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Operant conditioning

Refers to learning on the basis of the law effect

--> organisms "operate" on the environment in a way that causes an outcome to occur

Discriminative Stimulus S --> Response R --> Outcome O


Law of effect

States that behaviors followed by positives consequences are strengthened + more likely to be repeated


What is the main difference between operant + classical conditioning ?

1. In classical conditioning, organisms experience an outcome (US) whether they perform the CR or not

2. In operant conditioning the outcome (O) doesn't occur if the response (R) isn't performed


Free operant paradigm

Refers to an operant conditioning paradigm in which the animal can operate the experimental apparatus "freely"

--> can respond to obtain a reinforcement when it chooses


Discrete trials paradigm

Refers the an operant conditioning paradigm in which the experimenter defines the beginning + end points

--> more controlled


Skinner box

Refers to a conditioning chamber in which lever press responses (R) while the light is switched on (S), are reinforced by the delivery of food (O)


Cumulative recorder

Device that records behavioral responses

--> height represents the number of responses that have been made up to the present time


Discriminative Stimuli (S)

Refer to stimuli that signal whether a particular response will lead to a particular outcome

ex.: light on --> food, therefore lever must be pressed;
light off --> no food



Refers to training, that consists of a series of successive approximations, so that the desired response is learned


Response (R)

Refers to the sequence of movements needed to obtain a particular outcome

ex.: pressing a lever --> door opens (O)



Organisms are gradually trained to execute complicated sequences of discrete responses

--> occurs gradually

ex.: learns A, then AB, then ABC


Positive outcome

Refers to a consequence of behavior that leads to an INCREASE of likelihood of that behavior in the future

ex.: food when hungry


Primary reinforcers

Refer to stimuli that have innate biological values to an organism

--> organisms will therefore repeat behaviors that provide access to these things

ex.: food, water, sex, sleep


Drive reduction theory

States that all learning reflects the innate, biological need to obtain primary reinforcers

--> one wants to reduce those drives


Why are primary reinforcers not always reinforcing ?

1. A reinforcer of the same category can evoke a stronger response than another (Negative contrast)

ex.: will work harder for food they like, than for the ones one doesn't like

2. Once the the reinforcer was satiating, further induction won't be reinforcing

ex.: drinking until not thirsty anymore --> no more water needed


Secondary reinforcers

Refer to stimuli that have no biological value but that have been paired with primary reinforcers

ex.: money --> can be exchanged for food, sex etc


Token economy

Refers to an environment in which tokens can be exchanged for privileges

--> function the same way as money does in the outside world
--> used to modify behavior

ex.: prison, school


Negative contrast

Refers to a situation in which an organism will respond less strongly to a less-preferred reinforcer that is provided in place of an expected preferred reinforcer

--> it would have responded more strongly if the less-preferred reinforcer had ben provided all along


Why does the identity of the reinforcer matter ?

Organisms learn that a certain response (R) will result in a PARTICULAR outcome (O)

--> a switch in the outcome may produce changes in responding


Negative outcome

Refers to a consequence of behavior that leads to DECREASE the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future

--> opposite to reinforcer


Are punishments as effective as reinforcements ?


the effects of punishment are irratic + unreliable
--> can sometimes result in paradoxical increases in punished behaviour


Which factors determine how effective the punishment will be ?

1. Punishment might produce VARIATION IN BEHAVIOR, as the organism explores other possible responses

2. Discriminative stimuli for punishment can ENCOURAGE CHEATING

ex.: one will resume speeding, in the absence of police cars

3. CONCURRENT REINFORCEMENT can undermine punishment

ex.: one will not stop talking in class, when behavior is punished by teacher but simult. reinforced by classmates

4. Punishment is most effective if a STRONG PUNISHER is used from the beginning

--> if not, one might become insensitive later to stronger ones


Differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors

Refers to a method to decrease the frequency of unwanted behaviors by instead reinforcing preferred alternate behaviors

--> works best if the rewarded behavior is compatible with the unwanted one


Reinforcement schedule

Refers to a schedule/rules determining how often reinforcement/outcomes is/are delivered in an experiment


When does learning occur the fastest ?

If there is no delay between the response + reinforcement
(Temporal congruity)

--> then the most recent behavior will be associated as a cause for the outcome


Self control/
Delayed gratification

Refers to an organisms willingness to forego a small immediate reward in favor of a larger future reward



Making a choice that is difficult to change later

--> will improve delayed gratification


Negative reinforcement

Behavior is reinforced because it causes something to be subtracted from the environment

ex.: headache (S) --> take aspirin (R) --> no more headache (O)


Positive reinforcement

Behavior is reinforced because it causes something to be added to the environment

ex.: present pot (S) --> peeing (R) --> praise (O)


Negative punishment

Behavior is punished by subtracting (taking away) something from the environment

ex.: Siblings --> aggressive behaviour --> grounding