Operant Conditioning and Reinforcements

Operant conditioning and reinforcements

No behavior is the perfect behavior. Throughout childhood to adulthood we exhibit a change in behavior constantly. Ever since learning and behavior is studied experimentally, the relationship between the psychological effects in human being is being related with the environment he is exposed to. When we talk about conditioning in psychology one will mostly likely refer to classical and operant conditioning. Though both the types of behavior is greatly differ each other however both are very important for education. In this paper we are going to discuss the theory of Operant Conditioning. Also to fully understand, the paper will also define, compare, and contrast positive and negative reinforcement with a research to back up. For better understanding the following topics will be discussed in this paper:

  • Describe the theory of operant conditioning
  • Define, compare and contrast positive and negative reinforcement.
  • Determine which form of reinforcement is the most effective, positive or negative.
  • Select a scenario in which you would apply operant conditioning to shape behavior.
  • Create a reinforcement schedule for your selected behavior.

Also specific example related to the topics will be provided.

Theory of Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a learning process where behavior is controlled by its consequences. In this process an individual's behavior can be modified through the use of positive or negative reinforcement. Operant conditioning forms an association between a behavior and a consequence.  Operant conditioning is a term that was coined by behaviorist B.F Skinner in 1937. He believed that the best way to understand behavior is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences. The basic idea behind the operant conditioning is that when reinforcement is introduced the natural occurring behavior can be modified and increased. As a behaviorist Skinner believed that internal thoughts and motivations are very abstract and vague terms to be used to explain behavior. However the external observable causes can be studied.

According to Mathew and Hergenhahn (2009), a consequence that affects the frequency of occurrence in a given behavior is called reinforcement. Reinforcement is the key element in operant conditioning. A reinforce is anything that results desired response or behavior. It could be a reward or a punishment. Skinner noted many times that life was full of reinforces, that shapes individual's behavior, which can be positive or negative depends upon the desired result.

Furthermore, operant conditioning can be divided into three basic components:

  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Negative Reinforcement
  • Punishments

Compare and Contrast Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a consequence or any event that strengthens or establishes a behavior either by punishment or reward. It is a very significant component in operant theory as well as in learning process. Reinforces always follow a behavior that can be desirable or undesirable which can be added or removed as per the situation. Reinforcements can be positive or negative that is responsible for the increase or decrease of the individual's behavior according to the demand of the situation.

Positive Reinforcement:

Positive reinforcement is a favorable act or outcome that results a better or desired behavior. It's a stimulus that increases the frequency of desired behavior using pleasant rewards. It's a very powerful tool to help shaping or changing a behavior.

  • Example1: A teacher can reward a student extra grade for maintaining the desired discipline in the class. In this way she is reinforcing a healthy behavior thus allowing a continuous desired behavior for further classes.
  • Example 2: A mother can reward her son a candy for completing the homework in time. Thus allowing the desired behavior to take place and motivates her son to complete tasks in given time always.

Negative Reinforcement:

Negative reinforcement is a removal of an unfavorable event or outcome after the display of an unpleasant behavior. It occurs when desired behavior is strengthened by the removal of contingent stimulus.  The negative reinforcement thus defined as any environment event that when removed in response to the behavior, increases the strength, shape and frequency of that behavior.

  • Example 1: A class is told by the teacher that they will be kept back if they don't maintain the desired discipline. This will reinforce a well maintained discipline in the class by removing the undesired behavior from the students.
  • Example 2: A child is restricted for watching his favorite cartoon for not doing his homework in time. This will reinforce the child to do his homework well before to avoid the restriction.

The Most effective Form of Reinforcement for Shaping Behavior

Human behavior is strongly affected and guided by the information and feedback about the consequences. It is very true and validate to state that when an individual receives something as a result of some desirable act, he would repeat in doing the same in a desire to get that something. It's a fact that cannot be denied by even common sense.

It is known that when a person receives something as a result of something he has done, he tends to repeat the same in anticipation of getting more what he likes and that motivates him to exhibit a particular type of performance. This is more effectively done by positive reinforcement.

Praise, recognition and reward are very common and powerful reinforcer. Receiving any of this makes an individual gratified and combination of this three can bring out the maximum desirable results too if used effectively. Positive reinforcement is a very effective tool to shape an individual's behavior with maximum outcomes of desirable consequences.

On the other hand negative reinforcement can sometimes lead to depression, elicitation of aggression, unwillingness and lack of motivational factors. Thus it results into the failure of desired outcomes often.

Example: To motivate a child to do his homework in time he can be given an extra fifteen minutes to play in a form of positive reinforcement or could be exempted from playing outside with friends for not completing the task as a negative reinforcement. The negative reinforcement will make the child depressed and he will lack the motivation in doing the task. However the positive reinforcement will motivate the child to repeat the desired outcome thus shaping his behavior more effectively in finishing the task in given time.

A Scenario to Apply Operant Conditioning to Shape Behavior

In the scenario of a person's getting rid of cigarettes and quit smoking can be shaped by applying operant conditioning. In this scenario both positive and negative reinforcement can be applied to change his behavior. The person can be motivated by giving reward for not smoking and chewing some gum every time he urges to smoke. Even by removing the ashtrays and cigarette packets can reduce the habit thus introducing negative reinforcement. So both the reinforcements can be used effectively to shape the behavior for desired consequences. A reward and a punishment both will work hand in hand to quit smoking by the person.

Create a Reinforcement Schedule for the Selected Behavior

The schedule of reinforcement for a person who is trying to quit smoking has to be extremely consistent for the extinction of the undesirable behavior. Both positive and negative reinforcements must be consistently delivered according to a planned reinforcement schedule and it should be delivered immediately before losing the connection between the appropriate behavior and the reinforcement to shape the behavior.

So to extinct the undesirable behavior of smoking a continuous reinforcement should be scheduled to reinforce every single time the event occurs either in a form of positive or negative reinforcement less the desired behavior will not be exhibited. 


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