Operant conditioning is a type of learning where behavior is controlled by consequences. Key concepts in operant conditioning are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment.
Positive reinforcement is giving something pleasant after a behavior. This increases the probability that the behavior will continue. Examples are:
- Having a job and going to work every day to receive a paycheck.
- Receiving praise after a musical performance would increase the amount that you perform.
- A teacher complimenting students when they answer correctly will increase that behavior.
- At a gym, customers receive a discount if they work out a certain number of times and eat healthy.
- In the Skinner Box experiment, a rat got food as a reward for acceptable behavior, such as pressing a lever.
Negative reinforcement is taking away something unpleasant as a result of the behavior that is acceptable. This is also meant to increase the behavior. Examples are:
- It is very noisy outside so you turn on the television to mask the noise. Turning on the radio decreased the unpleasant noise.
- A teacher exempts student from the final test if they have perfect attendance. So, the teacher is taking away something unpleasant to increase behavior.
- At a store, a child throws a tantrum because he did not get a candy bar. Dad finally gets him one. He stopped the tantrum so he took away something unpleasant and Dad’s behavior of getting candy bars will increase.
- In the Skinner box experiment, a loud noise continuously sounded inside the cage until the rat did what Skinner wanted him to do. When he did, the noise stopped, so the unpleasant noise was taken away.
- In a biology class, students who made an "A" on the test did not have to dissect a frog.
Positive punishment is used to decrease a behavior and is presenting something unpleasant after the behavior. Examples are:
- An employee exhibits bad behavior at work and the boss criticizes him. The behavior will decrease because of the boss’s criticism.
- When a student misbehaves in class, she receives a time out.
- A child gets a spanking when he puts his hand in the cookie jar.
- When a child does not out his clothes in the hamper, he has to do ten extra minutes of chores.
- In an experiment, the subject received a slight electric shock when they got an answer wrong.
Negative punishment is also used to decrease a behavior and is removing something pleasant after the behavior. Examples are:
- An employee is habitually late for work so begins losing the privilege of listening to music while working. The behavior will decrease because of losing a privilege.
- A child doesn’t put his bike away so the parents lock it up for a certain time. The parents took away something pleasant to decrease behavior.
- Ted gets a $500 fine and suspension of his driving license for driving under the influence. Money and his license were removed to decrease behavior.
- A family has a "swear jar." Every time someone swears, they have to put a dollar in the jar. This is taking away money, which is something pleasant, and decreases the behavior of swearing.
- Kevin trashes his sister’s room and Mom told him he could not go camping with his friends.
As you can see with these different examples, operant conditioning can be used to control behavior using positive and negative actions.
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