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Catherine Davis

P2 Psychology
April 1, 2009

Operant Conditioning Experiment

INTRODUCTION:
The study that we have conducted incorporates the use of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is
a type of learning in which organisms associate their own actions with consequences; behavior is
strengthened if followed by a reinforcer or diminished if followed by a punisher. Operant conditioning
involves operant behavior, as the organism's behavior is essential on making something happen; it
operates on the environment to produce the rewarding or punishing stimuli. In psychologist Edward L.
Thorndike's Law of Effect, he states that “rewarded behavior is likely to recur”, meaning that if a
consequence to an action is pleasant, the proceeding behavior will become more frequent. Respectively,
if the consequence is unpleasant, the behavior diminishes. Studies have shown that positive
reinforcement has proven to be more effective than negative reinforcement or punishment. We are
testing the operant behavior of the subject, a dog named Jack, as B.F. Skinner conducted his studies on
operant conditioning with rats and pigeons. He designed an operant chamber, which contained a key
that an animal could manipulate to obtain a reinforcement. In this case, the positive reinforcement was
food and water and were essential for his experiments.

Rationale: Our experiment is an extension of the previous research on operant conditioning. These
behavioral principles that were experimented on in labs have been put to use by animal behaviorists,
people who train animals. People often use positive reinforcement and repetition to train animals to
perform tricks or to shape their behavior.

Aim: The aim of our study is to use the principles of operant conditioning to train Jack how to roll over
through the use of positive reinforcement.

Hypothesis: My hypothesis of the experiment is that Jack will successfully learn how to roll over.

METHOD:
Participants: This experiment consists of only one test subject, Jack. He is Majken's dog and has been
trained previously to do other things, such as sit, lay down, and shake. The researchers of this
experiment consist of Aeja (17), Majken (18), and myself (16).

Apparatus:
1 video camera: used to record the experiment
Several dog treats: pleasurable stimuli for dogs, used to act as positive reinforcers to strengthen
the behavior of rolling over
Procedure:
1. Get the subject to stay in the kitchen, where the experiment will be conducted
2. Have the positive reinforcers (dog treats) at the ready
3. Give commands to “sit” and then “lay”
4. Command the dog to roll over using hand motions
5. Demonstrate the process of rolling over by physically rolling the dog
6. Command the dog to roll over
7. Repeat this process several times, rewarding the dog with a treat and a “Good boy” with every
success
8. If the dog doesn't roll over, place the treat in front of his face and move it in a circular motion so
the dog will follow
9. Give the positive reinforcers less as the dog begins to roll more frequently
10. Eventually rely on hand gestures only

Controls:
The controlled variables in this experiment are the treats that we awarded and congratulated the dog
after each successful roll over. He was given only one treat for one roll. The instructions were also
standardized into the short phrases of: “sit”, “lay”, and “roll over”. We also controlled the variable of
location, as the experiment was always conducted in the kitchen on the tiled flooring.

RESULTS:
Summary Table:

Trial 1: Commanding to roll over using hand No action performed by dog


motions
Trial 2: Commanding to roll over using hand No action performed by dog
motions
Physically turning the dog over x
Trial 3: Commanding the dog to turn over using No action performed by dog
hand motions
Trial 4: Commanding to roll over using hand No action by the dog
motions
Trial 5: Majken physically rolls on the floor to no action by the dog
demonstrate
Trial 6: Commanding to roll over no action by the dog
Physically turning the dog over x
Trial 7: Commanding to roll over no action by the dog
Trial 8: Commanding to roll over no action by the dog

Trial 9: Commanding to roll over using hand No action by the dog


motions
Physically turning the dog over x
Trial 10: Commanding to roll over using hand no action by the dog
motions
Trial 11: Commanding to roll over using hand no action by the dog
motions
Trial 12: Shoves the dog a bit to see if he will roll no action by the dog
over the rest of the way
Physically turning the dog over x
Trial 13: Commanding the dog to roll over using No action by the dog
hand motions
Physically turning the dog over X
Trial 14: Commanding to roll over using hand No action by the dog
motions
Physically turning the dog over X
Trial 15: Commanding to roll over No action by the dog
Trial 16: Commanding to roll over using hand No action by the dog
motions
Physically turning the dog over X
Majken rolls on the floor to demonstrate X
Trial 17: Commanding to roll over using hand No action by the dog
motions
Physically turning the dog over
Trial 18: Commanding to roll over using hand No action by the dog
motions
Physically turning the dog over X
Trial 19: Commanding the dog to roll over using No action by the dog
hand motions
Shows the dog the treat and makes the dog follow No action from dog
the treat in a circular motion
Trial 20: shows the dog the treat and makes the No action from dog
dog follow the treat in a circular motion while
pushing him in a direction to roll over
Trial 21: Catherine gets on the floor and rolls X
over; Majken gives Catherine the treat to let the
dog realize what is expected
Trial 22: Commanding to roll over using hand No action by the dog
motions
Shows the dog the treat and makes the dog follow No action from dog
the treat in a circular motion while pushing him in
a direction to roll over
Trial 23: Shows the dog the treat and makes the Success! Dog rolls over
dog follow the treat in a circular motion while
pushing him in a direction to roll over
Trial 24: Shows the dog the treat and makes him No action from dog
follow it in a circular motion while pushing him in
a direction to roll over
Trial 26: Shows him the treat and makes him No action from dog
follow it in a circular motion while pushing him in
a direction to roll over
Trial 27: Shoves the dog a bit to see if he will roll Dog rolls over
over the rest of the way
Trial 28: Commanding to roll over using hand Dog rolls over
motions
Trial 29: Commanding to roll over using hand Dog rolls over
motions

Commentary:
The results suggest that it took a while for the dog to realize what was desired of him, as it took 23
trials to get him to roll over. The demonstrations of rolling over seemed ineffective, where as physically
pushing the dog worked in the end. Unusually, the dog also forgot to roll over after learning how to do
it in the previous trial.

DISCUSSION:
The results of this experiment supported my hypothesis. Jack's behavior was shaped through the use of
positive reinforcers and he eventually learned how to roll over. I don’t consider our research to be
ecologically valid, because the experiment was conducted in a controlled environment. To improve
validity in our research, we could have tried the experiment in a more natural setting, like outside, but I
don’t believe that the experiment would be conclusive. I think that a controlled environment is
necessary to use operant conditioning on animals to teach them to do tricks. I think we could also
improve our method and make it more fixed. In the trials, we tried using many different techniques at
random times to try to teach the dog to roll over, but I think that if we had a specific process of: (1)
demonstrate (2) lead him with the treat and motion with a circular motion (3) use hand gestures, or
something of the sort, the dog may have been able to grasp the concept much better; I’ve read that
some dogs can get very confused with different the hand signals that their trainers give them and that it
may take them a while for them to understand what they are meant to do. I feel as though we could’ve
also been more patient with Jack, because after going through so many trials on the first day, he just
stopped responding all together. The results of studies like the one we conducted are implied in
everyday life; in schools, children’s behavior is shaped through various degrees of reward and
punishment. Reinforcement principles are also used to enhance athletic performance. Business
managers also use these psychological principles to reinforce behavior to influence their workers’
productivity. At home, parents can reward behaviors they consider desirable, such as giving their kids
extra privileges or money when they achieve academic success. Individually, we are able to reinforce
our own desired behaviors and extinguish undesirable ones by creating goals for ourselves and cutting
back on incentive as behaviors become habitual. Studies on operant conditioning have shown that we
can be shaped by our histories, and so, we can shape our futures as well.
REFERENCES:

Works Cited

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82bd857850cf%40sessionmgr2&bdata=JnNpdGU9c3JjLWxpdmU
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Kodat, Rebecca. “Psychology Operant Conditioning”. Essortment. 2002. 8:43PM. March 29, 2009.
<http://www.essortment.com/all/operantpsycholo_rmju.htm>
Myers, David G. “Psychology: Operant Conditioning”. Worth Publishers. 2007. March 28, 2009.
326-229.
“Dog Tricks”. Dog Obedience Training Review. 7:50PM. March 30, 2009. <http://www.dog-
obedience-training-review.com/dog-tricks.html>
“How to Love your Dog”. Love Your Dog. 7:36PM. April 1, 2009.
<http://www.loveyourdog.com/tricks2.html#rollover>