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Learning: Skinner Article

Burrhus Frederic Skinner made significant contributions to psychology. His work is best known for relationships which involve operant conditioning, such as parent-toddler and owner-pet relationships. Operant conditioning is the regulation of behavior by its consequences and employs techniques of negative and/or positive reinforcement, and, as defined by Skinner, the belief in superstitions. Skinner observed that each discrete step of a learned behavior was built upon through the reinforcement process that became to be known as operant conditioning. He felt that this was the most effective form of instruction and learning. Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner's S-R theory. A reinforcer is anything that strengthens the desired response. Positive reinforcement is a mechanism associated with operant conditioning to promising or providing a reward for success. (Pierce and Cheney, 2004). The motivation of positive reinforcement is very effective in facilitating lasting learning. When a particular StimulusResponse (S-R) pattern is reinforced (rewarded), the individual is conditioned to respond. (Pierce and Cheney, 2004). Giving a pet or a child a special treat or praising them when they have followed a command with the desired response; or alternately, punishing them in some way or withholding praise when they fail to follow a command with the desired response, are examples of operant conditioning. for punishment to be effective, it must be imposed properly. First, punishment should be swift. Children who misbehave should be punished right away so they know that what they have done is wrong. Punishment should also be sufficient without being cruel. (Morris and Maisto, 2002, p. 196).

Punishment may be deemed appropriate if it is non-physical and must be unpleasant, such as giving a child a time out for their behavior. Reinforcers of both kinds (positive and negative) both alter the repetition of behaviors, with behaviors reinforced by punishment becoming less likely to be repeated and those that are reinforced with positive reinforcements more likely to be repeated. The term avoidance training indicates those situations in which a behavior is learned which prevents an unpleasant reinforcement being applied. Skinner used the term superstition to indicate times when learning was paired with a specific event or behavior and a false notion became associated with this event. An example of this would be the case where a child sees a magician conjure a trick when speaking the word Abracadabra, and then believes that the word itself is magical. Such superstitions can become very complex explanations for accidental and random reinforcements in a given situation, even though these reinforcements may be purely coincidental to the behavior or event that has occurred. (Morris and Maisto, 2002, p. 198).

References Morris, C.G., & Maisto, A.A. (2002). Learning. Psychology: An Introduction (12th ed.) Chapter 5. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Pierce, W. D. & Cheney, C. D. (2004). Behavior Analysis and Learning (3rd ed.) Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN: 0-8058-4489-9