In classical conditioning, the conditioned response often resembles the usual response to an unconditional stimulus. Salivation, for example, is a normal reaction of a dog when it sees food. Although, when it comes to teaching the dog something new, for example, a complicated trick, classical conditioning will be of no use. Thus, operant conditioning is used to train new patterns of behavior. This paper aims at analyzing my own experience with operant conditioning, describing the pattern it helped to shape, and indicating the factors that contributed to its establishment. In addition, the paper reflects what aspects should be considered when arranging reinforcement schedules.
This type of learning, called operant conditioning, is common to both humans and animals. This method of shaping behavioral patterns is reduced to learning that a certain behavior leads to the achievement of a certain goal (Blackman, 2017). When I was in elementary school, it was difficult for my parents to make me do my reading exercises. Therefore, my father decided to reward me every time I finished the necessary task. After each completed reading homework, he gave me pocket money, sweets, toys, or let me do something I wanted but was not allowed to do until I am finished with my school tasks. He also promised me to go to the amusement park on the weekend or do any other exciting activities. I was excited about any gift or activity that served as a study encouragement and soon learned to finish my reading in time and even started to enjoy it. This way, my father shaped the desired behavior pattern – doing my reading homework without whining and arguing for hours by implementing positive reinforcement.
However, certain factors must be considered when shaping desired behavior, as they influence the reinforcement’s effectiveness. The contiguity factor refers to the longer or shorter period of time within which the consequence of the behavior occurs (Washington State University, 2020). My father started giving me positive encouragement immediately after I read a few pages, and I quickly realized that reading up to the end will bring me closer to the desired treats. Then, the factor of magnitude played a significant role in shaping my behavior. If one small chocolate did not seem to encourage me, a whole piece of my favorite chocolate cake made me work for it. This also leads to the factor of individual differences – I was a child who never took an interest in video games, so promising to buy them if I read a few pages would have left me indifferent. Additionally, reinforcement results directly depend on arranging the proper reinforcement schedule (Walters, 2020). However, even though the more frequent and regular reinforcement gives beneficial effects, its withdrawal may make the subject refuse to behave accordingly without it. This should be taken into consideration when making reinforcement schedules.
To conclude, if one already performs a particular behavior, the probability that one will repeat this action depends on what follows it. That is what my father aimed at when he decided to encourage me to read by giving me treats and promising exciting activities. This process of positive reinforcements required an immediate response, taking into account my personal preferences and interests, as well as the significant value of this reinforcement. Moreover, it was essential to gradually switch from the continuous reinforcement schedule to the partial one to avoid the so-called habituation of this reinforcement, resulting in my future refusal to do my reading homework without this positive encouragement.
Blackman, D. E. (2017). Operant conditioning: an experimental analysis of behavior. Routledge.
Walters, S. (2020). 6.2 Changing behaviour through reinforcement and punishment: Operant conditioning. In S. Walters, Psychology – 1st Canadian edition. Pressbooks.
Washington State University. (2020). Module 6: Operant conditioning. Web.