Operant Learning: Increasing Behavior
Examples of reinforcers: Praise, money, food, a pat on the back, a smile, an â€œAâ€ on a quiz, etc. There are an unlimited number of reinforcing events, and most can be classified as primary or secondary reinforcers, and as either natural or contrived reinforcers. It is important to keep in mind that consequences are defined at the level of the individualâ€”that is, something that might serve as a strong reinforcer for you (e.g., a paycheck for your work) may not be as strong of a reinforcer for your friend.
A motivating operation is anything that changes the effectiveness of a consequence, and there are two types of motivating operations: Establishing operations and abolishing operations. Establishing operations increase the effectiveness of a consequence. An example is withholding food when training your pet; this in turn makes the food a more effective reinforcer. Abolishing operations decrease the effectiveness of a consequence. For example, a pill that is designed to reduce the reinforcing power of nicotine may help people quit smoking cigarettes.
Once these consequent events have been defined, we can put them to practical use through an operant conditioning procedure known as reinforcement. Two types of reinforcement procedures are positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, and both are used to increase a response. You have likely heard of these procedures before. It is important to keep in mind when working with these concepts that the terms â€œpositiveâ€ and â€œnegativeâ€ do not refer to how pleasant or unpleasant a consequence is perceived. In operant learning the term positive refers only to the addition (+) of a consequence (the reinforcer), and the term negative pertains to the removal (â€“) of a consequence, to increase a behavior (negative reinforcement is sometimes referred to as avoidance learning).
Example of positive reinforcement: To teach your dog to sit, you first say the word â€œsitâ€ and when he does you give him a small piece of food. You are adding (+) a consequence (the food), and this will increase the likelihood that your dog will sit the next time you say â€œsit.â€
Example of negative reinforcement: You have a headache. You take two aspirin (behavior) to remove (â€“) the headache (consequence). This increases the likelihood that you will take two aspirin the next time you have a headache.
Why do reinforcers strengthen behavior? In Chapter 5 you will read about the theories of Hull, Premack, Timberlake and Allison, and other theorists who have attempted to answer this question.
Rules governing the delivery of reinforcers are called reinforcement schedules, including continuous reinforcement wherein the reinforcer is delivered after each occurrence of the behavior, and a fixed interval schedule wherein the reinforcer is delivered after a predetermined number of behavior occurrences (e.g., five times), or a predetermined amount of time (e.g., every 5 minutes). A variable ratio schedule occurs when a behavior is reinforced around an average number of occurrences, and a variable interval schedule occurs when a behavior is reinforced around an average amount of time. An extinction schedule is one in which a previously reinforced response is no longer reinforced. Research on schedules of reinforcement has shown to be useful in understanding various behaviors and phenomena, including child rearing, absenteeism in workplace settings, dieting, and gambling, just to name a few.
In this Discussion, you will apply one of the operant learning theories to the use of reinforcers and reinforcement to a scenario. You will also select and apply a schedule of reinforcement to the scenario.
To prepare for this Discussion:
- Read Chapter 5 of your course text (Chance, P. (2014). Learning and behavior (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.) to gain an understanding of increasing behavior through the use of reinforcers and reinforcement and review the theories of reinforcement.
- Read in Chapter 7, focusing on simple schedules (Continuous Reinforcement, Fixed Ratio, Variable Ratio, and Fixed Interval, and Variable Interval) and Extinction. Think about how different reinforcement schedules affect acquired behavior(s).
- Read the following scenario:
Max is overweight and does not engage in any regular exercise. His doctor has recommended that he increase physical activity, but he prefers video games and playing on his mobile device.
- Consider the various theoretical perspectives regarding how reinforcers, and a reinforcement schedule, could be utilized to help Max increase physical activity.
With these thoughts in mind:
- In the subject line of your post add the name of the theory that is the focus of your Discussion.
- In the body of your post, include a brief description of the theory of reinforcement, and how it could be applied to help Max increase physical activity.
- Propose a reinforcer. Discuss it in terms of being either a primary or secondary reinforcer, and if it is natural or contrived.
- Explain how motivating operations could potentially either increase or decrease the effectiveness of the proposed reinforcer applied to this scenario.
- Explain a reinforcement schedule that you think would be most effective for delivering the proposed reinforcer, and provide a rationale for its use in helping Max.
Operant Learning: Decreasing Behavior
Similarly, the word punishment carries a negative association and usually refers to a form of retribution or â€œpayback.â€ This is not always the case in operant learning theory. B. F. Skinner used the term punishment in his writings to describe the decrease in a behavioral response, and any consequence that decreases the probability of a response (weakens it) is defined as a punisher.
Examples of punishers: Reprimand, frown, sarcasm, scream, slap, etc.
It is important to keep in mind that punishers, like reinforcers, are defined at the level of the individual. That is, what may be a reinforcer to you might not be a reinforcer to your friendâ€”and in fact it could be just the oppositeâ€”a punisher!
Example: If a reprimand from your employer causes an increase in your work productivity then it can be defined as reinforcer. However, if instead, the reprimand from your employer upsets you then it may actually diminish, or decrease, your productivity at workâ€”if so, then the reprimand is a punisher.
The same variables that you read about in Chapter 5 that affect reinforcers also affect punishers and include establishing operations, contingency, and the intensity of the punisher.
There are two primary kinds of punishment procedures presented in Chapter 8: Positive punishment and negative punishment. B. F. Skinner did not use the terms â€œpositiveâ€ and â€œnegativeâ€ in his discussions of punishmentâ€”he used the terms â€œpunishment by applicationâ€ and â€œpunishment by removal,â€ however, it has become customary to present the concept of punishment as positive and negative in order to help try to differentiate between the two procedures. Similar to what you learned about the two reinforcement procedures, in punishment procedures the term positive refers only to the addition (+) of a consequence (the punisher), and the term negative is the removal (â€“) of a consequence, to decrease or weaken a behavior response rate.
Example of positive punishment: You shout â€œNO!â€ when you see a child reaching to touch a hot stove top. You are adding (+) a consequence (NO!), and this startles the child who quickly withdraws her hand from the hot stove top, and decreases the likelihood she will touch the hot stove in the future.
Example of negative punishment: Your teenage son was out past curfew. As a consequence, you take away (â€“) his car keys for three months to try to decrease his breaking curfew in the future.
Although the use of punishment is sometimes necessary in reducing problematic behavior, the use of punishment can also sometimes produce unwanted side-effects such as escape, aggression, apathy, abuse, and imitation of the punisher (e.g., imitating parents and teachers). Some alternatives to punishment include response prevention and extinction, and various forms of differential reinforcement. These procedures are effective and are less likely to have adverse effects than some forms of punishment.
In this Assignment, you will focus on techniques designed to reduce the frequency of a problem behavior. You will examine punishment techniques as well as differential reinforcement approaches to accompany punishment procedures.
To prepare for this Assignment:
- Read Chapter 8 of your course text to gain an understanding of decreasing behavior through the use of punishers and punishment, and the alternatives to punishment such as extinction and the use of various differential reinforcement techniques (DRA, DRI, DRL).
- Read the Little, Akin-Little, & Cook (2009) article. Little, S. G., Akin-Little, A., & Cook, C. (2009). Classroom application of reductive procedures: A positive approach. In A. Akin-Little, S. G. Little, M. Bray, & T. Kehle (Eds.), Behavioral interventions in schools: Evidence-based positive strategies (pp. 171â€“188). Washington, DC: APA Books. doi:10.1037/11886-011 (access from the library)https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/library
- Think about instances in your own childhood when your parents attempted to reduce a problematic behavior in which you were engaging, and what you think was effective and not effective.
The Assignment (1â€“2 pages):
Complete the following:
- Briefly explain why it is important to reinforce alternatives to problem behavior when using a punishment procedure.
- Give one example of the use of both a punishment procedure combined with a compatible differential reinforcement technique (DRA, DRI, or DRL) for an ongoing problematic behavior observed for a child or adolescent. Some examples of problematic behavior to focus on in your example could include refusal to keep his or her room tidy, refusal to eat or behave appropriately at meal times, cursing, aggression, temper tantrums, etc.
- Discuss one potential advantage of the punishment procedure or the differential reinforcement technique applied to your example.
- Discuss one potential limitation of the punishment procedure or the differential reinforcement technique applied to your example.