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Skinner and Operant Conditioning Slide One: Two characteristics help us distinguish between the two forms of associative learning. As you learned in classical conditioning, the organism learns associations between events that the organism does not control, and responses are automatic. This is also known as respondent behavior. Operant conditioning differs from classical conditioning in that the organism learns associations between its behavior and resulting events. In other words, the organism - you - operates on the environment. This is known as operant behavior. Slide Two: Edward Thorndike’s law of effect states that rewarded behavior is likely to recur. In 1898 Thorndike used a fish reward to entice cats to find their way out of a puzzle box. Over time and with experience, the cats’ performances tended to improve with each successive trial; hence, Thorndike’s law of effect. Skinner explored Thorndike’s law of effect. Skinner used an operant chamber, also known as a Skinner box, in his pioneering studies with rats and pigeons. In these studies, Skinner explored the precise conditions that foster efficient and enduring learning, as the rat presses a bar for a food or water reward. Not shown is a measuring device outside the box to record the animal’s accumulated responses. Slide Three: Skinner’s experiments used shaping. Shaping is a procedure using reinforcers, such as food, to gradually guide an animal’s actions toward a desired behavior. The picture above illustrates how rats have been shaped to save lives. This Gambian giant pouched rat was shaped to sniff out land mines by receiving a banana after successfully locating a mine during training in Mozambique. Shaping occurs by rewarding responses that are ever closer to the final desired behavior, known as successive approximations, and ignoring all other responses. In this way, researchers can gradually shape complex behaviors. Even nonverbal animals and you as a baby could respond only to what you perceived. Your reactions demonstrate which events you can discriminate. Slide Four: All human behavior is shaped with reinforcers. A reinforcer is any event that increases the frequency of a preceding response. Reinforcers can be positive by presenting a pleasant stimulus after a response, such as your approving smile after a cute boy says © 2012 Aventa Learning hello. Reinforcers can also be negative by reducing or removing an unpleasant stimulus, such as smoking a cigarette to reduce a nicotine addict’s pangs. Primary reinforcers, such as food when we are hungry, are innately satisfying. Conditioned reinforcers, such as cash, are satisfying because we have learned to associate them with more basic rewards. Immediate reinforcers, such as the caffeine addict’s espresso coffee, offer immediate payback. Delayed reinforcers, such as a weekly paycheck, require the ability to delay gratification. We may be more inclined to engage in small immediate reinforcers (watching TV) than large delayed reinforcers (Getting an A in a course) which requires consistent study. Slide Five: When the desired response is reinforced every time it occurs, continuous reinforcement is involved. Learning is rapid, but so is extinction if rewards cease. Partial (intermittent) reinforcement produces slower acquisition of the target behavior than continuous reinforcement, but the learning is more resistant to extinction. Reinforcement schedules may vary according to the number of responses rewarded or the time gap between responses. Fixed-ratio schedules reinforce behavior after a set number of responses; variable-ratio schedules provide reinforcers after an unpredictable number of responses. Fixed- interval schedules reinforce the first response after a fixed time interval, and variable- interval schedules reinforce the first response after varying time intervals. Slide Six: Punishment, positive or negative, attempts to decrease the frequency of a behavior. Positive punishment, as in light spanking, administers an undesirable consequence. A negative punishment, like taking away a favorite toy, withdraws something desirable. Negative reinforcement (like taking an aspirin) removes something undesirable, such as a headache, to increase the frequency of a behavior (taking aspirin when you experience another headache.) Notice that negative reinforcement increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur while a punishment eliminates a behavior. Punishment is not the opposite of reinforcement, because it can have several undesirable side effects, including suppressing rather than changing unwanted behaviors, teaching aggression, creating fear, and fostering feelings of helplessness. Slide Seven: © 2012 Aventa Learning Rats exploring a maze seem to develop a mental representation, known as a cognitive map, of the maze even in the absence of rewards. A rat’s latent learning becomes evident only when there is some incentive to demonstrate it. Research indicates that people may come to see rewards, rat

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