Operant Conditioning

 How Do You Change the Behavior of An Animal?

If you want a dog to sit, or to stop barking, how do you influence that?  If you want your baby to sleep all night, or your daughter to stop chewing with her mouth open, or your boss to stop yelling at you - how to change their behavior?

The 4 quadrants of Operant Conditioning, developed by pioneering psychologist, BF Skinner in the 1920's, is at the very base of training all kinds of animal behavior - and in our case, dog training.  Dog training is very simple if you understand these four stimuli and how they work together.  

Dr. Skinner learned that if something positive follows an action, then it tends to be repeated because animals enjoy pleasure.  However, if something negative follows an action, then it tends to not be repeated because animals want to avoid pain.  This sounds simple enough, right?

It is simple, but the mechanics go a bit deeper, and so we need to discuss all four quadrants because dog training is the applied use to operant conditioning.

A couple things you need to know:

- Reinforcement INCREASES the likelihood a behavior will happen again.  For instance...

- Punishment DECREASES the likelihood a behavior will happen again.  For instance...

- Positive ADDS something.  For instance...

- Negative REMOVES something.  For instance...


Positive Reinforcement (+R) is definitely the most fun part of operant conditioning.

Positive reinforcement is very simple. You ADD a POSITIVE STIMULUS to INCREASE the likelihood a behavior will happen again.

Ex. You tell the dog to sit and he does, you give him a treat. Next time the likelihood of him sitting is greater because you gave the dog a kibble for sitting. In this example the positive reinforcement is the kibble.

Ex. You decide to help a buddy move into a new house this weekend. He offers pizza for helping him move. You got help him move and at the end, he gives you hot pizza. He reinforced you coming over to help him move by giving you food for helping him. The reinforcement here is the pizza.

Ex. At Seaworld when they get the animals to perform tricks, they give the animals lots of fish. The handler has the dolphin jump through a hoop and when it does, it gets a fresh fish as a treat. This behavior was reinforced by the fish being given to the dolphin.



Negative Reinforcement (-R) is definitely the less fun part of operant conditioning.

Negative reinforcement is very simple. You are TAKING AWAY a NEGATIVE STIMULUS to INCREASE the likelihood a behavior will happen again.

Ex. You tell the dog to sit and he doesn't, so you add tension on the prong collar until the dog drops his butt. Once on the ground, you take away the pressure of the collar. This increases the likelihood the next time you say sit that the dog will sit. The negative stimulus here is the tension on the prong collar. Once you take that away you are reinforcing the behavior by removing something unpleasant.

Ex. You get into the car and sit down and start driving off. However, you didn't put on your seatbelt so the beeper keeps beeping at you over and over until you finally click your seat belt. Then the beeper goes away.

Ex. Mom is nagging at you to do the dishes and won't stop harassing you about the dishes. So you do the dishes (BEHAVIOR) and your mom stops nagging (negative stimulus removed). You got reinforced by your mom stopping nagging.



Positive Punishment (+P) is a way to give the dog a correction.

Positive Punishment is very simple. You are ADDING a NEGATIVE STIMULUS to DECREASE the likelihood a behavior will happen again.

EX. You tell the dog to sit and the dog doesn't sit. You give the dog a quick pop on the prong collar and the dog sits. That pop on the prong collar is the negative stimulus and next time you say sit, it decreases the likelihood the dog won't sit next time. 

Ex. A child touches a hot stove (Behavior) and gets burned (Negative stimulus added.) This likelihood of the child ever touching the stove again is much less likely because the burn is the punishment.

Ex. You are out to dinner with a friend and the friend wants you to try a new dish. The dish is Squid. You try the squid (behavior) and it leaves and awful taste in your mouth (negative stimulus added). You are much less likely to try squid again in the future.



Negative Punishment (-P) is a way to give the dog a correction.

Negative Punishment is very simple. You are TAKING AWAY a POSITIVE STIMULUS to DECREASE the likelihood a behavior will happen again.

EX. You have a treat and show the dog the treat. You tell the dog to sit and the dog doesn't sit. You eat the treat rather than giving it to the dog. You just took away the POSITIVE STIMULUS in order to decrease the likelihood that the next time you say sit that the dog won't sit.

Ex. Your brother keeps hitting you (behavior) and your mom takes his toys away (positive stimulus removed). Since his toys are taken, the likelihood of your brother continuing to hit you decrease.

UNGRADED STUDY QUIZ

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