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Instrumental Conditioning Essay

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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2019


Instrumental conditioning is learning through consequences. Those behaviors that produce positive results are reinforced, while those behaviors that produce negative results are weakened (Gonzalez & Sawicka, 2003). An analysis of bicycle riding reveals that the learning process is psychologically affected by both reward and punishment.

Learning and Teaching how to ride a Bicycle

Learning to ride a bicycle can start when a child or an adult develops a desire to ride a bicycle. It may be related with what the age mates are doing. A feeling of freedom and fun is a motivation in a learning process. One should start learning from the simplest way and advance to the complicated levels. The learning process involves five major steps (Mozer, 2011).

Firstly, one should learn on how to balance a bicycle on a flat field. Protective clothing such as helmet, long pants and gloves are important in this exercise. The learner should then go to up on a sloppy place and lift up his feet off the ground as he goes down the hill on the bicycle.

This helps to exercise on balancing the bicycle (Mozer, 2011). The second step should be pedaling. The learner should put his feet on the pedals and try to pedal. It is recommended to start with one pedal and then proceed on to both pedals. The learner should repeat this action until he feels comfortable. The learner then can pedal up the hill after being able to pedal down the hill. During this process, one can increase the number of pedaling runs (Mozer, 2011).

Riding a bicycle in a straight line should be the initial way of learning to ride a bicycle. It has been recommended that a learner should start by pedaling with one foot and later on the other foot can catch up. Developing good habits from the beginning gives the learner a smooth start (Mozer, 2011).

Looking straight ahead helps in riding a bicycle in a straight line. Flexibility and staying relaxed is a key to learning how to ride a bicycle. Turning one’s head may cause the bicycle to swerve. Care should be taken when stopping a bicycle by applying both the rear and front brakes simultaneously (Mozer, 2011).

At this point, the learner can start making turns. It is recommended that there should be some slowing down before negotiating a corner. Learning how to make a turn involves the combination of steering abilities as well as putting into use what one has already learnt. In the whole of this process, crashes are expected. The instructor should be keen to comfort, coerce, cheerlead and bandage and also be patient with the person he/she is training (Mozer, 2011).

Positive and Negative Reinforcement in Riding a Bicycle

Learning and behavior are linked together and thus behavior is susceptible to be changed by a learning process (Psychology, 2011). When one is learning to keep the balance, pedaling and steering, he/she may fall several times. The learner should understand that all the learning stages may not be accomplished successfully as some stages may have to be repeated once or twice. From the consequence of what the learner gets, he responds accordingly.

The behaviors that cause a fall will not be repeated e.g. if turning the head was the cause of falling, the likelihood of not repeating turning the head will be quite high consequently the behavior of turning the head will be weakened. If one succeeds in riding the bicycle and gets a smooth start, the learner easily gets to the next step. One’s history in riding a bicycle can function as either a positive or negative reinforcement. Reinforcement is caused by both emotional and physical states of the learner (Sidman, 2006).

Encouragement is very crucial in a learning process. When the rider improves and is encouraged, the behavior will be reinforced. If the learner feels challenged and on repeated trials fails, he will possibly feel discouraged and the learning process may be slowed down. If the learner for example falls, this would be a negative result (Mozer, 2011).

The process of trial and error is repeated until one gets used to balancing the bicycle. After knowing how to pedal one may get so exited and feel that he/she can speed up down the streets. Another problem comes in if he/she is not able to stop and brake effectively. This may bring falls, hurts or wounds. After many trials the person learns to stop the bicycle without inflicting personal injuries (Psychology, 2011).

Role of Reward and Punishment in Cycling

Skinner developed a theory in learning and noticed that he could train pigeons and other animals (Psychology, 2011). Their response was modified because of the use of a reward which was food. The pigeon realized that upon pecking some identified spot it some food dropped from somewhere.

This tempted the pigeon to repeat the process continuously as it led to more availability of food. The pairing of behavior and reward is also significant while learning to ride a bicycle. The behavior in this condition is voluntary. This is known as operant conditioning.

It has been noted that “operant conditioning includes pairing through reinforcement and punishment” (Psychology, 2011, p. 1). Being rewarded enhances one to learn the process being rewarded faster (Psychology, 2011). Social learning is also an important aspect while learning how to ride a bicycle. When a learner sees other people taking pleasure in riding a bicycle he/she is likely to be encouraged into acquiring the skill (Psychology, 2011).

Knowing how to balance and pedal will cause the learner to cycle more skillfully. He will progress to turning, steering and braking without making many mistakes. Confidence in riding a bicycle can be viewed as a positive reinforcement. Positive punishment enhances learning the correct behavior.

This means if the learner knows where he/she makes mistakes and falls e.g. at corners, he/she will be more careful when he/she reaches the corners and will not probably be speeding up at such points (Psychology, 2011). Negative punishment is eliminating a factor or variable that results to diminishing a given behavior (Psychology, 2011).

Reinforcement can be of fixed ratio, variable ratio, fixed interval or variable interval. In learning to ride a bicycle the reinforcement is of variable ratio. The number of times that one must ride the bicycle in order to become an expert is unknown (Psychology, 2011).


Learning how to ride a bicycle is a process. What one experiences in the first step determines how he/she will proceed to the next stage. Behaviors that contribute to good riding are enhanced while those that bring punishment such as falls are weakened. This reveals that the learning process is psychologically affected by both reward and punishment.


Gonzalez, J. G., & Sawicka, A. (2003, January 6-9). Modelling Instrumental Conditioning. Web.

Mozer, D. (2011). . Web.

Psychology. (2011). . Web.

Sidman, M. (2006). . Web.

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