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Operant Conditioning Operant Conditioning
Operant Conditioning - Skinner


The Basics: Operant Conditioning

  1. The best way to understand an organism is by its behavior: Focus on behavior and not feelings or mental processes, because behavior is observable. Behavior can be quantified, which helps with data collection. Other than medications, there aren’t many ways to change someone’s thoughts or moods. However to change someone’s behavior, you can use reinforcement, punishment, shaping, environment modifications, prompting, and so much more.
  2. Behavior that is reinforced is strengthened, and behavior that isn’t reinforced tends to die out: Why do you answer your phone when it rings? Why do you check your mailbox? Why do you grab an umbrella when you see its cloudy outside? Why do you lower your voice when entering a library? It is the response you receive to a behavior that determines if you will continue to engage in the behavior or not. With consistent punishment, you could be taught to stop answering your phone. With consistent reinforcement, you could be taught to shout inside a library. It’s simply a matter of the consequence your behavior receives.
  3. The environment is the key to understanding behavior:  The environment influences the way we behave, and the environment includes the setting, people, temperature, objects/stimuli, and time of day. If you significantly modify the environment, you will see a significant change in behavior.
  4. All behavior is learned:  Behaviors do not “just happen”. Behaviors serve a purpose, and behavior that isn’t reinforced is quickly extinguished. If you sit on a bench in a shopping mall and find a $100 bill stuck to the bench, you are more likely to walk past, examine, or sit down at that bench again in the future, in the hopes that you will find more money. If you sit down on a bench in a shopping mall and a light fixture falls from the ceiling and hits you on the head, how likely are you to sit on that bench again? ALL behavior is learned, which means the behavior is strengthened or weakened depending on the consequence it received.
  5. Desired reinforcement and internal motivation vary and change over time: If your boss dumps a bunch of extra work on you and then says a very heartfelt “Thanks so much!” afterward, that would probably be very reinforcing the first time. If your boss continued dumping extra work on you that you didn’t get paid to do, after a while that “Thanks so much!” will stop being reinforcing to you. That’s because you became satiated, or full, on that type and level of reinforcement. The work output expected of you kept increasing while the reinforcement given to you stayed the same.
  6. Behaviors that are low effort and contact consistent reinforcement will be more persistent than behaviors that are high effort and contact inconsistent reinforcement.

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