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Skinners theory of operant conditioning...
Unlike classical conditioning, which is learning through association, operant conditioning
involves learning through consequence.
B. F. Skinner (1874-1949) developed the theory of
operant conditioning and recorded the behaviour of
animals in response to different consequences. The
Skinner box, which he designed, contained a lever for
an animal such as a rat or a pigeon to press for food
to be delivered. It also had a speaker and lights that
could be used to trigger a behaviour, and a shock
generator was connected to the floor to deliver an
electric shock in response to a behaviour.
Skinner described the ABC model of operant
conditioning to illustrate how this theory of learning works:
Antecedent: the chamber could present a stimulus (lights, noises) that triggers behaviour.
Behaviour: a response that could be observed and measured as a result of the antecedent
Consequence: a reward or punishment followed the behaviour (food, shock)
The stimulus-response association is only repeated or learnt if the consequence of the
pairing is a positive one. A negative consequence would weaken the stimulus-response link.
Positive reinforcement is giving something pleasurable to the animal following a desired
behaviour, to make sure the behaviour is repeated, for example giving a rat food for pressing
a lever, the consequence of lever pressing is desirable, so is repeated to gain more food.
Negative reinforcement is removing something nasty or uncomfortable in response to the
desired behaviour. This also results in the behaviour being repeated, in order to escape the
nasty stimulus. An example would be to give the rat an electric shock until a lever is pressed.
The lever pressing stops the shock so the rat presses the lever again to ensure it avoids it in
Both types of reinforcement produce repeated behaviour. Although fears are typically
acquired through classical conditioning, they are maintained through negative reinforcement.
Punishment, on the other hand, weakens the behaviour by presenting something
unpleasant or painful whenever the behaviour is shown. For example, when a rat presses a
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Types of reinfocer...
It is important to identify a reinforcer that will encourage the behaviour in question to be
There are two types:
Primary reinforcers are used to satisfy a basic survival need, such as food, sex or water.
Secondary reinforcers are only fulfilling because they are associated with a primary reinforcer,
such as money that could be used to buy food
Sometimes reinforcement is unintentional, that is, we produce chance behaviour that
happens to be given reinforcement.…read more