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Chapter 6
Pages 224-229
Operant Conditioning: Reinforcements from the environment
∙Operant conditioning: a type of learning in which the consequences of an organism’s
behavior determines whether it will be repeated in the future.
The Study of operant conditioning is the exploration of behaviors that are active.
1. The Early days: The Law of Effect
∙ Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) - the first to examine active behaviors in the 1890’s
-Focused on instrumental behaviors (behaviors that required an organism to do
something) like solve a problem of manipulate several experiments using a puzzle box.
*example- an experiment Thorndike did was put a cat in the puzzle box. The cat in
return tried different behaviors to get out. Finally the cat opened the box by pressing
the lever. Thorndike then put the cat back into the box and the cat got out quicker.
-The behavior that got the cat out of the box was instrumental concluding that the less
effective behaviors occurred less.
-These observations lead Thorndike to develop the Law of Effect: behaviors that are followed
by a “satisfying state of affairs” tend to be repeated and those that produced an “unpleasant
state of affairs” were less likely to be repeated.
2. Reinforcement, punishment and the development of operant conditioning
∙ B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) developed the term operant behavior meaning to refer to
behavior that an organism produces that has some impact on the environment.
-behaviors operated on the environment in some way. The environment responded
by providing events that either strengthens the behavior or make the behavior occur less.
-Skinner focused on punishment and reinforcement
*Reinforcer- any stimulus or event that functions is to increase the likelihood of the
behavior that led to it.
-Reinforcement can be positive or negative & both increase the desired
*Punisher- any stimulus or event that functions to decrease the likelihood of the
behavior that led to it.
-To determine whether a stimulus acts as a reinforcer or a punisher depends on whether it
increase or decrease the likelihood of the behavior.
Different Reinforcement
*Positive- where something desirable is presented
*Negative-where something desirable is removed
-example: Room is messy; you finally clean up because your mom was nagging. This
is a negative reinforcement because you are taking away the undesired nagging.
Different Punishment
*Positive- where something unpleasant is administered.
*Negative-where something desirable is removed.
3. Primary and Secondary Reinforcement and Punishment
-Food, shelter, comfort, and warmth are examples of primary reinforcers, because
they help satisfy biological needs.
∙The vast majority of reinforcers (or punishers) have little to do with biology.
-Secondary reinforcers derive their effectiveness from their association with the
primary reinforcers.
*example: money starts our as a neutral CS that through association with
primary US like buying food and a shelter makes money a secondary reinforcer.
-As long as the CS-US connection is maintained the secondary reinforcers (or
punishers) can be used to modify behavior.
4. The neutrality of reinforcers
∙David Premack (1962) came up with the Premack Principle-discerning which two activities
someone would rather engage in means that the preferred activity can be used to reinforce a
non-preferred one.
*example: children prefer to watch TV instead of doing homework. So parents start
with the no TV until you are done with your homework.
Some limiting conditions of reinforcement
-Behaviorist in the 1930’s-1960’s said that providing rewards for performing a behavior
should make the behavior more likely to occur in the future.
∙Overjustification effect- when external rewards can undermine the intrinsic satisfaction of
performing the behavior
*example: children were told to color just for fun. Experimenters gave a group of
children a “Good player award” for their effort in their artwork. These children continued to
color and spend more time on it, but when the experimenters stopped handing out the
rewards the amount of time and effort dropped below the group of children that didn’t get
any award at all.