Skinner’s Theory on Operant Conditioning

1 January 2018

B.F. Skinner (1904-199) was an American psychologist, profoundly known to be the ‘father’ of operant conditioning. After the retirement of John B. Watson, the world was eager to see new modes of learning; and Skinner, similarly to Pavlov “worked with animals […] and made systematic use of the methodology of independent and dependent variables” (Harré, 2005: p.15); and Operant Conditioning was proposed – which in my opinion remains one of the most important theories of the twentieth century.

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Woollard clarifies that “behaviourism is a theory of animal and human learning that focuses upon the behaviour of the learner and the change in behaviour that occurs when learning takes place” (Woollard, 2010:1). The learning is demonstrated by a pupil’s response and behaviour to a given stimulus and therefore can be described as an external event that occurs that can produce an observed change in the way in which a child behaves. This form of learning can be described as conditioning and can be split up into 2 types: classical and operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning is a learning process in which behaviour can be altered and modified using reinforcement and punishment. It is reinforced or established by events that follow an action or happen prior to actioning and these can be described as consequences or antecedents. Reinforcement involves the use of consequences (positive or negative) that can strengthen a preferable behaviour and therefore it can be said that an reinforcer is then able to increase the chances of the required behaviour being repeated again. One of Skinner’s most notable works is the Skinner Box experiment in which he placed a rat in a cage with a lever and if the rat pulled on the lever food would be distributed into the cage and therefore the learned this behaviour by knowing the lever equalled a reward (in this case food).

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