Operant Conditioning

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Summary

Operant conditioning is a type of associative learning. According to operant conditioning, the outcomes (rewards/punishments) of past behavior shape future behavior. When a behavior is followed by a reward, that behavior is more likely to occur in the future. When a behavior is followed by a punishment, that behavior is less likely to occur in the future. 

Key Points

  • Operant Conditioning
    • A type of associative learning; part of behaviorism
    • Learn through past outcomes following a behavior
      • These outcomes must be temporally associated with a past behavior to impact future behavior.
        • E.g. Immediately giving a dog a treat when it sits will impact future sitting behavior; giving a dog a treat one week after it sits will not.
    • Two types of outcomes
      • Rewards
        • increase likelihood that a behavior will occur in the future
          • E.g. giving a dog a treat for sitting.
          • Token Economy: rewards can be tokens, which can be later exchanged for a meaningful object or privilege
      • Punishments 
        • decrease likelihood that a behavior will occur in the future
          • E.g. Scolding a dog for biting.


Example

For example, when a dog is given a treat for sitting on command, that dog is more likely to sit on command again. The reward increases the likelihood that the behavior ‘sitting on command’ occurs in the future. Conversely, when a dog is scolded for chewing the rug, it is less likely to do so again. The punishment decreases the likelihood that the behavior ‘chewing the rug’ occurs again in the future.