Operant conditioning is a strategy that is used to change one’s undesirable behavior and encourage desirable ones; this is through punishments or rewards. According to Skinner, a behaviorist, internal thoughts, as well as motivations, explain one’s behavior; therefore, the environment under which an individual operates can be changed in order to generate specific consequences (Hartley, 2001).
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For instance, a boy is promised a reward after completing his homework; in this case, the promise to get a reward increases the behavior of completing the homework.
The operant conditioning reduces an undesirable behavior; in the case of punishment, one is discouraged from undesirable behaviors. For instance, a student may be denied some privileges when they make noise during class time; this is meant to decrease an undesirable behavior, which is making noise during class time.
Operant conditioning uses some key concepts, which include punishment; this concept presents an adverse effect to an individual in order to discourage an undesirable behavior. The concept of punishment is categorized into positive punishment and negative punishment; positive punishment presents an event that is unfavorable to reduce an undesirable behavior, while negative punishment removes an unfavorable event when an undesirable behavior is decreased (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
The concept of reinforcement creates an environment that encourages desirable behavior. This concept classified in positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement; positive reinforcement uses events presented after the behavior and the event should be favorable.
In this case, a desirable behavior is encouraged through praising or rewarding an individual directly (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Negative reinforcement is used by removing an event that is unfavorable when an individual displays a desirable behavior; in this case, a desirable behavior is encouraged by removing an unpleasant event.
The use of positive reinforcement is more effective that the use of negative reinforcement. Natural people enjoy being praised and enjoy rewards; therefore, they will be easily encouraged to do good when they are rewarded or praised afterwards (Wills, 2005). Positive reinforcement also improves one’s attitude towards desirable behavior, this means that an individual will associate desirable behavior with good things; he/she will do good things even if he/she is not promised rewards or praised (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
Additionally, positive reinforcement, especially praises, improves one’s self-confidence; he/she feels good when praised, and this makes him/her to believe in engaging in desirable behaviors. Therefore, such individuals will always be willing to do good things.
This means that the change of behavior will not only apply to a specific behavior being encouraged, but also to other desirable behaviors. Positive reinforcement also enhances better relations between the one correcting and the one being corrected; the one being corrected is perceived as a person who always means good and other subsequent corrections are always welcomed (Wills, 2005).
Here, is an example of an operant conditioning; a three year old boy plays the whole day without rest, and this makes him restless during his sleep at night, the boy likes chocolate ice cream. The boy’s mother wants to make the boy sleep for two hours after lunch, for him to sleep well at night.
I recommend the mother to use positive reinforcement, whereby, she promises the boy a chocolate ice cream after sleeping for 2 hours in the afternoon every day; she should continue with the same schedule for two weeks. This will make the boy excited, and he will force himself to sleep in the afternoon in order to enjoy a chocolate ice cream every day.
After two weeks, the boy will not only get used to sleeping for 2 hours after lunch, but also learn that his mother means good, he will be enjoying his sleep at night; therefore, he will develop good attitude towards his mother’s subsequent instructions.
Hartley, K. (2001). Learning Strategies and Hypermedia Instruction. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 10(3): 167-182.
Olson, M., & Hergenhahn, B. (2009). An introduction to theories of learning. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
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Wills, A. (2005). New Directions in Human Associative Learning. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.