The following paper will examine the concept of learning as well as how this concept of learning is related to cognition. Through this examination there will be a description of the theory of operant conditioning, a comparison and contrasting view of positive and negative reinforcement, and a determination of which type of reinforcement is most effective. Following this determination there will be a given scenario where the application of operant conditioning shapes behavior. Within this scenario will be a reinforcement schedule to achieve a selected behavior. Theory of Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning, coined and defined by B. F. Skinner in 1937 as “behavior controlled by its consequences” is in practice, not that different from instrumental learning and what most people would call habit (Staddon & Cerutti, 2003 p. 116). According to Dragoi and Staddon (1999), “theories of operant learning have traditionally emphasized static principles” (p. 20). These principles are laws for a stable equilibria that are widely independent of the organism’s previous history. In the case of operant conditioning, the matching law is the best example; “the proportion of responses to one choice alternative matches the proportion of reinforcements delivered by it” (Dragoi & Staddon, 1999 p. 20). This essentially says that for every choice a subject makes, whether it be right or wrong, the reinforcement should be of equal value no matter if it is negative or positive reinforcement. Positive or Negative Reinforcement
The following paragraphs will compare and contrast positive and negative reinforcements. To be clear “a reinforcer is anything that increases the probability of a response’s recurring” (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009 p. 75). In reference to Olson and Hergenhahn (2009), Skinner never mentioned what was a better reinforcer, positive or negative, he only mentioned that something can be ascertained as reinforcing by its effect on behavior. It should also be noted that a negative reinforcement should not be confused with punishment, which does not provide a long-term effect in behavior. Both positive and negative reinforcers can be divided into two groups, primary and secondary. Primary positive reinforcement is something that is natural and related to the survival of the subject such as food, water, warmth. A secondary positive reinforcement is any neutral stimuli that is related to the primary and takes on the primary’s characteristics (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Essentially, a positive reinforcer is added to a situation by a subject’s response and will increase the likely-hood of that response happening again. A primary negative reinforcement is something that is naturally harmful to the subject such as loud sounds or electrical shock. A secondary negative reinforcement is any neutral stimuli that is related to the primary and takes on the characteristics of the primary negative reinforcement (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Basically, this means that the removal of negative stimuli by the correct response will increase the probability of that same response’s reoccurrence. According to Kahnt et al (2009), “it is challenging to disentangle the degree to which positive and negative reinforcements contribute to learning” (p. 1333). The determination of which reinforcement works better would depend solely on the individually and what works best form them. Perhaps for the sake of this paper, both types of reinforcements could be used simultaneously to achieve a desired behavior even faster than with just one or the other. This leads to the scenario in which behavior is shaped through the process of operant conditioning, as well as the schedule of reinforcement that will be put in place. Operant Conditioning Scenario
The following scenario involves a wife Marcia and her husband Stan. Stan is a stay at home dad in charge of cooking and cleaning. Marcia works all day and comes home to no food and messy house, so naturally she nags her husband about the mess and no dinner. Marcia decides to nag her husband every day during and after work until he learns to clean up around the house. She texts him all day and gets on his case in the evening. She uses a fixed interval reinforcement schedule only because she is not around during the day to stop the nagging and can only do so once she arrives home and sees the work is done. It takes a couple of days for Stan to realize that he just needs to pick up a little and do the dishes for his wife to stop and eventually he is doing the work every day without the nagging from his wife and they are both happier for it. Conclusion
As read above, operant conditioning is a way to train an organism without punishment. Operant conditioning focuses on behavior and the way to achieving a desired behavior. There was also a look into positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is like a reward for desired behavior. Negative reinforcement should not be confused with a punishment. In fact, as mentioned earlier, negative reinforcement is a stimuli that is uncomfortable or slightly harmful to an organism. It is introduced to the subject before the desired behavior and then removed when the desired behavior has been reached.
Dragoi, V., & Staddon, J. R. (1999). The dynamics of operant conditioning. Psychological Review, 106(1), 20-61.
Kahnt, T., Park, S., Cohen, M., Beck, A., Heinz, A., & Wrase, J. (2009). Dorsal striatal-midbrain connectivity in humans predicts how reinforcements are used to guide decisions. Journal Of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(7), 1332-1345. Olson, M. H. & Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to theories of learning (8th ed.).
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Staddon, J. E. R., & Cerutti, D. T. (2003). Operant conditioning. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 115-44.