operant conditioning

Everything You Need To Know About Operant Conditioning


Operant conditioning can be referred to as a learning technique also known as instrumental conditioning. This method works by associating a behavior to a consequence. For every action, the result can be either a punishment or a reward.

It is a method that has been applicable in so many ways. It could either be in lab training rats or a classroom with learners. The technique has succeeded in whatever setting it gets used, especially when it comes to using it to correct human behavior.

How this method came about

B.F Skinner first described this method of reinforcing the behavior. He discovered that it is easy to instill a desired behavior in a person if you follow their actions with a reinforcement. A real-life example is when someone thanks you for helping them, and you are more likely to assist in the future because your response was reinforced by the ‘thank you.’

Also, the opposite of such situations is exact in operant conditioning.; If you try helping someone and hurt you for your actions, you will be unwilling to improve next time. Therefore, the reinforcement strengthens the previous efforts to instill behavior.

This method has therefore supported psychologists, teachers, and other professionals in implementing certain behaviors. Also, it has contributed to the growth of the corporate world as managers often apply it when shaping their companies. They ensure employees adapt to a specific behavior that customers will identify them with as a company.

Benefits of the operant conditioning method

Since its introduction, the technique has been applied in several places. Here are benefits of applying it at the workplace:

Increased productivity

This method has been proven to have increased productivity at work. Employees get motivated by positive reinforcers like promotions, better salaries, and even verbal praises. After using this method, you will realize that employees are trying to meet their goals and therefore making it easy to achieve company objectives. Therefore, it applies to employees at your place of work.


Using reinforcements at work has encouraged employees to work as a team in the past. When employees work as a team, they inspire each other to avoid negative responses from their bosses. Likewise, they will respond negatively to any person letting the team down. It helps even people who do not like working with others to learn about teamwork and see its importance.

Corporate reward

A system of rewards and punishment has worked well in the past. It helps to instill a specific corporate behavior in individuals at an organization. Your corporation’s image depends on the culture that you adopt. Therefore, you can try punishing and rewarding employees as a way of instilling a behavior.

Using bonuses to improve sales

It is common to see salespeople trying their best to hit individual targets set by companies. The companies promise bonuses after salespeople have reached certain milestones. By having a bonus program, they ensure they sell more.


• Respondent behaviors – These are reflex action behaviors; you do not need to learn them because they occur involuntarily. For instance, your body will respond quickly if you step on something sharp. You do not have to think about your next action because it will o0ccur naturally.

• Operant behaviors – For this behavior, you have total control over every action you take. You have the time and ability to think about your next move. Therefore, it doesn’t occur naturally.


• Positive reinforcers – These types of reinforcers are necessary for commending a behavior. The positive reinforcement strengthens the practice and ensures that it can recur. For example, if you raise your hand before answering a question and the teacher commends you, their action is a positive reinforcer. It means you are likely to raise your hand in the future.

• Negative reinforcers – Negative reinforcement involves removing an unfavorable outcome to encourage a desired behavior or to stop an unwanted behavior. For instance, if you define punishment for students who don’t hand in homework and everyone does, that means you will remove the penalty. It means you will have encouraged students to hand in their homework in the future.


Punishment is a negative reinforcer that is supposed to discourage the behavior. It hinders the person involved from repeating the action that preceded the punishment. Here are two types of punishment associated with the method. It would be best if you noted that both are supposed to discourage negative behavior.

• Positive punishment

It occurs by physically applying punishment to someone to discourage their negative actions. It may include things like spanking a child for misbehavior. That aims at making sure they do not repeat the same behavior that preceded the punishment.

• Negative punishment

It is a method of punishment, taking away a privilege from someone to discourage their actions that preceded your response. For example, you may switch off the television during a child’s favorite program as a negative punishment.

Understanding Reinforcement Schedules

There are different schedules that you can adapt while changing someone’s behavior or teaching them something new. Here is what you need to know.

• Continuous reinforcement – It is whereby you reinforce a behaviour regularly after it occurs. That is a dangerous approach because the practice may stop after you also stop to reinforce it. Also, it can have a slow response because the subject gets used to the reinforcement.

• Fixed ratio reinforcement is when you define a specific number of times a behaviour has to occur 5 before you reinforce it. It has an average response rate to adopting the practice.

• Variable interval reinforcement – It is whereby the interval of time you take to reinforce a behavior varies. Therefore, the subject does not know the next time you will do it.

• Satiation – If you give an individual what they had an interest in, their morale to work hard will stop because they will feel they have achieved. Therefore, the response rate for this schedule will differ depending on the level of satisfaction the subject has reached.

• Consistence – It is advisable to keep good rewarding behavior and reprimand bad behavior to ensure that the action lasts in and individual.

• Immediacy – You need to reward or punish immediately for the consequence to be effective in changing the behavior of an individual.

• Size – You should reward according to the effort someone has put in achieving a milestone. Rewarding too little may make the efforts look useless.

• Variable ratio reinforcement – With this type, you reinforce after an infinite number of times. Therefore, the subject does not know when to expect your reinforcement. The response rate is high because of the unpredictability.

• Fixed interval reinforcement – With this type of support, you define several times the behavior has to occur before reinforcement. However, you insist that reinforcement only happens when a particular state has gotten achieved.


Phycologists have discussed the operant conditioning theory in several fields. It is one of the best ways that they manage to develop behaviors in individuals. Also, they find ways through which they can modify the practices to fit a specific condition.

The best thing about it is that it has succeeded in several fields. They have managed to do behavior modification even in pet training. However, the best results of the operant conditioning theory have come from schools and workplaces. It is easy to manage employees by changing their behavior.


What is Partial Reinforcement?

Partial reinforcement is different than continuous reinforcement because the response is only reinforced part of the time.

What is Intermittent Reinforcement?

Intermittent Reinforcement is when a positive reinforcer or a negative reinforcer is not given every time the aimed response is done.

What is the difference between Pavlovian Conditioning (Classical Conditioning) and Operant Conditioning?

Classical conditioning is when there is an association of a new stimulus to a previous one that triggers an automatic response. The classic example is when a dog sees and smells food it starts salivating (unconditioned stimulus). This is a response a dog didn’t learn to do, it’s a response that it was born with. Let’s say now that each time the food is served we ring a bell. The dog will associate the bell sound with the food, so it will start salivating each time it hears the bell even if there is no food (neutral stimulus).

It is called Pavlovian Conditioning because of the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov who conducted this experiment with a dog.

In operant conditioning the focus is behavior modification, meaning it can be to stop an unwanted behavior, like a dog chewing the plant of the house, or to start doing a desirable behavior, like teaching a little kid to tidy up their toys after using them.

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