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Psy/390 Operant Conditioning Paper

Prepare a 700- to 1,050-word paper in which you examine the concept of learning and how it is related to cognition. In your examination, address the following questions:

o Describe the theory of operant conditioning.
o Compare and contrast positive and negative reinforcement.
o Determine which form of reinforcement is the most effective. Explain your reasoning.
o Select a scenario in which you would apply operant conditioning to shape behavior.
o Create a reinforcement schedule for your selected behavior.

Operant Conditioning

B. F. Skinner was one of the most influential of American psychologists of all time (B.F. Skinner Foundation, 2011).  He came up with the theory of Operant Conditioning, which is a way to change one’s behavior through the use of positive and negative reinforcements. This behavioral change can help with people to overcome an addiction such as smoking cigarettes or cigars.

Describe the Theory of Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a type of learning introduced by B.F. Skinner; it describes the effects that a consequence has on certain behaviors and how the behavior will act in the future. In order for a person to alter behavior, one has to discover something that is reinforcing for the individual whose behavior one desires to modify, wait until the desired behavior occurs, and then straight away reinforce the individual (Olsen 2009).  There are four types of reinforcement in the theory of operant conditioning; positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and extinction.  The positive and negative reinforcement tactics work on strengthening one’s behavior and the punishment and extinction tactics work on weakening the behavior.

Compare and contrast positive and negative reinforcement.

Operant conditioning can use either positive or negative reinforcement as a means of behavior adjustment A positive reinforcer, either primary or secondary, is something that, when added to the situation by a certain response, increases the probability of that response’s recurrence (Olsen, 1999). A good example of this is a rat in his cage. When a rat presses a bar inside the cage a pellet of food will immediately drop down, however many times the rat presses the lever is the number of times the pellet of food drops down. The rat will soon learn pressing the lever will give him food and will press the bar as often as it is needed. The behavior the rat is expressing is strengthened by the positive reinforcement of food. Negative Reinforcement works by strengthening a behavior by expressing negative conditions (McLaughlin, 2010). An example of this uses the same rat in a cage, this time the cage is lined with mini shock sensors. Once the rat is placed in a cage he is immediately shocked on its feet, the shocking will continue until a lever is pushed. The rat will learn pushing the lever will stop the shocks, this shows how the rat’s behavior in learning to push the lever has become strengthened

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