Operant Conditioning

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A man named Edward Thorndike spent many years observing and studying animals and their behavior. In one experiment he used something he called puzzle-boxes, and would continuously view cats trying and successfully escaping the boxes (Wikipedia.com, 2006). He observed that at first the cats took a while to escape, but as the number of attempts increased the frequency of a successful escapes were greater (Wikipedia.com, 2006). From this he put together the law of effect, theorizing that the consequence of the behavior will determine whether the same behavior is strengthened or weakened (Wood, Wood, Boyd, 2006).

B. F. Skinner was the one who took and built upon Thorndike?s theories and formed the theory of operant conditioning, which focuses on reinforcement and punishment (Wikipedia.com, 2006).

?Operant conditioning (sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning) is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior? (psychology.about.com,


When a behavior or action is rewarded it strengthens the desire to respond in the same way again in the future. When the behavior or action is punished the frequency of the behavior or action will decline (tip.psychology.org, 2005). Reinforcement and punishment are at the heart of operant conditioning and can be broken down into positive and negative reinforcement, and positive and negative punishment (psychology.about.com, 2006).

According to psychology.about.com, ?Positive reinforcers are favorable events or outcomes that are presented after the behavior. Negative reinforcers involve the removal of an unfavorable events or outcomes after the display of a behavior. Positive punishment involves the presentation of an unfavorable event or outcome in order to weaken the response it follows. Negative punishment occurs when an favorable event or outcome is removed after a behavior occurs.? Operant is simply...