Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Behavior, Operant Conditioning, Psychology, Criminal Justice, Punishment, Crime, Learning, Education

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/11/28

New WowEssays Premium Database!

Find the biggest directory of over
1 million paper examples!


This paper is dedicated to the operant conditioning and the ways that it can be used in life, in particular, for training a dog. This system of teaching and learning is very easy, but yet can be unpredictable when one does not understand the consequences of his/her actions. In this paper, there is explained what operant conditioning is and what it stems from. The father of the operant conditioning, Skinner, is presented along with another important personality of John Watson. The components of operant conditioning are described in detail, and shaping is defined. There are presented the main stages of shaping and how it can be used particularly in training a dog. As a result of the conducted work, it is possible to state that operant conditioning is a convenient and effective way to train your dog. It can also be used in many other spheres of life.
Key words: operant conditioning, Skinner, Watson, reinforcement, punishment, shaping, training dogs.
All theorists of psychology have been interested in what is going on inside a person's internal structures and processes underlying the observed behaviors. Whether these are unconscious mental processes and conflict described by Freud, archetypes, postulated by Jung, attention has focused on the status of inside human. Of course, theorists, like Adler, Erikson, Fromm and Horney, acknowledged the crucial role of culture, social, family and interpersonal influence on human behavior. Even Cattell noted that the behavior is the result of a complex interaction between personality traits and situations. Yet, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that for all these theorist’s real action takes place under the outer shell. Equally important is the fact that the experience is responsible for much of our behavior. Through learning, we get the knowledge to master the language, form attitudes, values, fears, personality traits and self-esteem (Mazur, 2002). If a person is the result of learning, it seems, it is important to know what learning is and how it happens. That approach to personality from the perspective of learning is the focus of this paper.
I. What is operant conditioning
Theory of instrumental or operant conditioning is associated with the names of E. L. Thorndike and B. F. Skinner. Thorndike and Skinner, who were the most prominent representatives of behaviorism, showed that the impact of the environment determines human behavior. They considered as the main factor in the formation of human behavior culture, the content of which is expressed in a particular set of complex reinforcements. With their help, it is possible to create and modify human behavior in the right direction. On this understanding, there are based behavior modification techniques that are used not only in psychotherapeutic practice, but also, for example, in educational influences.
The terms of instrumental and operant conditioning mean that the reaction of the body, which is formed by the method of trial and error, is a tool for the promotion and involves manipulation of the environment, that is, the behavior is a function of its consequences. According to the principle of operant conditioning, behavior is controlled by its results and consequences (Mazur, 2002). Behavior modification is carried out by the impact of its results and implications. In accordance with the scheme of operant conditioning, experimenter observing behavior, fixes random manifestations of desirable, correct response and immediately reinforces it. Thus, the incentive goes after the behavioral response, using direct reinforcement through rewards and punishments.
The result of such conditioning is operant learning, or operant. In this case, there is supported not the stimulus, but the response of the organism, namely it is reinforcer, which is why this learning is referred to as a learning of type R. Operant or instrumental behavior (behavior of the type R) – is a behavior, called by reinforcements, following behavior. Skinner, highlighting the differences between respondent and operant behavior indicates that respondent behavior is caused by a stimulus, which goes before behavior and operant behavior - an incentive following the behavior. In other words, in classical conditioning stimulus precedes behavioral response, and in the operant - follows it.
It is necessary to pay attention to the ratio of such concepts as positive and negative reinforcement and punishment, to distinguish punishment and negative reinforcement (Staddon & Cerutti, 2003). Positive or negative reinforcement strengthens behavior, punishment - weakens. Positive reinforcement is based on the presentation of stimuli (awards) that enhance the behavioral response. Negative reinforcement strengthens behavior by removing perverse incentives. Any reinforcement (both positive and negative) increases the rate of reaction and behavior, punishment, on the contrary, reduces the frequency of response, weakens behavior.

A. History of operant conditioning

The father of operant conditioning is considered to be Thorndike, who at the end of the last century called this form of learning method of trial and error and accidental success. Thorndike conducted experiments in which cats and other animals were to press the valves or pull the spring to open the door to get out of the box and get food outside. Boxes were made so that the food was visible. Hungry cat, first planted in the box, produces a variety of activities, including stretching to food through the cracks and scratching items found inside the box (Staddon & Cerutti, 2003). Finally, it accidentally hits the locking mechanism and pops out. In subsequent trials actions of cat are gradually concentrated in the vicinity of the mechanism, and other activity with time stops. Finally, the cat becomes able to behave in the right way, as soon as it is placed in a box. Circus trainers have known about this type of conditioning for centuries, but Thorndike first researched it and systematically created on the basis of his observations a coherent theory.
However, people around the world better know American scholar B. F. Skinner, who has made a major contribution to the study of patterns of education instrumental conditioned reflexes (Brush, 2014). His proposed definition of operant learning and operant conditioned reflex is now the most commonly used tool in the characterization of forms of learning. May not be very systematically, but in a talented and popular way the method of operant learning and operant method of training is presented by the American psychologist and trainer Karen Pryor. To better understand the history of operant conditioning, it is necessary to look into the contributions of important personalities into it.
1. B.F. Skinner
B. F. Skinner was born in 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. The atmosphere in his family was warm and relaxed, learning was respected, discipline was strict, and awards were given when they were deserved. Throughout childhood, Skinner spent a lot of time designing roller scooters, driven carts, carousel, blowguns, and similar devices. He also liked school, he recalled a few excellent teachers, who gave him a good knowledge.
Skinner received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature in 1926 in the Hamiltonian College, a small school in a humanitarian state of New York. He recalled, however, that he had never really adapted to the student's life (Ormrod & Davis, 2004). He was disappointed by the lack of intellectual inquiries from classmates, students and also was quite annoyed with some course requirements (e.g. daily services). Ironically, Skinner did not attend any of the psychological courses as a student. After college, Skinner returned to his parents' home and tried to become a writer.
Neobehaviorism is based on the same principle as the concept of Watson, namely psychology has no right to engage in feelings or inclinations or any other subjective states; he rejects any attempt to talk about the "nature" of person, or to construct a model of a person, or to analyze various passions that motivate human behavior (Mazur, 2002). Any analysis of the behavior in terms of intentions, goals and objectives Skinner qualifies as pre-scientific, and a complete waste of time. Psychology must study what mechanisms stimulate human behavior and how they can be used in order to achieve maximum results. Psychology of Skinner is the science of manipulating behavior; its purpose is finding mechanisms of "incentive" to help provide the necessary behavior for the customer.
According to Skinner, through conditioning we obtain knowledge, master language, form attitudes, values, fears, personality traits and self-esteem. If a person is the result of learning, it seems, it is important to know what learning is and how it happens. Personality, in terms of conditioning - is the experience that a person has acquired over a lifetime. This set of lessons studies behaviors. Conditioning-behavioral trend deals with open (accessible to direct observation) human actions, as derived from the life experiences. Unlike Freud and many other personology, theorists of behavioral-conditioning direction do not consider it necessary to think about the mental structures and processes, hidden in the mind (Ormrod & Davis, 2004). On the contrary, they are essentially considering the external environment as a key factor in human behavior. That environment, rather than internal psychic phenomena, forms human. Skinner's work most convincingly demonstrate that the impact of the environment determines our behavior. Unlike other psychologists, Skinner argued that behavior itself is almost entirely subject to the possibility of reinforcement from the environment.
2. John Watson
The founder of behaviorism was John Watson (1878-1958), who published an article entitled "Psychology from the standpoint of a behaviorist." In the operant conditioning, his ideas dominated in the first part of the 20th century (Kirsch et al., 2004). In his opinion, worthy of study are not the consciousness and behavior. J. Watson, in contrast to the scientists who believe that the main in the behavior is the method of introspection, proposed to study symptoms that are visible without special tools.
J. Watson proposed to register visible manifestations in human behavior, which are created by outside influences consciously. According to the formula (stimulus-response), responses of the subject can be genetic (hereditary) or acquired. Under the hereditary, there are understood reflexes, physiological responses and simple emotions; acquired - a habit of personality, its behavior, the degree of development of cognitive processes, complicated feelings. Mechanism of study proceeds as follows: under the influence of the absolute stimulus appears hereditary reaction, which is in close connection with the new conditional stimuli.
J. Watson conducted an experiment: as unconditioned stimulus was sharp sound (or other external influence), which caused a small child fear, combined with conventional stimulus in the form of a rabbit. After some time, it has been observed that even a simple display of rabbits to the baby caused feelings of fear. Behaviorism came from two directions: positivism and pragmatism, according to which the study should be based only on objective facts, the knowledge of the person should be sufficiently complete.
The subject of behaviorism is human behavior, with all its inherent and acquired components. J. Watson defined 4 types of reactions occurring in person: acquired external and hereditary external, acquired internal and hereditary internal (Mazur, 2002). Behaviorist doctrine was far from ideal, because it made too great demands to the rigor and objectivity.

B. Components of operant conditioning

Reinforcement and punishment play a key role in the process of learning. The majority of experts agree that the reinforcement is more important than punishment, and it is the most important principle of learning. However, around the study of this theoretical position, there is a lot of discussion. The first theoretical justification of the reinforcement principle in learning, which still is a leading one, became classical law of American psychologist Thorndike the law of effect.
In the words of E. Thorndike, the law of effect states that out of several reactions of individual to the same situation, there are more likely to be repeated those which are accompanied or followed by satisfaction (reinforcement). Those which are accompanied by discomfort (punishment) will be repeated with less probability. In practical terms, most behavioral scientists, even those with cognitive orientation, generally regarded this law as justified. It has repeatedly manifested itself in strictly controlled experiments on learning, and its effects can be observed directly in the daily study practice (Kirsch et al., 2004).
Desirable or reinforced results with positive consequences for the individual, increase the intensity of the response and the likelihood of its recurrence (Mazur, 2002). Undesirable results, with negative consequences for the individual, lead to weakening of the response and reduce the likelihood of its recurrence. Although the law of effect is widely recognized, there are cases where cognitive rationalization by the person can neutralize it.
For example, persons with inadequate self-efficacy may not be affected by the consequences of their actions. At the work place, this circumstance is a serious problem for managers. People with inadequate self-efficacy, who over and over again have failure and do not learn from their mistakes, do not respond to the recommendation of the manager (Mazur, 2002). These people have high self-efficacy (believe that their form of behavior facilitates successful implementation of tasks), but they are wrong.
Thus, cognitive information processing can neutralize the effect of the law. Opinions diverge of scientists when the next step is taken and this effect is used as a comprehensive explanation or as an absolute requirement for teaching. Despite the theoretical debate, few can dispute the importance of reinforcement in the process of learning.
1. Reinforcement
Definition of reinforcement can be formulated if we turn to the law of effect. According to this law, reinforcement can be defined as something that increases the intensity of the response and stimulates to repeat the behavior that preceded reinforcement. Reward is just what a person providing compensation considers desirable (McKinley & Young, 2003). Reinforcement is defined functionally. Something is reinforcement only if it increases the reaction it preceded, and reinforces repetition of this reaction. To understand better the nature of reinforcements, along with distinguishing between the reinforcement and reward, we should distinguish between positive and negative reinforcement.
There is considerable confusion in terms of positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment. First of all, it is necessary to understand that reinforcement, positive or negative, increases the response and the likelihood of its recurrence. However, positive and negative reinforcement affects the behavior in very different ways.
Positive reinforcement strengthens and increases the probability of behavior by demonstrating its intended effects. Negative reinforcement strengthens and increases the likelihood of behavior by stopping or eliminating its undesirable consequences. For example, praise of the worker for successful completion of the task can be backed up by positive reinforcement (if it actually reinforces and strengthens his focus on the job). On the other hand, there may be negative reinforcement, stimulating work at the moment when the boss walks on his site. Negative reinforcement is the phenomenon more complex than the positive. However, it is necessary not to equate it to the punishment (Kirsch et al., 2004). Essentially, they have opposite effects on behavior. Negative reinforcement strengthens desired behavior and makes it more likely.
2. Punishment
Punishment is one of the most widely used, although the least understood and poorly managed aspects of learning (Kirsch et al., 2004). To change the behavior or control it - whether it is parenting or managing employees - parents and managers, instead of using positive reinforcement, often turn to punishment. It is usually assumed that the punishment and reinforcement are opposite, but equally effective in changing behavior. However, this simple analogy with reinforcements may not have sufficient grounds. The matter is that punishment is a very complex phenomenon and should be studied carefully and used with caution.
Punishment - is all that weakens the behavior and reduces the likelihood of its repetition. Punishment usually lies in the use of undesirable actions and revealing adverse effects. For example, depriving a bad manager with poor results of some privileges can be seen as a punishment. Regardless of the differences between punishment in the form of producing undesirable consequences and in the form of eliminating the desired effects, it can be said that punishment works, if there is weakening and reducing the intensity of behavior that preceded it (Brush, 2014).
Opinions on the application of punishment vary widely - from promises never to use to claiming that punishment is the only effective way to change behavior. Until now, studies do not provide a basis to fully support neither the first, nor the second point of view. However, there is little doubt that the punishment can cause many unwanted side effects. Neither children nor adults like it when they are punished. Punishable behavior is likely to be only temporarily suppressed, but not reversed, and he will feel pressure, anger and resentment toward the one who punished him.
Thus, the use of punishment as a strategy to control the behavior is an approach, in which both sides lose. If the punishment is not very severe, unwanted behavior will manifest very soon again. However, the more severe punishment turns, the stronger its side effects become, such as hatred and thirst for revenge (McKinley & Young, 2003). To minimize problems, the one who uses punishment should always offer an acceptable alternative for the punishable behavior. Punishment should always follow the undesirable behavior as close as possible in time.
II. Shaping

A. What is shaping

Behavior management or shaping is based on the principles of behavioral learning theory and, in particular, operant conditioning and reinforcement. The focus of attention here are the factors of employees' behavior associated with the external environment, the previous experience, in particular the consequences, as well as their impact on the efficiency of worker. The term of organizational behavior modification was introduced to refer to behaviorist approach in the management of human resources in order to increase effectiveness of activities.
1. Shaping method

Shaping of behavior can be realized by the following steps:

1. Revealing behavioral events associated with industrial activity;
2. Their measurement to identify the base frequency of manifestation;
3. Functional analysis of prerequisites and results of behavior;
4. Intervention by positive reinforcements to increase the frequency of key behaviors in the industrial activities;
5. Evaluation of intervention in order to check whether it has led to improved performance.
2. Examples of shaping
A lot of studies assessed the effectiveness of behavior shaping in manufacturing and service organizations. In addition to direct application for shaping described above, in the field of experimental psychology there was a significant number of fundamental research variables of operant and social learning. For example, we can consider the following results:
1. Performance of workers. The vast majority of the areas of shaping method application, of course, focused on performance. Significant number of studies have clearly shown that the behavior management techniques influence employee productivity and quality of compensation (Brush, 2014). After a series of field studies, it became clear that the improvement in Quantitative or qualitative performance of employees is evident in all organizational charts and all the methods of intervention.
2. Absenteeism and tardiness. Apparently, it is the second most extensive sphere of method application. In studies conducted on this topic, for reinforcing going to work and its timely performance, there was used remuneration (for example, a small cash prize or incentive system) and/or penalties for absenteeism and tardiness. Analysis of the extensive literature on the subject has shown that all this has yielded positive results.

B. How I used shaping

What I like about the shaping method is its universal character. It can be used when teaching animals some tricks, when speaking with your friends and colleagues, and eventually when bringing up children. When I found out about the existence of operant conditioning, I tried it with my friends and I saw how effective it was (McKinley & Young, 2003). I received what I wanted without much effort on my part. It is interesting and I am going to use it more in the future.
III. How to use operant conditioning when training a dog.
Operant learning can be based on any need, the choice of which is determined by the objectives of training and the characteristics of the animal. For example, for one dog when training the skill of approaching to the trainer, you can use social need, for another it will be more effective to use the food needs, and for the third - to use the need for self-preservation or defense (Mazur, 2002).
As it is known, a need, causing a reasoned behavior, activates the mechanisms of memory, attention and contributes to maintaining a long-time support of the desired behavior and overall motor activity of the animal. Initiation of the desired behavior can be done by any means, but the operant training most commonly use methods for selecting behavior, enhance behavioral act or componence and guidance. It is important to timely stop the use of auxiliary methods, achieving self-sufficiency of the animal.
Introduction commands can be performed at the second stage, or after working out the necessary actions (McKinley & Young, 2003). In operant conditioning reinforcement gets special importance, since it determines the speed and efficiency of learning. It is important to take into account the sign, size, mode and time of reinforcement. With reinforcements connected several "golden" rules of training:
1. Rooted what is supported.
2. Cancellation of positive reinforcement carries the information of negative reinforcement.
3. Variable mode of reinforcement promotes more rapid consolidation of the actions and its slower extinction.
Multiple repetition of actions is related to the change in the regime and reinforcement of motivation, which provides automation of behavioral act to skill.


Brush, F. R. (Ed.). (2014). Aversive conditioning and learning. Academic Press.
Kirsch, I., Lynn, S. J., Vigorito, M., & Miller, R. R. (2004). The role of cognition in classical and operant conditioning. Journal of clinical psychology, 60(4), 369-392.
Mazur, J. E. (2002). Learning and behavior. Prentice Hall/Pearson Education.
McKinley, S., & Young, R. J. (2003). The efficacy of the model–rival method when compared with operant conditioning for training domestic dogs to perform a retrieval–selection task. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 81(4), 357-365.
Ormrod, J. E., & Davis, K. M. (2004). Human learning. Merrill.
Staddon, J. E. R., & Cerutti, D. T. (2003). Operant conditioning. Annual review of psychology, 54, 115.

Cite this page
Choose cite format:
  • APA
  • MLA
  • Harvard
  • Vancouver
  • Chicago
  • ASA
  • IEEE
  • AMA
WePapers. (2020, November, 28) Free Essay On Operant Conditioning. Retrieved June 19, 2021, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/
"Free Essay On Operant Conditioning." WePapers, 28 Nov. 2020, https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/. Accessed 19 June 2021.
WePapers. 2020. Free Essay On Operant Conditioning., viewed June 19 2021, <https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/>
WePapers. Free Essay On Operant Conditioning. [Internet]. November 2020. [Accessed June 19, 2021]. Available from: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/
"Free Essay On Operant Conditioning." WePapers, Nov 28, 2020. Accessed June 19, 2021. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/
WePapers. 2020. "Free Essay On Operant Conditioning." Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. Retrieved June 19, 2021. (https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/).
"Free Essay On Operant Conditioning," Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com, 28-Nov-2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/. [Accessed: 19-Jun-2021].
Free Essay On Operant Conditioning. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-essay-on-operant-conditioning/. Published Nov 28, 2020. Accessed June 19, 2021.

Share with friends using:

Please remember that this paper is open-access and other students can use it too.

If you need an original paper created exclusively for you, hire one of our brilliant writers!

Related Premium Essays
Contact us
Chat now