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Updated: Monday, April 12, 1999 10:50:12 AM

Schemas & Just world Belief Classical Conditioning Operant Conditioning
Sensory Memory Short Term Memory Long Term Memory
Confidence and Memory Heuristics Attribution
Norms Social Influence & Obedience All Notes in one view

Section 2: Operant Conditioning

Thorndike -

He put cats in "puzzle boxes", and the cats would have to learn how to escape. - The reinforcer would be the cat breaking free!

If an action brings a reward then the action becomes stamped into the mind. Behavior is changed because of it’s consequences.

Thorndike's Law of Effect:

Behaviors followed by  favorable consequences become more likely, and behaviors followed by unfavorable consequences become less likely.

Skinner(died early 1990's)

Perhaps one of the most famous psychologist to ever lived. He worked with rats in "skinner boxes."   

He trained a rat to do a wide variety of tasks: the most basic task was pressing a bar to obtain a reward of food. Once the rat learned how to press a bar, the rat can be taught to only press the bar when presented with other complex stimuli.   Using this situation it is possible to measure how well the rat perceives, learns and remembers, therefore, many psychological variables can be investigated in rats.

Operant Conditioning - Subjects associate their behaviors with their consequences, thus they became more likely to repeat rewarded (reinforced) behaviors and less likely to repeat punished behaviors.

Reinforcer – increases the likely hood of a response.  Primary or secondary reinforcers can be delayed or immediate.

Primary (innate) food, relief from pain (a negative Reinforcer)

Secondary (Learned) – money, not necessary, something that can be traded in for a primary Reinforcer (symbolic)

Immediate - Much more effective than delayed reinforcers.
Example: It is better to add a dollar to a piggy bank toward a bicycle every time the child brings home a good grade, rather than waiting until the end of the year, and if the child has a good GPA, then giving the bicycle. Immediate reinforcement is better than delayed reinforcement perhaps because the child is not able to keep the goal in his or her mind without being regularly rewarded for the the desired behavior.

A punisher – decreases the likelihood of a response.

However - For some children, being yelled at may be seen as reinforcement. Although parents perceive yelling to be a form of punishment, a child may find this a positive reinforcer because the child is looking for attention.


procedure which rewards the animal, gradually guiding its behavior toward a desired behavior  Imagine that you want to condition a rat to press a bar. You might give the rat food every time it comes close to the bar, then start narrowing down the reward area until the rat only receives a reward when it touches the bar. Eventually you only give rewards when the rat pulls the bar all the way down.

Superstitious behavior.

The animal does something that you did not intend for it to do, but it also does the thing that you want, a compound action.  For example, the rat hits it's head on the wall before it hits the bar, therefore making the rat think it needs to hit it's head and push the bar to receive a reward.  In humans this is observed in such behavior as the expression of  "knock-on-wood" thinking that the phrase will increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Over justification effect

If you use techniques too much, a person who would have done something for their own satisfaction, then does something simply for the food/money.

  Present Stimulus Remove Stimulus
Increase behavior Positive reinforcement Negative reinforcement
Decrease Behavior Positive Punishment also called Aversive Punishment Negative Punishment also called response cost

For example, image that a child reaches out and grabs a candy bar.
   The father takes it away
          The child cries and has a temper tantrum
                    The father buys the candy bar
                              The child stops crying

See the bottom of the page for the answers.
Identify: Negatively Reinforced; Positively punished; Negatively punished or Positively Reinforced or
The child’s grabbing the candy bar was a  (1) by the father taking the candy bar away
The father’s taking of the candy bar has been (2)  by the child’s crying and tantrum?
The child’s tantrum was (3) by the father’s buying the candy bar?
The father’s buying the candy was (4) by the child’s stopping the crying and tantrum

Extinction, Generalization, Discrimination and Spontaneous Recovery these phenomenon hold for operant (instrumental) conditioning as well as for classical conditioning.

During learning you reinforce them all the time, after learning, you transfer them to a schedule of reinforcement.


(1) Negatively punished
(2) Positively punished
(3) Positively Reinforced
(4) Negatively Reinforced





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