Intermittent reinforcement involves rewarding the organism after it has made more than one

correct response. In this type of reinforcement you can determine the number of responses 

to be made before you give reinforcement. Normally, it is more effective after the person 

has acquiredsome mastery over a given behaviour.

Intermittent reinforcement has an advantage in that behaviour acquired through this schedule 

of reinforcement lasts longer, since the subject is in suspense and anticipates being rewarded 

for the behaviour in due course. The disadvantage is that, it is less effective for initial 

learning, when the individual needs constant reinforcement.

Intermittent reinforcement is divided into four schedules of reinforcement, namely; fixed 

ratio, fixed interval, variable ratio and variable interval schedules of reinforcement. Fixed 

ratio and variable ratio schedules refer to the number of responses to be made before 

reinforcement is administered. Fixed interval and variable interval schedules refer to the 

time which elapses before reinforcement is administered.Fixed ratio (FR) schedule

This is a type of schedule in which a predetermined number of responses must be made 

before reinforcement is administered. For example, you may reinforce a pupil for every ten 

correct responses to an assignment. You can also give class assignments for every two topics 

covered. Asimilar reinforcement is used in construction work, where a contractor is paid on 

completion of the entire work. The time it takes to finish the work is not important, it is the

amount of work done that matters. As the proportion decreases, the subject responds at a 

higher rate and vice versa. If reinforcement is withheld for a long time the response may

become extinct.

Fixed interval (FI) schedule

This type of reinforcement is used after a certain period of time has elapsed. For example, 

as a teacher you may decide to administer a monthly test on all the work covered. This is

reinforcement in the sense that students will work hard in preparation for such a test. What 

is important here is the time but not the amount of work covered. A more familiar example 

is payment at the end of every month. Usually, not much attention is given to the amount of 

work completed during this period; what matters is that workers have worked for a given 


The response rate gradually increases just before the end of each successive interval. For

example, when a teacher administers a test every Friday, pupils usually study hard on

Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Variable ratio (VR) schedule

This is a type of schedule in which the number of responses before reinforcement is given 

is varied. For example, learners can be given a test after completing one topic, then the next 

fifteenand so on. Gambling and slot-in machines, lottery games and raffles are based on this 

type of reinforcement. You are never sure when you will win. In the classroom, surprise

or unannounced tests are based on this schedule of reinforcement, which keeps learners 

studying since they do not know when they will be tested.

After the first reinforcement, there is no indication when the next reinforcement will appear.

Thus, behaviour reinforced on a variable ratio schedule is hard to get extinct. However, it is moreeffective with small ratios.

Variable interval (VI) schedule

This is a reinforcement schedule in which the time period between reinforcement is varied.

Thus, the time interval between reinforcement is varied. Reinforcement may be given on an

average of five hours or days or weeks. The subject in this case does not know when the 

rewardwill arrive in terms of time. This schedule keeps the subject working at a steady pace because he/she has no idea when the reinforcement will come. For example, if as a student


of introductionto Psychology you know that you will be having occasional quizzes but you 

never know when they will be given, you are more likely to study at a constant rate and try 

to keep up with your reading assignments.In conclusion, we can say that continuous reinforcement is used to acquire a response in the 

first place and then partial reinforcement, especially variable schedules are used to

maintain it at ahigh rate.

Effective use of reinforcement

Rewards are more useful in the classroom because they show children what the desired 

behaviouris. Moreover, rewarding often involves positive actions, so modeling and imitation 

are desirable consequences. In addition, the child develops a positive relationship with the 

person rewarding and

if this is the teacher, it can be useful. However, for reinforcement to be effective, it should:

• Come immediately after the correct response, otherwise it may not be associated with 

the behaviour if it is delayed. This is especially important when working with younger


• Be appropriate for the individual child. A reinforcer may be rewarding to one child and 

not to another and be rewarding at one time and not another. For example, giving a 

child exercise books when the parents can afford them at home may not be motivating.

Rewarding a child with Kshs.100 for scoring an A when the parents give him/her 

Kshs.5,000 for pocket money may not be effective.

• Be varied. For example, using praise, approval, edible reinforcers, tangible reinforcers 

and soon.

• Be made contingent (given only when the desirable behavour is exhibited) upon a 

specific desired behaviour. Reinforcing learners when they have not shown the desired

behaviour may not be effective. Sometimes teachers and parents promise or give 

incentives to children so that they can work hard in school.

Now that we have discussed operant conditioning and how it places emphasis on 

reinforcement, letus look at some of the educational implications that can be drawn from this theory of learning.

Educational implications

The principles of operant conditioning are applicable in the teaching-learning process in 

various ways. The emphasis of operant conditioning is the importance of reinforcement as 

the factor underlying the learning of new responses/behaviours. Therefore, children are 

likely to learn effectively if their responses are rewarded in one way or another. As a teacher 

you can reinforce pupils through approval, praise, giving them marks for their work and 

showing acceptance and interest on them.

As a teacher you can use any of the various schedules of reinforcement discussed earlier for

effective learning. Teachers often unknowingly reinforce undesirable behaviour by giving 

them undue attention. For example, giving attention when a child throws a tantrum or shows 

off in class may be reinforcing in itself.Operant conditioning has been extensively used in behaviour shaping. Shaping involves

reinforcing an organism every time its behaviour comes close to the desired behaviour until 

such a time when it masters the desired behaviour. This means reinforcing the progress 

towards desirable behaviour, the teacher can use shaping by breaking down the final 

complex behaviour that the pupil is expected to master into steps or sub-skills until the whole 

chain is mastered (Mwamwenda, 1995:194).

The principles of operant conditioning can also be used to weaken undesirable behaviour.

This can be done through non-reinforcement or by ignoring the behaviour. It can also be 

done by reinforcing the desired behaviour which is intended to replace the undesirable one.

On the basis of the operant conditioning principles, Skinner developed the idea of 

programmed learning. Programmed learning is personalized instruction in which 

students read a section of a text, and then test themselves on the material. They continue on 

the next section or review the previous one, depending on the results of the text. The 

advantages of programmed learning are that:

• Success is emphasized and easy to achieve.

• Learning is structured and ordered.

• Feedback is given immediately.

Behavior Shaping /Modification

Behavior shaping is a behavior management procedure for developing an appropriate 

behavior in which the teacher rewards responses that are successively more similar to the 

ultimate desired response (successive approximations). This can be done by breaking down 

the desired complex behavior into a number of smaller steps. It involves reinforcing each 

small step of progress toward a desired goal or behavior. Shaping involves reinforcing 

progress instead of waiting for perfection.

Behavior shaping can be done using the following steps:

1. Specifying the behavior targeted for modification e.g. completing homework each 

night, improving a math score from an average of 40% to 70%.

2. Establishing a baseline: to see an improvement in behavior modification we must 

have anidea of what was happening before e.g. like a child’s average score in Maths 

was 40% (Baseline). If some improvement is observed then we would say that the

behavior modification program is working. The idea of a baseline provides a basis 

for comparing the pupil’s behavior before and after the behavior shaping program.

3. Reinforce each sub skill/sub step. The individual should be reinforced after 

mastering each sub step of the targeted behavior, e.g. praising the child whenever 

there is some improvement in performance, such as reinforcing each step in a Maths 


problem and not just the final correct answer.

4. Reinforcing improvements in accuracy: Reinforcement should be given when the

individual’s performance of the desired behavior is approximately correct. This can 

be done until the desired behavior is performed e.g. the pronunciation of difficulty 

foreign words. – Susceptible, monsieur (French title of a man)Reinforcing longer and longer periods of performance: Reinforcing the behavior 

each and every time it occurs. E.g. in trying to make a child participate in class 

discussions, one can reinforce even the smallest contribution. Or reinforce him for 

participating for 5 minutes, then 8 minutes, then 10 etc.

6. Evaluating the procedure: the last step in behavior modification is to evaluate the 

programand see whether it is working or not. Evaluation will tell us whether the 

behavior is beingmodified or not. If not, the teacher can try something else.

Differences between the two types of conditionings



1. Organism has no control over the

delivery of CS (bell) and UCS (food).

These are





Organism makes certain movements

before it is rewarded.

2. Learner is passive

Learner is active and participates

3. Reinforcement precedes the response

(has to see food before salvation)

Reinforcement follows



4. Involves involuntary response. A neutral

stimulus becomes capable of evoking an

automatic response.

Involves voluntary response

5. Response maintains or strengthen only a

single particular response and it is

therefore situation specific.

Reinforcement can be used to

reinforce many different responsesin

different situations and it’s therefore

trans-situational e.g.

pigeon experiment.


• Acquisition of a response requires several trials. However, one trial can be

enough tocondition a response.

• Stimulus generalization and discrimination occurs in both types of conditioning.

• Extinction is common in both.

• Spontaneous recovery can take place after a time lapse


Post a Comment

* Please Don't Spam Here. All the Comments are Reviewed by Admin.