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Operant Conditioning

B. F. Skinner believed that people’s personalities arise from response tendencies and that consequences shape the responses:skinner box

  • Operant conditioning: the learning of voluntary behavior through
    the effects of pleasant and unpleasant consequences to responses
  • Personality IS a group of responses to the environment
  • Radical determinism – All behavior is caused
  • Operant Conditioning – Behavior is changed by its consequences



Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement: any event or stimulus that, when following a response, increases the probability that the response will occur again

–Primary reinforcer: any reinforcer that is naturally reinforcing by meeting a basic biological need, such as hunger, thirst, or touch

–Secondary reinforcer: any reinforcer that becomes reinforcing after being paired with a primary reinforcer, such as praise, tokens, or gold stars

  • Positive reinforcement: the reinforcement of a response by the addition or experience of a pleasurable stimulus
  • Negative reinforcement: the reinforcement of a response by the removal, escape from, or avoidance of an unpleasant stimulus

–Example: taking aspirin for a headache is negatively reinforced by the removal of the headache!

  • Punishment: any event or object that, when following a response, makes that response less likely to happen again
  • Punishment by application: the punishment of a response by the addition or experience of an unpleasant stimulus
  • Punishment by removal: the punishment of a response by the removal of a pleasurable stimulus

Operant Conditioning: Learning through positive and negative reinforcement: A form of learning that takes place when an instance of spontaneous behavior is either reinforced by a reward or discouraged by punishment, Behavior Followed by a Consequence, Also called behavior modification:
•Use of operant conditioning principles to change human behavior
•All human behavior understood as being influenced by rewards and punishments

What is the role of reward and punishment in learning?
•Learning in which a voluntary response is strengthened or weakened, depending on its favorable or unfavorable consequences

–Process by which a stimulus increases the probability that a preceding behavior will be repeated
•Positive Reinforcers:
–Stimulus added to the environment that brings about an increase in a preceding response
•Negative Reinforcers:
–Unpleasant stimulus whose removal leads to an increase in the probability that a preceding response will be repeated

Positive Reinforcement:
Pros: The pattern is being set to learn what types of behaviors and actions are acceptable
Cons: Becoming dependent on rewards, lose motivation if rewards are taken away
Negative Reinforcement:
Pros: To identify and establish the behavior to be modified which will eventually lead to the desired behavior
Cons: Decrease self-esteem and confidence



Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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