Operant Conditioning

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 4
Words: 829
Reading time:
3 min
Study level: College

Operant conditioning is a term used to refer to behaviour modification that is attained through a response-reward system. The major assumption (which happens to be true) is that human beings behaviour can be conditioned through a reward system. The reward may be positive, which reinforces a positive behaviour, may be negative which discourages a certain negative behaviour. The underlying philosophy of the theory is that animals, human beings included, respond to stimuli. Thus if they can associate a specific stimulate with a certain behaviour, and then they are likely to avoid or repeat the behaviour in future. A simple example is in a home set up, if every time a daughter cleans the house, the mum gives him some biscuits, the daughter will enjoy and will repeat in future in anticipation of getting some biscuits. B.F. Skinner coined the theory. B.F. Skinner was a renowned behavioural psychologist of the 20th century. The theory is used in schools, clinical psychology, work places and at home among other places (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).

Compare and contrast positive and negative reinforcement

A reinforce is something or an action that follows a behaviour and either encourages or discourages the behaviour. There are two forms of reinforcements:

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcements are favourable or pleasant occurrences that follow certain behaviour; depending with the action that they followed, they intend to encourage the continuity of the behaviour. This means that after something have taken place, what follows is present to the person who did the action. It may be a physical reward, recognition, praise, promotion among other positive reinforces.

Negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcements are unpleasant occurrences that follow a certain action/behaviour that. Negative reinforcement aims at discouraging the repeat of an action. They take the form of punishment to avoid the repeat of an action.

The major difference between positive and negative reinforcements is the desired results. Positive is pleasant while in negative, there is pain.

Negative reinforcement is also called punishment by removal.

Determine which form of reinforcement is the most effective. Explain your reasoning

The two responses are effective to certain degree and their effectiveness is influenced by the condition that human beings are facing at a certain particular time. However, I think negative reinforcement is more effective.

Human beings are social, they always are looking for ways to minimize their sorrow and increase happiness. They have potential to make themselves happy. A negative reinforcement inflicts pain in human life, thus when human beings realize that they will suffer when they do something, they are likely not to do such a thing. The same way criminal justice system works, it inflicts pain on behaviours and so it does maintain justice and discipline in the society. When parents are bringing up their children, they use negative reinforcement to discourage negative behaviour the results are good.

Human beings hate pain and thus if they are aware that something is going to cause pain, they will avoid it all together (Staddon & Cerutti, 2003).

Select a scenario in which you would apply operant conditioning to shape behavior

In human resource management, operant conditioning can be used to reinforce positive behaviour and enhance increased performance. In this scenario, a weekly review and appraisal is taken in every department, the department that has attained its targets efficiently and effectively earns points that will be used at the end of the year to review their salary. Each point can be attributed to a certain amount say $5 salary increase. At the same time, every week a department fails to attain its targets, a point is deducted, the point can be given a lower value of $2, which will be deducted at the end of the year when the salaries are being reviewed.

In the above scenario, staffs will be working hand to gather points thus increasing the operation of the business. It also will discourage actions that will limit the attainment of a certain department’s targets. Staffs will have the situation explained to them to assist them support the strategy.

The success of is scenario is because employees are always anticipating for high salaries and thus they will be motivated if they know something will lead to it.

Create a reinforcement schedule for your selected behavior

The following is the schedule that can be used for weekly reviews,

Department Name
Salary gain/loss
Accumulated Points earned for the year balance b/d Xxxx
Points for this week Xxxx
Point lost in this week (Yyyy)
Total points balance c/d xxxx

The department’s staffs should have access to the scorecard set. Human resources departments with the staffs can do assessment or the head of department can undertake the process. At the end of the year, the balance carried down for a certain department will be used to review employees’ salaries. On the other hand the weekly reviews will assist the company recognise the month certain department had problems meeting their targets and if anything can be done, it is a good start point.


Olson, M. & Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009). An Introduction to Theories of Learning, Eighth Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Staddon, J., & Cerutti, D. (2003). OPERANT CONDITIONING. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 115. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.