Monday, February 4, 2013

The Father of Operant Conditioning

B.F. Skinner

Behavioral or Operant conditioning describes learning that is controlled and results in shaping behavior through the reinforcement of stimulus-response patterns. 

Skinner conducted experiments with pigeons and rewarded them when he saw them behaving in a desired manner. When a stimulus-response pattern occurs, such as a pigeon turning (the stimulus), a reward is given (the response). Eventually Skinner was able to teach pigeons to dance using this technique. Ultimately, he taught pigeons to engage in tasks such as bowling and ping pong (as shown below). 

Skinner believed that people shape their behavior based on the rewards or positive reinforcement they receive. He believed human behavior is based on stimulus-response theory. He observed that when children made attempts at sounds, parents smiled and reinforced that behavior. Eventually, the child learns to say the word correctly as parents and others reinforce her efforts. 

Many forms of computer-based instruction and educational software are based on Skinner's operant conditioning. They provide positive reinforcement when a desired behavior occurs and negative reinforcement when the student does not provide the desired behavior. For example, when the correct answer is given, the software program provides positive verbal and visual feedback for the student's correct response. 

Here is a fun video from The Big Bang theory that shows how operant conditiong can be used to maneuver human behavior.


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