Behavioral scientist and researcher B.F. Skinner came up with operant conditioning in the field of Behavioral Psychology. Skinner suggested that observable features of human beings are the only ones that are capable of explaining the behavior of man rather than internal motivations and thoughts (1953). He used ‘operant’ to refer to any observable or active behavior that operates on the environment to generate consequences.
The key components of operant conditioning are a reinforcer. This event increases or strengthens the behavior of a person. There is a positive and a negative reinforcer. A positive reinforce encourages the recurrence of good behavior. It is a reward or praise. A negative reinforcer discourages the continuity of behavior and in this case, it can be a punishment or a penalty. In positive and negative reinforcement, behavior increases.
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On the contrary, punishment can be a presentation of an outcome that can lead to a reduction of the behavior that will follow. Punishment can be classified as positive or negative. Positive punishment is also known as punishment by application. It entails the presentation of an outcome with the aim of weakening the reaction that ensues. Negative punishment is also known as punishment by removal. It happens when an outcome or favorable event is done away with after a certain behavior occurs (Pierce & Cheney, 2004).
In real life, operant conditioning works around us. In college, students are motivated to work hard so that they can earn a reward, which could be a scholarship or a job placement. A reward is a positive reinforce and it encourages one to work hard and get excellent grades. However, a student who does not work hard and gets poor grades can have his studies discontinued. This is punishment is used to discourage poor performance among students. According to Schneck (2003), operant conditioning has also been used to train animals like dogs and pets.
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