Skinner's Operant Conditioning

Skinner's Operant Conditioning

A Chapter by Debbie Barry
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A discussion of behavior. Written for PSY 202: Adult Development and Life Assessment.

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Skinner's Operant Conditioning


September 29, 2009


 

B. F. Skinner's theory of operant conditioning, which is discussed in the Boyd and Bee text Adult Development, says that learning occurs in response to desirable and undesirable stimuli.  Skinner divided the stimuli in operant conditioning into two groups: reinforcements and punishments.  Reinforcements cause the learner to continue behaviors which produce pleasant or desirable experiences.  Punishments cause the learner to cease behaviors which produce unpleasant or desirable experiences (Boyd and Bee, 30-31).

As a parent of two children in elementary school, I deal with reinforcements and punishments every day.  When my sons behave as I wish them to behave, such as by cleaning their bedroom, eating sensible meals, and going to bed without a fuss, they are reinforced in these behaviors by being allowed to play on the internet, by being allowed to eat dessert, and by having me read to them, respectively.  When my sons behave in ways they are not supposed to behave, on the other hand, such as by fighting with others, by telling lies, and by not coming home when they are expected to come home, they are punished by being sent to bed early, by being spanked, and by being grounded from playing at their friends' houses, also respectively.  Through consistent use of these and other reinforcements and punishments, I have been able to begin conditioning my sons so that they are much more likely to exhibit the desired behaviors than they are likely to exhibit the undesired behaviors.

It is my personal experience that reinforcement is more effective in the long term than punishment, but that it is sometimes necessary to employ punishments to stop undesirable behaviors in order to keep people safe.  It is necessary to consider what behaviors have been reinforced and what behaviors have been punished during a person's life, especially during childhood and adolescence, when dealing with an adult who exhibits unexpected or undesirable behaviors.  Often, such an adult was rewarded for aggressive or otherwise negative behavior as a child, or that adult witnessed another person who was or appeared to be rewarded for such behavior.  It is very difficult to overcome childhood conditioning as an adult, but it is my experience that reinforcing an adult's acceptable or desirable behaviors is more effective than punishing the adult's undesirable behaviors in trying to override and replace the adult's conditioning with conditioning that will help the adult function in society.

It is also necessary to keep in mind that, although we tend to think of reinforcements and punishments as responses which come from people, every action or behavior also has natural reinforcements and punishments, some of which may be at odds with those that come from people.  Eating a piece of milk chocolate is reinforced by the sweet, pleasant flavor of the candy, while eating a raw chili pepper is punished by the harsh, burning flavor of the pepper.  In society, however, eating chocolate is often punished by negative comments about indulgence or about eating excess calories, while eating peppers is rewarded by positive comments about their nutritional value or about eating "grown up" foods.  Of course, not all natural reinforcements and punishments are in conflict with social reinforcements and punishments.  Touching a thorn is punished by the pain of a prick to stop a behavior which can cause harm, for example.




© 2017 Debbie Barry



Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism welcome.

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I, like yourself, rewarded my son for consistent good behavior and punishment (grounding/spanking/removal of toys/TV) proved effective.
I explained to my child that how happy or unhappy he is with me is based solely on his choices, and I only deliver the consequences/rewards of his decisions. There was (a little!) less "I hate you" attitudes, but he is now a 38 year old adult male who takes responsibility for his actions.

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

6 Days Ago

You did well, in my estimation, if he grew into a responsible adult. My sons are 16 and 17, but cir.. read more



Reviews

I, like yourself, rewarded my son for consistent good behavior and punishment (grounding/spanking/removal of toys/TV) proved effective.
I explained to my child that how happy or unhappy he is with me is based solely on his choices, and I only deliver the consequences/rewards of his decisions. There was (a little!) less "I hate you" attitudes, but he is now a 38 year old adult male who takes responsibility for his actions.

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

6 Days Ago

You did well, in my estimation, if he grew into a responsible adult. My sons are 16 and 17, but cir.. read more

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Added on November 10, 2017
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Tags: essay, behavior, psychology, skinner, operant conditioning, conditioned behavior

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Author

Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI



About
I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..

Writing