Approaches to Individual Learning & Behaviour

Operant conditioning

The second type of conditioning is called operant conditioning.

Here, we learn that a particular behavior is usually followed by a reward or punishment. What Pavlov did for classical conditioning, the Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner did for operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning argues that one’s behavior will depend on different situations. People will repeatedly behave in a specific way from where they will get benefits.

On the other hand, they will try to avoid a behavior from where they will get nothing. Skinner argued that creating pleasing consequences to specific forms of behavior would increase the frequency of that behavior.

In one famous experiment displaying operant learning, the psychologist B.F. Skinner trained rats to press a lever to get food. In this experiment, a hungry rat placed in a box containing a lever attached to some concealed food.

At first, the rat ran around the box randomly.

In this process, it happened to press the lever, and the food dropped into the box. The dropping of food-reinforced the response of pressing the lever.

After repeating the process of pressing the lever followed by dropping off food many times, the rat learned to press the lever for food.

People will most likely engage in desired behaviors if they are positively reinforced for doing so. Rewards are most effective if they immediately follow the desired response. Also, behavior that is not rewarded, or is punished, is less likely to be repeated.

For example, suppose you are an employee of ‘X’ Bank limited. Your Branch Manager has announced in a meeting that you will get a bonus if you can bring a $100,000,000 deposit for the bank.

You worked hard and found that you have done this successfully.

But when the time comes, you find that you are given no bonus for your hard work which increases the bank’s deposit by $100,000,000.

In the next year, if your manager again says you about the hard work.

Maybe you will be stopped because last year you did not receive anything for it. Many activities that we will engage in during everyday life can be classified as an operant.


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