Describe the theory of operant conditioning.
“Operant conditioning” is a term given to a system of learned behavior 1937 by B. F. Skinner that has to do with consequences controlling a person or animal’s behavior. Operant Conditioning is conditioning in which a person acquires a repeated association with a consequence with a certain behavior. An example would be a domesticated dolphin who learns that every time he does a double belly flip in the air he is rewarded with his favorite fish, salmon. After enough instances of receiving a salmon after doing a certain thing, consciously or unconsciously he will continue to repeat this behavior because he has associated a positive consequence with it.
Classical conditioning, coined by Pavlov in his studies of dogs is different from operant conditioning. Pavlov, while he explored a similar subject matter, was more interested in reflex psychology while Skinner’s concern rest in how behavior affects the environment. (Staddon, 2002).
An operant response is behavior that has been prompted by operant conditioning. The dolphin jumping out of the water would be the operant response and the conditioning would be the salmon he has received for doing that.
Compare and contrast positive and negative reinforcement.
Operant behavior is the derivative of the end result of operant conditioning. Operant conditionings lead to a certain pattern of predicable behavior. Behavior can be influenced by either positive or negative reinforcement.
Negative Reinforcement is behavior that is influenced by removing some undesirable stimulus that has been introduced into the subject’s environment. An example of this could be ear-splitting music being played at an unreasonable volume. Perhaps every time a person shares a cigarette with the host of a party the music is turned off during the time the party host smokes the cigarette. If the person hates the music that is playing, this might encourage them to be generous, giving many cigarettes to remove the music, if just for a short time.
Positive Reinforcement elicits an operant response by giving the subject being conditioned something desirable. Fruit Loops, works well to illustrate this. Axiom: All sane people desire fruit Loops. Therefore most people would be likely to increase a certain behavior if they associated it with the attainment of free fruit loops. If, for example, every time one read The New York Times a man appeared with a bowl of Fruit Loops, the likelihood of that person reading that paper would increase dramatically.
A key term to understand Operant Conditioning is knowing what Interval Timing is. There are patterns that have emerged between the rewards, or removal of negative reinforced, that affect that operant response timing and frequency. More simply put, interval timing is how long it takes for the subject to respond to the stimulus. The individual time between the intervals is known as wait time.
Studies have shown that by doubling the interval timing, the chance of a response and learning decreases on course to about 50% of what it is when the interval timing is decreased by half. (Church & Deluty, 1977).
Though it is beyond the scope of this essay to provide a rigorous explanation of terms, Weger’s Law is an important law in the understanding of operant conditioning. Weber’s law states that, “The ratio of increment threshold to the background intensity is a constant. (Weber’s Law). Basically, the law has to do with explaining rates of noticeable change when it comes to changing the magnitude. If you are holding a basket of weights, depending on how much weight is already in the bucket will determine how much weight would need to be added for it to be noticeable. There has been a “similarity” found between interval timing and an operant response in subjects being conditioned under its principles.
Determine which form of reinforcement is the most effective
B.F. Skinner, in defining operant conditioning, as it is understood today was not neutral on the subject of whether or not negative and positive reinforcement operated in the same way.
Negative reinforcement is not punishment. Instead it is the elimination of some undesirable set of circumstances. Skinner believed that positive reinforcement was a more effective way to bring about permanent changes than negative. He observed that when negative enforcement was employed the change was only temporary, unlike the positive changes brought about by positive reinforcement.
Skinner’s judgment seems sound here. Negative reinforcement can only go so far as people are willing to go to escape something negative. Using my own mind as thinking through this, I think negative reinforcement is a much more oppressive way to bring about change. Even if the change in behavior is positive, the means to get there seem more dubious than if something good was given. In life it seems people respond better to positive reinforcement as opposed to negative, which can leave resentment.
This is why extreme cases of operant conditioning can only be tested on animals, in which needs, food for a hungry rat, are at stake in their conditioning.
Pperant conditioning to shape behavior
Let us select a scenario and apply operant conditioning to shape a behavior of my own complete with a reinforcement schedule, which is a time-chart, that tracks when reinforcement occurs. An example of operant conditioning would be to scotch tape a $20 bill at the back of every unread book a person owns. The subject is allowed to spend the bill, and is encouraged to it on non-essentially purchases like roller blades, after he finishes the book. This is the positive reinforcement in order to encourage me to read a book.
The time schedule would be how long it takes me to read a book. For most novel length books it takes me no more than four hours to finish. Usually I can finish about a book a week but my operant response to this situation might be to read more so that he can access the capital the subject is awarded with upon every book reading. This might cause me to read two or even three books a week.
Operant conditioning, while only recently termed, has been in operation in humanity since we have existed. Understanding it gives a window into human behavior that causes what would otherwise be inexplicable behavior to be grounded in sound psychological science. Since the term was originally coined, a lot have work has been done on both animals and humans to further understand the role that operant conditioning has on governing human behavior.
Category. (n.d.). Negative Reinforcement - Operant Conditioning. Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://psychology.about.com/od/operantconditioning/f/negative-reinforcement.htm
Staddon, J. E., & Cerutti, D. T. (n.d.). Operant Conditioning. US National Library of Medicine . Retrieved April 1, 2013, from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1473025/#R17
Weber's Law. (n.d.). RIT CIS - Center for Imaging Science. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://www.cis.rit.edu/people/faculty/mon