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Changing Behavior Through Reinforcement and Punishment: Operant Conditioning

21 September, 2015 - 16:42


  1. Outline the principles of operant conditioning.
  2. Explain how learning can be shaped through the use of reinforcement schedules and secondary reinforcers.

In classical conditioning the organism learns to associate new stimuli with natural, biological responses such as salivation or fear. The organism does not learn something new but rather begins to perform in an existing behavior in the presence of a new signal. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, is learning that occurs based on the consequences of behavior and can involve the learning of new actions. Operant conditioning occurs when a dog rolls over on command because it has been praised for doing so in the past, when a schoolroom bully threatens his classmates because doing so allows him to get his way, and when a child gets good grades because her parents threaten to punish her if she doesn’t. In operant conditioning the organism learns from the consequences of its own actions.