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This post was republished to My College Class Notes at 2:04:46 AM 5/28/2008

Operant Conditioning
Account My College Class Notes
Category Psychology Notes

Chapter 4: p149

Focus Questions
What is operant conditioning and how did Skinner study it?
Operant behavior “operates” on the environment in accord with
contingencies. Operant conditioning is base on contingencies that are
arranged in the lab or occur in real life. The controlled environment of the
Skinner box revolutionized the study of learning and conditioning.

Parallels between classical and operant conditioning occur in areas extinction


and spontaneous recovery, as well as stimulus generalization and
discrimination.

Shaping and successive approximations is an efficient procedure for training


subjects to perform specific behaviors.

An operant is a class of behaviors—not a specific behavior.

What basic terms and procedures are involved in operant


conditioning?
The first half of Thorndike’s law of effect corresponds to positive
reinforcement and negative reinforcement: the second half corresponds to
positive punishment and negative punishment. In operant conditioning
contingencies, positive means that a stimulus is presented or “added” and
negative means that a stimulus is removed or subtracted. The effect on
behavior is then determined by whether the stimulus is appetitive or
aversive.

Operant Conditioning: Definitions


Contingency: The relationship between behavior and its
consequences.

Operant conditioning The imposition of contingences, either deliberate or


natural.
a procedure for quickly establishing a contingency,
Shaping and successive such as bar pressing by rats or key pecking by
approximations pigeons, by rewarding successive approximations to
the target behavior.
An operant conditioning contingency in which
behavior is strengthened because it results in
Positive reinforcement:
presentation of an appetitive stimulus; also known as
reward training.
An operant conditioning contingency in which
Negative reinforcement: behavior is strengthened because it results in
removal of an aversive stimulus; also known as
escape or active avoidance training.
Prof. T.R. Tharney: PSY101 Chapter 4: pp. 1
Crazy Joe’s Psych 101 Notes II
an operant conditioning contingency in which
Positive punishment behavior is weakened or suppressed because it
results in presentation of an appetitive stimulus; also
known as reward training
an operant conditioning contingency in which
Negative punishment behavior is weakened or suppressed because it
results in removal of an appetitive stimulus, also
know as omission training.

Prof. T.R. Tharney: PSY101 Chapter 4: pp. 2


Crazy Joe’s Psych 101 Notes II
The Skinner box
American psychologist B. F. Skinner designed an apparatus, now called a
Skinner box, that allowed him to formulate important principles of animal
learning. An animal placed inside the box is rewarded with a small bit of food
each time it makes the desired response, such as pressing a lever or pecking
a key. A device outside the box records the animal’s responses.

The most forceful leader of behaviorism was B. F. Skinner, an American


psychologist who began studying animal learning in the 1930s. Skinner
coined the term reinforcement and invented a new research apparatus called
the Skinner box for use in testing animals. Based on his experiments with rats
and pigeons, Skinner identified a number of basic principles of learning. He
claimed that these principles explained not only the behavior of laboratory
animals, but also accounted for how human beings learn new behaviors or
change existing behaviors. He concluded that nearly all behavior is shaped by
complex patterns of reinforcement in a person’s environment, a process that
he called operant conditioning (also referred to as instrumental conditioning).
Skinner’s views on the causes of human behavior made him one of the most
famous and controversial psychologists of the 20th century.

Prof. T.R. Tharney: PSY101 Chapter 4: pp. 3


Crazy Joe’s Psych 101 Notes II
Chapter 4: Operant Conditioning Phenomena and
Applications: p154
Focus Questions
How are timing and consistency of operant conditioning
contingencies important?
Laboratory animals, young children, and others who lack cognitive and
language skills cannot mediate delays in reinforcement or punishment, so
delayed contingencies tend to be ineffective. Older children and adults can
mediate, and so delays do not void effectiveness.
Learning is faster with continuous reinforcement, but partial reinforcement
produces behavior that is more resistant to extinction. Parents who partially
reinforce tantrum behavior eventually find it very difficult to eliminate.
Ratio schedules require a number of responses before reinforcement occurs;
interval schedules require that an amount of time passes before
reinforcement occurs.
Fixed schedules require a specific number of responses or amount of time;
variable schedules require a number of responses or amount of time that
varies around an average value.

Schedules of Reinforcement
A Variable Ratio Schedule produces rewards irregularly. The criteria for
reinforcement changes, it rotates around an average number of responses.
The amount of work required per reinforcement varies somewhat randomly
within certain limits (Carpenter, 1974).
Examples of Variable Ratio Schedules
1. A Slot machine yields returns on an irregular basis.
2. Pigeons will peck for hours at a rate of five times per second. The
first reinforcement is given after pecking three times, then seven
times, then five times, then four times and then one time.
Implementing a Variable Ratio Schedule will eliminate the post reinforcement
pause. In a Variable Ratio Schedule, the average number of responses
between reinforcement is predetermined by the trainer. A Variable Ratio-10
Schedule (VR-10) means that on the average, reinforcement follows every
10th desired behavior but it might come after only one desired behavior or
after the 20th desired behaviors.

Prof. T.R. Tharney: PSY101 Chapter 4: pp. 4


Crazy Joe’s Psych 101 Notes II
Slot machine gambling is typically under the control of Variable Ratio
schedules in order to generate steady behavior or a steady response rate.
The behavior of dropping coins in slot machines is maintained at a high,
steady level by the payoff, which is delivered only after an unknown, varying
number of coins have been deposited. VR Schedules leave the gambler
guessing when the reward will come. Therefore the gambler continues to
gamble that the payoff (the reinforcement) will come after the next deposit of
the coin (Rachlin, 1990).

Prof. T.R. Tharney: PSY101 Chapter 4: pp. 5


Crazy Joe’s Psych 101 Notes II
Interval Schedules mean positive reinforcement is delivered based on an
amount of time must elapse and the next desired behavior emitted will be
followed by positive reinforcement. On a Fixed Interval (FI) Schedule, positive
reinforcement is delivered for the first response made after a fixed period of
time. On an FI-10 Schedule, the individual must wait 10 seconds before the
desired behavior will be reinforced. These schedules also generate post
reinforcement pauses.
To eliminate post reinforcement pauses produced by Fixed Interval Schedules,
switch to Variable Interval (VI) Schedules. For Variable Interval Schedules, the
average interval is predetermined. For example, on a VI-20 schedule,
reinforcement is delivered at an average rate of 1 every 20 seconds. This
type of schedule generates a fairly steady response rate.
Summary
Operant Conditioning by B.F. Skinner examines how consequences influence
subsequent behavior. Positive reinforcement strengthens desirable behavior;
punishment is used to eliminate undesirable behavior. Shaping is used to
mold new behavior. A Continuous Reinforcement Schedule is used initially
when the desired behavior is new but the Intermittent Schedules are more
practical once the new behavior has been shaped.

Operant Conditioning Phenomena and


Applications: Definitions
Continuous Reinforcing every instance of a
reinforcement behavior.
Partial Reinforcing only some instances of a
reinforcement behavior
Ratio A partial reinforcement schedule in
which reinforcement occurs only after
schedule a number of responses.
A partial reinforcement schedule in
Interval reinforcement occurs only for the first
schedule response after an amount of time has
elapsed.
A partial reinforcement schedule in
Fixed which reinforcement occurs after a
specific number of responses or for the
schedule first response after a specific amount
of time.

Prof. T.R. Tharney: PSY101 Chapter 4: pp. 6


Crazy Joe’s Psych 101 Notes II
A partial reinforcement schedule in
which reinforcement occurs after a
Variable varying number of responses or for the
schedule first response after a varying amount
of time, in each case around some
average value.
Superstitious Behavior that occurs and persist in the
behavior absence of any actual contingency.
A technique for changing behavior
Behavior based on operant conditioning
modification principles; also called behavior therapy
in clinical settings.
A behavior modification procedure in
Token which adaptive behavior is reinforced
with tokens that can later be
Economy exchanged for privileges and other
rewards.
As defined by ethnologists, a behavior
Instinctive that occurs in all normal members of a
species, in response to specific
Behavior releasing stimuli, and in essentially the
same way every time

Ethnology The study of instinctive behavior in the


lab and in natural environments.

Prof. T.R. Tharney: PSY101 Chapter 4: pp. 7


Crazy Joe’s Psych 101 Notes II