7 Operant Conditioning Examples: Reinforcement vs. Punishment

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One of the most widely known theories of human behaviour includes operant conditioning. To date, psychology is considered as one of the most interesting disciplines of all. This is probably because this discipline has helped answer some of the most perplexing questions about human behaviour. In this post, we will discuss a number of operant conditioning examples in detail to explain the concept better.



What is Operant Conditioning?

Coined by behaviourist B.F Skinner, operant conditioning is also popularly known as Skinnerian conditioning. Operant conditioning is a way of learning that is made possible using punishments and rewards for behaviour. In simpler words, operant conditioning allows humans to create an association between a behaviour and its consequence.

Skinner believed that humans should look at observable, external causes behind human behaviour instead of only focusing on internal motivations. The behaviourist classified responses into three different types:

  • Reinforcers: This kind of response increases the chances of behavior being repeated, it can be either positive or negative.
  • Neutral operant: This kind of response neither increases or decreases the chances of behavior being repeated.
  • Punishers: This kind of response decreases the chances of behavior being repeated. This is why punishments are used to weaken behavior.




Operant Conditioning vs. Classical Conditioning

While we’re on the subject, we might as well discuss classical conditioning. This refers to a learning method that occurs via associations between a naturally occurring stimulus and environmental stimulus to generate a learned response.

It is quite different from operant learning as the theory discusses how internal brain mechanisms and mental thoughts play an integral role in associative learning.

Operant Conditioning Examples

To help our readers gain a better understanding of the subject, we’ve compiled a list of operant conditioning examples:

Example 1

Public speaking and debates are popular activities that are organized in most schools. Consider a scenario where a child has to participate in a debate. If the child is applauded by his/her peers and teachers, they will be encouraged to take up similar activities in the future. On the other hand, the child may develop stage fright or grow a disliking for such activities if he/she is laughed at. This is a clear example of how reinforcement can positively encourage humans to repeat the same behavior.

Example 2

This operant conditioning example is more relevant to adults. Notice how adults are motivated by their paychecks to go to work every day. That’s exactly why employees are appraised and presented rewards for their performance. The prospect of getting rewards motivate employees to perform their best. On the other hand, a toxic work environment may take a toll on an employee’s performance.

Example 3

The same technique is used to teach young children how to behave and tidy up their rooms. While most children are not eager to chores, giving them an incentive or allowance may encourage them to do so. Most parents unintentionally use operant conditioning while raising kids. After all, it’s one of the most foolproof ways to gain satisfactory results.  Offering a young child an incentive to mow the lawn or tidy up their toys each night might help inculcate positive values. On the other hand, punishing children by limiting their TV time or taking away their video games might also help achieve the same results.

Example 4

Apart from humans, Skinner’s operant conditioning can also be used for pet behavioral modification. Most pet owners train their canine pals by offering them treats to encourage positive behavior. Doggie treats and toys are all excellent ways of enforcing positive behavior. On the other hand, pet owners can also use other methods to discourage dogs from bad behavior if they fail to follow instructions. The same analogy may also be used to toilet train pets at home, making it one of the most common operant conditioning examples.

Example 5

Ever wonder why some doctors keep a candy jar in their office for kids? It’s to encourage children to get their shots or have a routine checkup. Dentists too offer kids a lollipop in exchange for their good behavior. This is a classic example of positive reinforcement and how giving rewards can help us gain desired results.

Example 6

A class teacher may punish a child by giving them a time-out for hitting other students or for misbehaving in class. Similarly, some teachers also punish children by giving them detention or extra homework. Doing so prevents the child from misbehaving in class for fear of being punished. On the other hand, well-behaved students are praised for their polite demeanor or may be offered some kind of incentive. Rewards and punishments are heavily used in educational institutions to encourage students to follow rules and regulations.

Example 7

Most video games require players to complete tasks and overcome a number of obstacles. Once achieved, players are rewarded with extra points, tokens or are upgraded to the next level. This kind of positive reinforcement encourages gamers to continue playing and strive to reach the next level. On the other hand, too many obstacles in the game may discourage players from continuing the game. The same context can be used explain sports tournaments and how athletes are encouraged to participate.



Hopefully, this guide has taught you everything you need to know about operant conditioning examples. Think you can come up with an example yourself? Tell us in the comment section below. You can also conduct operant conditioning experiments at home to gain a better idea of the subject.

Picture source: Today

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