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Theories of Learning

  • Date Submitted: 11/19/2012 06:34 PM
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A behaviorist theory based on the fundamental idea that behaviors that are reinforced will tend to continue, while behaviors that are punished will eventually end.

Originators and Key Contributors: B. F. Skinner, built upon Ivan Pavlov’s theories of classical conditioning.

Keywords: response-stimulus, voluntary response, reinforcer

Operant Conditioning (B. F. Skinner)

Operant conditioning can be described as a process that attempts to modify behavior through the use of positive and negative reinforcement.   Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence.

•Example 1: Parents rewarding a child’s excellent grades with candy or some other prize.
•Example 2: A schoolteacher awards points to those students who are the most calm and well-behaved.   Students eventually realize that when they voluntarily become quieter and better behaved, that they earn more points.
•Example 3: A form of reinforcement (such as food) is given to an animal every time the animal (for example, a hungry lion) presses a lever.
The term “operant conditioning” originated by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner, who believed that one should focus on the external, observable causes of behavior (rather than try to unpack the internal thoughts and motivations)

Reinforcement comes in two forms: positive and negative.

Positive and negative reinforcers

•Positive reinforcers are favorable events or outcomes that are given to the individual after the desired behavior.   This may come in the form of praise, rewards, etc.
•Negative reinforcers typically are characterized by the removal of an undesired or unpleasant outcome after the desired behavior.   A response is strengthened as something considered negative is removed.
The goal in both of these cases of reinforcement is for the behavior to increase.

Positive and negative punishment

Punishment, in contrast, is when the increase of something undesirable attempts to...


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