Operant Conditioning Examples in Everyday Life

What is operant conditioning and where can you find operant conditioning examples in everyday life? Operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning, is the notion of behavior modification through a system of reward and punishment. Behavioral psychologist B.F.Skinner first introduced the term and, as a result, operant conditioning is sometimes referred to as Skinnerian conditioning. He used the term “operant” to mean any type of active behavior or “active behavior that operates upon the environment to generate consequences”.

The key concepts of operant conditioning include reinforcement and punishment of the behavior, both negative and positive. Reinforcement is designed to encourage the desirable behavior, whereas punishment is designed to discourage the undesirable behavior.

What operant conditioning examples in everyday life do we see?

Using operant conditioning techniques is a classic method of modifying the behavior of children and animals and this type of conditioning behavior modification can typically be seen in everyday life on a regular basis.

Children are encouraged to complete various tasks via a process of reward and/or punishment. For example, a class is given a homework task to complete for a set date. The teacher tells them that for every pupil who hands the homework in on time, an extra star will be awarded for the reward chart, but anyone who hands the homework in more than two days late will be given a lunchtime detention.

Operant conditioning examples in everyday life also apply to our working environment. When our boss gives us a difficult task to complete, he might use the promise of a bonus or incentive to encourage us to work harder. Alternatively, he might threaten to fire us if we do not complete the task on time and within budget. Unsurprisingly, it is not hard to work out which type of management technique is likely to be more successful!

The same kinds of operant conditioning behavioral modification techniques are also used to teach children how to behave outside of school. We encourage them to keep their bedrooms tidy, but since our requests tend to fall on deaf ears most of the time, an operant conditioning approach is more likely to reap satisfactory results. By offering a younger child some kind of incentive to keep their bedroom tidy, they are more likely to tidy their toys away each night. Alternatively, threatening them with a punishment if they do not keep the room tidy might also achieve the same results.

Pet behavioral modification can also be achieved using the B.F. Skinner methods of operant conditioning. Dog trainers always use reward and punishment techniques to encourage positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. Doggy treats can be used to reward the dog when he follows the instructions and a stern voice can be used as punishment when he fails to listen and ignores the instruction.

There are millions of operant conditioning examples in everyday life and it is a very successful way of encouraging desirable behavior and discouraging undesirable behavior, so the next time you offer an incentive for good behavior from your child, you can tell them all about operant conditioning theory at the same time!

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