Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning, as defined by behavioral psychologists, is a form of learning whereby voluntary behavior comes to be controlled by consequences of particular effects learned in the environment. The antecedent is the context or what preciptates the urges or motives to perform an action in order to aquire an end result. A behavior or action is then carried out which ultimately causes a consequence directly because of the conducted behavior. Take a look at the two examples below.


Skinner Box

B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) was an American radical behavioral psychologist who by using the “skinner box” exemplified operant conditioning. In a skinner box, a rat or pigeon is placed in a small comfortable-size chamber that is sound and light proof (to control for extraneous stimuli). Basically, the animal is able to obtain food by pressing down on a lever. The chamber is layered with an electronic field to accurately measure the desired behavior. This sequence of behavioral conditioning is referred to as positive reinforcement.

Another example of positive reinforcement in everyday living is a parent rewarding his or her child by giving money after the child has helped with extra chores around the house. On the other hand, negative reinforcement would be taking away something to elicit a specific behavior, such as a parent removing the amount of chores after his or her child has demonstrated good behavior. Positive punishment then, again, refers to a “giving” something and negative punishment refers to “taking” something away. An example of positive punishment would be adding chores if the child was to misbehave; negative punishment would be taking away toys of the child if he or she misbehaved.


See Also


Classical Conditioning


Ivan Pavlov

John B. Watson




Dyce, J. (2008, July 24). Power Point: Principles of Behavior Change. Retrieved from: http://jamiedyce.com/index.html.