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Operant Conditioning Applications

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Operant Conditioning Applications

There are things we didn't want to do as children, like cleaning our rooms or going to the dentist. But we end up doing it anyway. Whatever drove us to do it may have something to do with operant conditioning.

  • What is operant conditioning?

  • What are examples of operant conditioning?

  • What are the principles of operant conditioning?

  • How can we apply operant conditioning principles?

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a learning approach that uses rewards to encourage positive behavior or punishment to change negative behaviors—this method, developed by B.F. Skinner states that rewarded behavior is likely to be repeated, and punishing extinguishes or weakens behavior.

Operant conditioning modifies operant behavior, which is behavior acting on the environment, subject to conditioning through reinforcers or punishers.

A reinforcer strengthens desirable behaviors, including positive and negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement involves rewards or good outcomes after a behavior. Through positive reinforcement, an individual associates his behavior with the favorable event encouraging repetition of that behavior. Conversely, negative reinforcement rewards a person's behavior by removing something he considers unpleasant leading to repetition of that behavior.

A punisher weakens or eliminates undesirable behaviors, including positive and negative punishment.

Positive punishment includes applying adverse events, emphasizing application to the behavior it follows. Meanwhile, negative punishment refers to removing anything favorable following the behavior. Both methods present unfavorable outcomes due to behavior, whether by application or removal.

Operant Conditioning Examples

Here are a few examples of real-life operant conditioning applications:

Operant Conditioning Applications, Mother and child eating at Burger King, pexels.com, StudySmarterMother and child eating at Burger King, pexels.com

Positive reinforcement

  • A mother takes her child to her favorite fast-food restaurant after getting a high score on her test.

  • A teacher gives a sticker to his students who submit their homework on time.

  • A boss gives salary bonuses to his high-performing employees.

Negative reinforcement

  • To avoid being nagged by his mother, the teenager takes out the trash every morning.

  • A student sets her alarm to wake up early so her teacher won't scold her for being late.

  • Keeping a to-do list and set reminders so that you will not forget essential tasks or events.

Positive punishment

  • Grounding a teen when he answers back to his parents

  • A boss extending work hours of a perpetually late employee

  • Teacher placing a student on time out because he is very noisy

Negative punishment

  • Parents taking away their child's phone for not following curfew rules

  • An employee losing his job over company violations

  • A doctor losing his license over medical malpractice

Principles and Applications of Operant Conditioning

We will be looking at the six main principles of operant conditioning applications.

Operant Conditioning Applications, Teaching a dog to handshake, pexels.com, StudySmarterTeaching a dog to handshake, pexels.com

Reinforcement

Reinforcement increases the repetition of the behavior, in which operant conditioning uses positive or negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement consists of escape or avoidance conditioning.

You saw termites eating away your wooden furniture in your backyard. You called pest control to remove the termites. This is escape conditioning, in which you call pest control (behavior) to remove the termites (remove an unpleasant stimulus).

You carefully observe and follow the traffic signals to avoid penalties when driving. In avoidance conditioning, you obey traffic rules (behavior) to prevent penalties (prevent an unpleasant experience).

Punishment

Punishment weakens or eliminates a behavior that involves positive or negative punishment. There are controversies surrounding severe punishment, as some instances can trigger anger and aggression. Simultaneously, some say that punishment can eliminate both desirable and undesirable behaviors. For example, a kid punished for using a wrong ingredient while helping his mom in the kitchen may stop helping out altogether.

Shaping

This operant conditioning principle teaches behaviors that animals or humans have never done before. The reinforcement consists of breaking down the desired operant behavior into easy and doable actions, then rewarding each completion until the learner accomplishes the desired behavior. An example of this is teaching animals to perform tricks in circuses or theme parks.

Extinction

Extinction is the termination of learned behavior when reinforcement is withheld or discontinued. This operant principle applies to both animals and humans. If you stop giving it food, a stray cat who keeps meowing at your doorstep will no longer show up. In the same way, discontinuing a reinforcer such as giving attention can stop a quarrelsome neighbor from pestering you.

Discrimination

In operant conditioning, discrimination is knowing what situations can lead to reinforcement of learned behavior. A discriminatory stimulus indicates whether reinforcement of behavior will occur or not. For example, a student actively raises his hand (learned behavior) during classes with his favorite English teacher. His Math teacher (discriminatory stimulus) is different from his favorite teacher. During math classes, he doesn't raise his hand.

Generalization

In generalization, a behavior learned in one situation may be performed in a similar situation. For example, a child sees a dog for the first time. His parents encouraged him to pet the dog, and its tail wagged. He thinks all dogs are cute. The next time he sees another dog, he will likely pet (learned behavior) one again.

All these principles help create a set of techniques for the most common application of operant conditioning, behavior modification. Behavior modification uses techniques or therapies based on operant conditioning that target many behavioral problems in settings such as the home, school, and mental institutions.

Application of Operant Conditioning in psychology

In psychology, operant conditioning applications apply reinforcement, punishment, shaping, and extinction to treat behavioral problems or mental disorders. With severe mental disabilities, operant conditioning includes shaping and reinforcement in teaching self-care and career skills.

Punishment and extinction eliminate aggression and antisocial behavior in mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Psychologists treat other behavioral problems with operant conditioning, including substance abuse, eating disorders, OCD, and marital issues.

Token economy

The token economy is an operant conditioning technique that primarily uses positive reinforcement in the form of tokens. Two types of positive reinforcement are used in conditioning behavior: primary reinforcement and secondary reinforcement.

Primary reinforcement happens when the reward directly increases the behavior. Secondary reinforcement strengthens a behavior by directing the learner to the primary reinforcement. This operant conditioning example shows in one study of psychiatric patients where the targeted behavior is for them to be able to groom themselves, such as washing their face and brushing their teeth (Ayllon and Azrin, 1968).

They gave tokens (secondary reinforcement) for each time the patient completed a grooming behavior. The patients exchanged the tokens for food or other items (primary reinforcement) at the hospital drugstore. The conditioning showed a positive response, and operant behavior changed when reinforced with tokens.

Application of Operant Conditioning in Learning

Operant Conditioning Applications, Kids holding colorful stickers, pexels.com, StudySmarterKids holding colorful stickers, pexels.com

Operant conditioning applications in the classroom focus on student behavior and overall classroom management. Sticker charts are one example of modifying students' behavior wherein for every behavior performed; they receive a sticker. The collected stickers have an equivalent prize, which serves as positive reinforcement.

Through conditioning, good behaviors are encouraged and reduced misbehavior. The key to effective operant conditioning in the classroom is that the reinforcement must be relevant and consistently done. Teachers can establish an orderly atmosphere by reinforcing classroom management procedures such as raising hands, waiting for the right turn to speak, and following hand signals or sounds.

Application of Operant Conditioning in Autism

Skinner also introduced in his operant conditioning behavioral shaping. An example of operant conditioning by shaping is children learning to speak with mental disabilities such as autism. In this scenario, operant conditioning involves rewarding a child for any sound they make. After this, conditioning goes further by requiring more sounds resembling the target words. This operant conditioning technique is most effective when efforts are rewarded, as this encourages the child to give more effort in accomplishing the desired actual speech.

Operant Conditioning Applications - Key takeaways

  • Operant conditioning is a learning approach that uses rewards or punishments to modify behavior.
  • Positive reinforcement involves giving tangible rewards or presenting good outcomes after a behavior (e.g., stickers, praises, or salary increase)
  • Negative reinforcement happens when a person's behavior is rewarded by removing what he considers unpleasant in his situation (e.g., reducing workload or working hours)
  • Positive punishment includes applying adverse events, focusing more on the application to the behavior it follows (e.g., spanking, time out, or ticket for violation)
  • Negative punishment refers to removing what is considered favorable following the behavior (e.g., revoking a license or lessening recess time)

References

  1. Ayllon, T., & Azrin, N. (1968). The token economy: A motivational system for therapy and rehabilitation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Operant Conditioning Applications

Operant conditioning applications in the classroom focus on student behavior and overall classroom management. Sticker charts are one example of modifying students' behavior wherein for every behavior performed; they receive a sticker. The collected stickers have an equivalent prize, which serves as positive reinforcement.


Through conditioning, good behaviors are encouraged and reduced misbehavior. The key to effective operant conditioning in the classroom is that the reinforcement must be relevant and consistently done. Teachers can establish an orderly atmosphere by reinforcing classroom management procedures such as raising hands, waiting for the right turn to speak, and following hand signals or sounds.

All these principles help create a set of techniques for the most common application of operant conditioning, behavior modificationBehavior modification uses techniques or therapies based on operant conditioning that target many behavioral problems in settings such as the home, school, and mental institutions. 

Token economy, positive reinforcement in the classroom, behavior shaping in autism

In psychology, operant conditioning applications apply reinforcement, punishment, shaping, and extinction to treat behavioral problems or mental disorders. With severe mental disabilities, operant conditioning includes shaping and reinforcement in teaching self-care and career skills.


Punishment and extinction eliminate aggression and antisocial behavior in mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Psychologists treat other behavioral problems with operant conditioning, including substance abuse, eating disorders, OCD, and marital issues.

Final Operant Conditioning Applications Quiz

Question

___________ is a learning approach that uses rewards to encourage positive behavior or punishment to change negative behaviors.

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Answer

Operant conditioning

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Question

The teacher acknowledges everyone who raises their hand and praises their effort to answer to increase class participation. This is an example of ______.

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Positive reinforcement

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Mike got an A+ on his test. His mother lessened the number of chores he had to do. This is an example of ______.


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Negative reinforcement

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Anna was rushing to work and went beyond the speed limit. She got a ticket for speeding. This is an example of _______.


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Positive punishment

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Jason bullies his classmates. Because of this, his parents took away his phone and video games for a month. This is an example of _________.


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Negative punishment

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You learned that drinking milk helps cool your mouth after eating something spicy. What type of conditioning is this?


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Escape conditioning

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You make sure you are at the airport hours before your flight so that you will not miss the plane. What type of conditioning is this?


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Avoidance conditioning

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Question

Who developed operant conditioning?


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B.F. Skinner

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Question

This conditioning technique teaches behaviors that animals or humans have never done before.


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Answer

Shaping

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Question

Your classmate keeps making jokes about you. You ignored him for a time until he finally stopped. What principle in operant conditioning is this?


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Answer

Extinction

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Question

The animal trainer at a dolphin park teaches the dolphins to play with the ball and jump through a ring. What technique is she going to use?


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Shaping

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The principle of ________ is knowing what particular situations can lead to reinforcement of learned behavior.


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Discrimination

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All of the following are secondary reinforcement except:


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Ice cream

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Question

What operant conditioning techniques do psychologists use to eliminate aggression in mental illnesses such as schizophrenia?


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Answer

Punishment and extinction

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Question

Operant conditioning applications in the classroom focus on the following except:


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