Operant Conditioning

Personality Development & Operant Conditioning Theories of Personality II Ana Iqbal Mirajkar Learning can be defined as any process that leads to a relatively permanent and potential change in behaviour. The term behaviorism refers to the school of psychology founded by John B. Watson based on the belief that behaviors can be measured, trained, and changed. Behavioural theories are all based upon the idea that all behaviours are acquired through conditioning. It is highly objective and focuses on the notion that only observable behaviour should be studied. Ivan Pavlov, B.
F. Skinner, Edward, Thorndike, John B. Watson and Clark Hull are major thinkers of this school of thought. B. F. Skinner, a pioneer in behaviorism, invented a mechanical device for automatically recording fine differences in the rate of response. He was one of the pioneers of automation in behavioral research: responses could be detected, recorded and followed up with reinforcements, all by automatic apparatus. Operant conditioning is a concept also developed by B. F. Skinner, who said “Psychology is about behavior, not about the mind, and not about the nervous system.
It deals only with variables that can be directly observed. ” He emphasized on the role of reinforcement and punishment in shaping behavior and came up with the schedules of reinforcement. Plus, rather than focusing on things that occur before a response he focused on the idea that the events following a response had a great influence on its subsequent rate of occurrence. Operant conditioning can be defined as that if a response (the operant, which is an active behavior that operates upon the environment to generate consequences) is followed by a reinforcing stimulus, the response strength is increased.

For instance, every time a child studies well he is rewarded with gifts, according to Skinner, this rewarded response (studying) will be strengthened and increased. B. F Skinner demonstrated that humans and animals alike tend to repeat those responses that are followed by favorable consequences and they tend to not repeat those responses that are followed by neutral or unfavorable consequences. Overall, favorable, neutral or unfavorable consequences involve reinforcement, extinction and punishment respectively. The classic study of
Operant Conditioning by B. F. Skinner involved a cat who was placed in a box with only one way out; a specific area of the box had to be pressed in order for the door to open usually a lever, this was the desired correct response. Outside the box was a fish for the cat, which was another reinforcing stimulus beside its freedom. The cat initially is very comfortable and tries to get out of the box because freedom is reinforcing. In its attempt to escape, the area of the box (lever) is triggered and the door opens.
Once placed in the box again, the cat will try to remember what it did to escape the previous time and will again find what it did right the first time that lead to its escape. The more the cat is placed back in the box, the quicker it will press that lever and stop all the incorrect/unrewarded responses. Thus it has learned, through natural consequences, how to gain the reinforcing freedom and fish. 1 Moreover, Skinner also stated that this learning had to occur very slowly and gradually.
Extinction occurs when the connection between the stimulus and response has died or become extinct, that is presenting the stimulus no longer brings about the same response. People learn this way every day in our lives. For instance a person makes a mistake on a test paper, this mistake is something that he/she will most likely not forget as it cost them their grade. The next time the same question appears in the exam that person will do things differently remembering their mistake. In this sense, the person has learned to act differently based on the natural consequences of previous actions.
The same holds true for positive actions. If something one does results in a positive outcome, one is likely to do that same activity again. Positive reinforcement occurs when a positive stimulus is added in the environment, such as giving candy to a child for good behaviour this is usually used to introduce new behaviours in humans and animals. Whereas, negative reinforcement is said to occur when a negative stimulus is removed from the environment. It must be noted though, that negative reinforcement is not to be confused with punishment.
Negative reinforcement has similar usage like that of positive reinforcement, which is it is used to strengthen behaviour by following it with the removal or omission of an unpleasant stimulus. There are two types of negative reinforcement, escape and omission. In escape, performing a particular behavior leads to the removal of an unpleasant stimulus. For example, if a person with a headache tries a new pain reliever and the headache quickly disappears, this person will probably use the medication again the next time a headache occurs.
In avoidance, people perform a behavior to avoid unpleasant consequences. For example, citizens may pay their taxes to avoid fines and penalties. While, punishment both negative and positive, is usually involved in trying to eliminate some particular behaviour from an organism’s routine. This is of two types; positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment is when a positive stimulus is removed from the environment, for instance a mother takes away her child’s toy because she was banging it loudly.
In negative punishment a threatening or unpleasant stimulus is added to the environment. For example grounding a child for a day inside the house would be particularly unpleasant for him. All in all, both reinforcements and punishments are essential tools used by behaviorists in shaping behavior and developing personalities. 2 As in this example, every time Ellen has a temper tantrum and reinforcement occurs, her behaviour is strengthened and operant conditioning occurs.
While every time Ellen cries and is punished (negative punishment) for it her behaviour is weakened. is one in which reinforcement is made available to the subject only some of the time, according to certain rules; these rules define the schedule. Different schedules give rise to characteristically different patterns of operant behavior. B. F. Skinner believed that human behavior and lives are products of social learning in culture, shaping and Operant Conditioning. There are two types of reinforcement schedule continuous and partial.
In continuous reinforcement, the desired behavior is reinforced every single time it occurs. Generally, this schedule is best used during the initial stages of learning in order to create a strong association between the behavior and the response. Once the response if firmly attached, reinforcement is usually switched to a partial reinforcement schedule. In partial reinforcement, the response is reinforced only part of the time. Learned behaviors are acquired more slowly with partial reinforcement, but the response is more resistant to extinction. There are four schedules of partial reinforcement: Fixed-ratio schedules are those where a response is reinforced only after a specified number of responses. This schedule produces a high, steady rate of responding with only a brief pause after the delivery of the reinforcer. Variable-ratio schedules occur when a response is reinforced after an unpredictable number of responses. This schedule creates a high steady rate of responding. Gambling, lottery games and the job of a salesman are examples of reward based on a variable ratio schedule.
Fixed-interval schedules are those where the first response is rewarded only after a specified amount of time has elapsed. This schedule causes high amounts of responding near the end of the interval, but much slower responding immediately after the delivery of the reinforcer. The monthly salaries or pocket money people receive are examples of fixed intervals. Variable-interval schedules occur when a response is rewarded after an unpredictable amount of time has passed. This schedule produces a slow, steady rate of response. Examples include social media notifications and fishing. 4

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