November 20, 2017

Learn about Operant Conditioning today!

Benjamin DadaJan 5, 20177min

Operant Conditioning is a type of learning where behaviour is controlled by consequences. Ever heard of Skinners’ box experiment? Ok, no problem, you might never need to, though. But, since you are here, you might want to take a look at this (It could explain why we have the picture of a rat as our featured image).

Now, there are 2 major ways of discouraging or encouraging (a) behaviour.

N.B Behaviours are responses to particular events which we call stimulus.

They are Reinforcement and Punishment. Where the former is for encouraging a behaviour (meaning the actor would repeat the behaviour) and the latter is to discourage a behaviour (meaning it would reduce the occurrence of such).

For instance, there is this kind of slap that our mothers used (well for some people it is a going-concern, LOL) to give us when we do something they term silly…from the little I have tried to explain above;

What is that Slap called? Reinforcement or Punishment?

I honestly hope you chose “punishment”, else, you need to start reading this post all over again. The logic behind those slaps is that it would discourage us from repeating such behaviours, well, except for GOATs (and I am not even talking about the “Greatest Of All Time”, just felt like writing it in capital letter).

N.B — Reinforcement and Punishment are forms of Extrinsic Motivation

Now, the interesting thing about Reinforcement and Punishment is that they could both be Positive and Negative.

A. Reinforcement — encourages behaviour

  1. Negative reinforcement has to deal with encouraging a behaviour by taking away something unpleasant. Examples could include:
  • It is very noisy outside so you turn on the television to mask the noise. Turning on the radio decreased the unpleasant noise
  • You are trying to study in your room and it’s noisy so you plug an earpiece to listen to some background music

2. Positive reinforcement has to deal with encouraging a behaviour by presenting something pleasant.

  • Having a job and going to work every day to receive a paycheck
  • When a student gets an Excellent Grade in Mathematics and the parent buys them a gift.

There are arguments as to whether Extrinsic Motivation is having an adverse effect on major sectors like Education. For instance, the child striving to get an “A” in Mathematics because of the promise of an X-box One instead of genuinely having a love (intrinsic) for calculation . Now, thESE things are tricky cause they are inter-woven. One thing the community has tried to do with Extrinsic Motivation is to leverage it in creating Intrinsic Motivation. Hence, what many schools do at prize-giving days by giving textbooks to high-performing students. The question is HOW MOTIVATING IS THAT?

B. Punishment — discourages behaviour

  1. Positive punishment is used to decrease a behaviour and is presenting something unpleasant after the behaviour. Examples are:
  • An employee exhibits bad behaviour at work and the boss criticises him. The behaviour will decrease because of the boss’s criticism
  • When a student gets a Fail Grade in Mathematics and the parent makes them attend summer lessons.

2. Negative punishment is also used to decrease a behaviour and is removing something pleasant after the behaviour. Examples are:

  • An employee is habitually late for work so begins losing the privilege of listening to music while working. The behaviour will decrease because of losing a privilege
  • When a student gets a Fail Grade in Mathematics and the parent grounds them (no games, parties, TVs etc)

Many of my examples are taken from here.

Did you find this post useful? Would you mind letting me know in the comment section or on Twitter? Also, if there are some facts you think I might have gotten wrong, we can have a conversation around that too.



Benjamin Dada

MSc Candidate at Lancaster University Management School. Xoogler.
DISCLAIMER: All opinions posted by me here are solely mine and not that of my previous or present employers.

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