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Operant Conditioning

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Keaton Lee

on 21 April 2010

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Transcript of Operant Conditioning

Double click anywhere & add an idea Operant Conditioning:
A Summary Learning in which the learner's behavior becomes either more or less probable depending on the consequences it produces. Operant Conditioning:
Can It Be Applied to College Students?
by:
Keaton Lee The Basics: Most of the research conducted on operant conditioning applies to young children, typically in elementary school or even younger. Is this because operant conditioning cannot be applied to older individuals’ classroom experiences? Does it just not work for them? Or is it just easier to display operant conditioning principles by utilizing younger children as examples? In order to determine whether or not operant conditioning can be applied to older students (specifically college students), it is necessary to analyze operant conditioning in detail, as well as some studies involving younger children in the classroom. Brought into mainstream focus by B.F. Skinner through his research with animals. Learners behave in certain ways and then eventually associate the action with the positive or negative consequences that follow it, resulting in the repetition of behaviors with pleasant consequences and a reduction of those that cause unpleasant ones. Most Important Point About Operant Conditioning: Edward Lee Thorndike:studied that those behaviors that are rewarded tend to be those that are strengthened. He called this the Law of Effect. He also stated that the most vital variables for operant conditioning are reinforcement and punishment, which can each be distributed with a positive or negative stimulus. Reiforcement Primary reinforcers are rewards that provide immediate satisfaction or enjoyment, like food and shelter, while secondary reinforcers are rewards that gain their value through their association with primary reinforcers and include such things as grades and money, as well as such things as clothes, cars, and other items associated with status. Secondary reinforcers are often used in the classroom through the application of token economies, systems in which token-based reinforcement is used to change behavior. In order to make reinforcers truly effective, however, one must figure out which type of reinforcer is most effective for each particular student. For instance, one student may reward himself with an afternoon of leisurely reading after a hard day’s work, while another might find that to be absolutely dreadful. In order to account for such occurrences, psychologists employ the Premack principle, which states: “If behavior B is of higher probability than behavior A, then behavior A can be made more probable by making behavior B contingent upon it.” In other words, in the hierarchy of the Premack principle, reinforcers higher in the hierarchy are more likely to produce operant behaviors than reinforcers lower in the hierarchy and activities higher in the hierarchy reinforce those lower in the hierarchy. For example, if students preferred candy over reading, a teacher could reinforce reading by giving the students candy if they read. If, for some ungodly reason, they preferred reading over candy, the teacher could allow the students to read if they ate the candy. Therefore, use of the Premack principle allows one to reinforce less desired behaviors with more desired behaviors. Reinforcement (cont.) Another essential factor that influences the effectiveness of reinforcers is the type of schedule of reinforcement utilized. Continuous v. Partial In a continuous reinforcement schedule, the desired behavior is reinforced every time it occurs. Partial reinforcement schedules are further classified as one of four subtypes: fixed ratio, variable ratio, fixed interval, and variable interval. In fixed ratio schedules, reinforcement occurs after a specified number of correct responses, while variable ratio schedules allow reinforcement after a varying number of correct responses. The same process applies to fixed and variable interval schedules, except instead of a number of responses, reinforcement occurs after a set period of time or a varying period of time Reinforcement is most effective when starting out with a continuous schedule and then slowly shifting into a variable interval schedule to ensure that the behavior continues, only decreasing gradually with time. By utilizing those two methods, behaviors are much more likely to continue to occur for longer periods of time. So in summary, when dealing with reinforcers, one must figure out which type applies to each child, utilize the Premack principle if necessary to reinforce less desired behaviors, and use a continuous, then variable interval schedule in order to create the atmosphere most conducive to the child’s learning. Just as with reinforcers, there are certain methods that must be used when dealing with punishers. Disadvantages of Punishment Punished behaviors are not eliminated, only suppressed. Punishment can lead to an increase in the punished behavior as a cry for attention The student may not recognize that the punishment is specific to a certain behavior. Undesirable emotional responses Escape or Avoidance Behaviors Aggression Failure to illustrate the correct behavior Physical or Psychological Harm Punishment Without taking these potential problems into account, any attempt at creating well behaved students could take a drastic turn. As such, there are various guidelines for using punishment effectively: Guidelines for Punishment It should actually be punishing and decrease the desired behavior It must be strong enough to be effective, but not overly severe The troublesome behavior should be described in clear, concrete terms The punishment should be consistent It should immediately follow the inappropriate behavior An explanation of why the behavior is inappropriate should be given It should be used sparingly Overall, reinforcement is typically more effective than punishment and should be used as such, but as punishment usually makes children comply with the demands of their parents in the short run, it is, more often than not, the method that takes place. Reinforcement v. Punishment Operant Conditioning in the Classroom A teacher who taught children two different subjects, one that they loved and one that they hated. They listen responsively to the former and are silent and sulky when dealing with the latter. If the teacher finds himself spending more time on the subject that the kids love as opposed to the one they hate, sacrificing their education for his own preference, then he has been conditioned by his students. In addition to simply demonstrating operant conditioning, this example also shows that it is not only the students who are affected by operant conditioning. Token economies are also a prime example of operant conditioning, as they are based on the principle of positive reinforcement. Kids are able to collect tokens for good behavior that they may eventually turn in for small toys, prizes, or rewards. For example, students might be able to turn in ten tokens for ten minutes of free time during a class period Operant conditioning occurs if the teacher positively reinforces the behavior of raising one’s hand to speak by only calling on people who do so and perhaps by saying “Look at how nicely Josh is raising his hand!” When analyzing such a situation with operant conditioning in mind, it is important to observe both the stimulus causing the behavior and the consequences of the behavior. Another example might occur in a classroom in which a child yells out answers without raising his hand. In this circumstance, it is important to realize that both the child’s anxiety and the teacher’s acceptance of the child’s answer are causing him to call out continuously. This rewards those who perform the behavior and makes the kids who do not perform the behavior want to so that they can eliminate their own anxiety and express their answer to the rest of the class Why Only Children? For some reason, the previously mentioned examples are focused almost solely on children, never mentioning any other age group and only speaking of things that apply specifically to children for the majority of the time. This seems to be the case for the vast majority of studies. Even when a study or example seems like it could also apply to college students in some way, there is very rarely even a word dedicated to that age group. Instead, the focus is on things like reward systems in which good students receive candy or tiny toys as prizes and misbehavior consisting of students not raising their hands to speak. These tactics and problems, while significant to elementary education, are not nearly as relevant to students of college-level education, at least in their current forms. The main focus in the collegiate setting tends to be much less centered around conduct and more centered around the maintaining of grades and interest in the subject being discussed. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that more studies are conducted on younger children: the problems that occur in primary school classrooms are much easier to observe as they typically involve children misbehaving or causing commotions, while those that college students face can go unnoticed if an observer is not paying strict and close attention. Another possibility could be that researchers assume that behavioral problems are the main deterrent of academic success, and that by studying children they can determine what would make them behave less poorly and therefore enable them to perform to their greatest capabilities from that point forward throughout their education. Of course, numerous other factors which go into a student’s education, like interest in a subject, difficulty of the course, and teacher’s ability to teach, so this would be an overly reductive viewpoint. Perhaps kids are more impressionable than college students and therefore foster and display the desired change more easily, making them better candidates to study. However, just because something is more difficult does not mean that it cannot be studied, and I highly doubt that the difference, if it even exists, is an extremely noticeable one. Finally, maybe there are simply greater expectations placed on college students to perform at an appropriate level and researchers assume that if a student has made it to college, he must be doing something correctly and should therefore be able to succeed regardless of the circumstances that surround them. Once again, however, this is incredibly reductive and fails to take into account many variables that can affect the experience of the college student. Each of these ideas, while pretty good hypotheses, fails to withstand any substantial pressure and as such, it is odd that there simply are not more studies conducted with college students. Applying Operant Conditioning to College Students There are numerous ways the operant conditioning can be applied in the college setting, including some of the methods used earlier for examples with children. These examples simply never make a connection or only refer to behaviors that are problems in elementary school classrooms like not raising one's hand to speak. Probably the most obvious use of operant conditioning: Grades. Grades, especially when returned as quickly as possible, help to reinforce studying if, say, an individual spends many hours studying and then gets a good grade because he believes that if he studies, he will get a good grade. The behavior has been reinforced. However, grades can also be punishers. Getting a bad grade after a night full of studying might discourage the individual to study for the next test due to the presentation of a punishing stimulus. With the former, the student might be happy to continue studying, while he might just not see the point in studying with the latter. Either way, a behavior has been conditioned based on the consequences of the test, so operant conditioning is certainly present. Another example comes from B.F. Skinner. Skinner was dissatisfied with our education system and therefore called for “teaching machines” that would “provide self-paced learning that gave immediate feedback, immediate reinforcement, and identification of problem areas that a teacher could not possibly provide.” This idea has essentially been applied through learning systems like ALEKS, a math program that allows the user to complete a problem, get instant feedback about whether he was correct or incorrect, and receive hints about how to complete the problem correctly if he missed it. Programs like ALEKS allow students to experience the aforementioned benefits of "teaching machines" that Skinner himself approved. The aforementioned example of the teacher who teaches two subjects could also be generalized to the college atmosphere. It is just one example of one of the studies that could be applied to college, but simply is not. Token economies can also be applied to college students if one just upgrades the rewards to things that actually matter to college students instead of toys or candy. For example,giving extra credit for attending three out-of-class exercises would be a reward that a college student would actually want as opposed to candy. Candy would not be incredibly motivating, but extra credit, especially in a place like Wake Forest, could really shape an individual's behavior. Shaping the Behavior ot College Students There are 6 Steps to shaping a student's behavior in a classroom, regardless of the student's age: Determining how often the target behavior occurs before shaping Selecting a target behavior for a student to perform Choosing the appropriate reinforcers Reinforcing successive approximations on a continuous schedule Reinforcing the target behavior on a continuous schedule Switching to variable reinforcement to maintain the target behavior. Applied Behavior Shaping: Step 1: Get student to study more frequently outside of class to improve grade.

Step 2: Ask the student how much time he typically spends studying outside of class.

Step 3: Use both a positive secondary reinforcer (1/2 point of extra credit for each week in which over a certain number hours are logged) and a negative secondary reinforcer (lowest quiz grade dropped if student fulfills his study quota every week).

Step 4: Accept successive approximations, or behaviors close to the desired behavior, and distribute the reward. Perhaps still giving the extra point even if the student is a few minutes below the minimum required study time.

Step 5: Reward the actual completion of the behavior on a continuous schedule so that a habit is formed.

Step 6: Shift the reinforcement schedule to variable reinforcement so that the behavior is maintained. This would entail distributing the extra credit points after a random and frequently changing number of days. By using this plan, it is quite likely that college professors could shape the behavior of a student, possibly enabling that student to excel by rewarding his stronger commitment and hard work. This use of reinforcement to strengthen a desired behavior makes this a powerful example of operant conditioning in the college world. Learned Helplessness Learned helplessness occurs when an individual is conditioned to escape punishment by doing nothing at all. Example: A student studies incredibly diligently for his first three tests in a course, but still fails each of them. At this point, he may just give up, thinking that it would make no difference whether or not he studies. This feeling that he could do nothing to improve his grade illustrates his feeling of helplessness, which resulted from the positive punishment of receiving a bad grade, thereby decreasing the likelihood that he would repeat the behavior of studying in the future. Even if the teacher was not intending to cause the behavior to change, it did nonetheless, resulting in learned helplessness. Provides a very real example of one downside of operant conditioning in the college atmosphere. This also occurs rather frequently at challenging universities like Wake Forest, making this example even more relatable. Conclusion Overall, there are many ways in which operant conditioning can be applied to college life. Therefore, there must be some reason why it very rarely is. That reason could derive from any of the following. 1) Greater expectations from college students

2) Children's increased capacity for impression and behavior modification

3) More easily observable problems in children’s classrooms

4) Researchers simply not generalizing their data and only referring to children when they could also refer to college student

5) Laziness However, as demonstrated through the following examples, there are clearly plenty of ways to apply operant conditioning, and ample ways to observe it, in the college atmosphere.

Positive reinforcement and positive punishment
The use of computer programs to reinforce learning
Professors becoming extremely conducive to the desires of their students
The use of an upgraded, more college-focused token economy system Works Cited

1)Abbott, Lynda. "Behaviorism". U. Texas. 4/19/10 <http://teachnet.edb.utexas.edu/~lynda_abbott/Behaviorism.html>.

2)Abbott, Lynda. "DETAILS -- Operant Conditioning in Education". U. Texas. 4/19/10 <http://teachnet.edb.utexas.edu/~Lynda_Abbott/Opinnov.html>.

3)Abromitis, Barbara. "Modifying Behavior in an Elementary Classroom". Suite101.com. 4/19/10 <http://preservice-teacher-training.suite101.com/article.cfm/modifying_behavior_in_an_elementary_classroom>.

4)Homme, L.E.. "Use of the Premack principle in controlling the behavior of nursery school children ". Pub Med Central. 4/19/10 <Use of the Premack principle in controlling the behavior of nursery school children >.

5)Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1997). An introduction to operant (instrumental) conditioning. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. 4/19/10 <http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/behsys/operant.html>.

6)"Learning". Merriam-Webster. 4/19/10 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict/learning>.

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8)Rider, Elizabeth A, and Sigelman, Carol K. Life-Span Human Development. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.

9)Sternberg, Robert J., and Williams, Wendy M. Educational Psychology. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2010.
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