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Psy 390 Operant Conditioning Week 3 Ind. Assign.




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Operant Conditioning Paper 1
Operant Conditioning Paper
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PSY 390: Learning and Cognition
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Operant Conditioning Paper 2
Operant Conditioning
Operant Conditioning was created by B.F. Skinner and is represents the idea that learning
is a function of change in observable behavior. The change in behavior is triggered by one’s
response to the events or stimuli that occurs. The stimulus that causes the behavior is referred to
as reinforceres and can be either positive or negative. Reinforcement is the key factor in
Skinners operant conditioning theory and can be any factor that strengthens the occurrence of
the desired behavior ranging from something one’s mother tells them, an award for making good
grades, or a feeling of increased accomplishment. Rather or not a positive or negative
reinforcement has a greater effect on behavior varies with each individual and situation. Operant
conditioning enabled Skinner, along with other researchers to understand behavioral explanations
for a wide range of cognitive experiences. “Operant conditioning has been widely applied in
clinical settings (i.e., behavior modification) as well as teaching (i.e., classroom management)
and instructional development (e.g., programmed instruction)” (Kearsley, 2011).
The Theory of Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is characterized by two main principles: “(1) any response that is
followed by a reinforcing stimulus tends to be repeated; and (2) a reinforcing stimulus is
anything that increases the rate with which an operant response occurs” (Olson & Hergenhahn,
2009). Operant conditioning can be applied to a variety of circumstances involved with one’s
behavior. The theory of operant conditioning involves simply finding a factor that causes an
individual to behave a certain way every time the factor or reinforcer is presented. This theory
also involves modifying behavior. Olson & Hergenhahn (2009) explain this by stating, “to
modify behavior, one merely has to find something that is reinforcing for the organism whose

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Operant Conditioning Paper 3
behavior one wishes to modify, wait until the desired behavior occurs, and then immediately
reinforce the organism.” After this, the occurrence of the desired behavior response will increase
thus further strengthening the conditioned behavior. In regards to other types of behaviorism,
operant conditioning maintains that one can produce responses instead of only eliciting a
response because of an outside stimulus.
Positive & Negative Reinforcement
Positive and negative reinforcement do the same thing, enforce behavior. However, their
difference lies in how they do it. Positive reinforcement includes presenting a stimulus that
increases the possibility that a behavior will occur. Positive reinforcement can include offering
money to a teenager who passed a test or praising a toddler with hugs that picked up his toys.
Negative reinforcement is the removal of a stimulus that increases the likeliness of a behavior
occurring. For example, studying for an exam to avoid getting a bad grade is an example of a
negative reinforcement; the low grade being the negative reinforcer. A good grade could be a
positive reinforcer in that it can trigger one to study as well. A headache is a negative reinforcer
in that it can cause one to take medication. Many wonder which reinforcer has more effect on
behavior. However, it depends on the situation and individual to determine which reinforcer
would be more effective. “Skinner (1953) did not provide a rule that one would follow in
discovering what would be an effective reinforcer. Rather, he said that whether something is
reinforcing can be ascertained only by its effect on behavior” (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
Scenario of Operant Conditioning Shaping Behavior / Schedule
“A response produces a consequence such as defining a word, hitting a ball, or solving a
math problem. When a particular Stimulus-Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced (rewarded), the
individual is conditioned to respond” (Kearsley, 2011). A scenario where operant conditioning
may be used to shape behavior is a struggling student who focuses more on their facebook and

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