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A Personal Study on B. F. Skinner's Theory on Operant Conditioning

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The theory that I chose to write about is B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning because it intrigues me and is the one that I agree with the most. B.F. Skinner is an incredible American psychologist who developed one of the most influential theories there is. Skinner is a behaviorist and had developed his theory through conducting numerous amounts of research on shaping behavior. Operant conditioning is a behavior modification technique, which he developed in contrast with classical conditioning from Pavlov and Watson. His idea of the behavior modification technique was to put the subject on a program with steps. The steps included setting goals, which would help you determine how the subject would be changed by following the said steps.

Operant conditioning is a type of learning where a person’s actions are reinforced or punished. The principle of Skinner’s theory reflects on how behavior that is positively reinforced will most likely reoccur again. In order for responses to be reinforced, information should be presented in small amounts. Another key principle states that reinforcements will also generalize across similar stimuli, which, in turn produces secondary conditioning. In summary, behavior is influenced by the consequences of actions, and reinforcement is crucial in changing or altering behavior. The term reinforcement in itself is any characteristic in the environment that increases the likelihood that a person will repeat a behavior in the future. On the contrary, punishment is any characteristic that decreases the probability that a person will repeat a behavior. According to B.F. Skinner, “children operate on their environments (hence the term operant conditioning), adjusting their behaviors to attract more reinforcements and to avoid punishments”. (12)

This theory of Skinner’s proves that children adjust behavior to gain reinforcement and to avoid punishment as well. Operant conditioning and Skinner’s theory have been applied throughout various forms of research and clinical settings. Teachers use this method of operant conditioning to control children in their classroom and parents apply both positive and negative reinforcement to their children as well throughout their daily lives.

When it came to more complex sorts of behaviors, the idea of shaping came into play. The procedure of shaping is selectively reinforcing certain behaviors while ignoring or punishing others. It is said that language development and how children come to produce speech have to do with shaping. “Learning theorists believe that the specific language training a child receives governs language development and that biological predispositions do not play an important role”. (264) When conducting research, Skinner and his students have had successful outcomes in getting simple animals to do extremely difficult things using shaping. We, as humans, are essentially shaped by our environment to enjoy or dislike certain things.

This theory both compares and contrasts with my childhood and how I was growing up in a numerous amount of ways. In regards to shaping, I noticed that my parents would reinforce positive behavior as much as possible when I was learning math because it was something I struggled a bit more with as a kid. I would be placed in an environment where all I could do is learn and there would be no distractions. My parents would constantly tell me how crucial it was that I receive good grades. I would be praised for the good grades I received and it made me want to work harder to receive that praise continuously. I still experience a form of operant conditioning even during college. Credit cards give more student loan options to students who are performing well in a university which is another form of a reward that makes them work much harder. However, sometimes operant conditioning doesn’t work and if parents were to punish their child constantly for receiving bad grades, a child can grow to have a hatred towards school as they grow up. It is important to be understanding as well as notice that sometimes children struggle and reinforcement isn’t always going to provide the outcome you want.

I believe strongly in discipline and not caving in to your children when you already told them no multiple times. For example, if a kid wants to buy candy or a toy in a store and starts crying, a parent should be stern and continue to refuse the candy bar. If the parent ends up giving in and buying the child the candy or toy, the child can start to put two and two together and apply this method of operant conditioning in a negative reinforcement way. Therefore, there needs to be a consistent pattern displayed through this method.

Certain ethical or cultural issues that may connect with the operant conditioning theory

from Skinner would be any time that there is physical or mental abuse being placed upon a person. Punishment being placed upon a person should never do any physical harm and reinforcement should be healthy and not anything that could be considered addictive. There needs to be a lot of care and attention that goes into both correcting and teaching behavior. B.F. Skinner is said to have also “grossly underplayed the role of biology in forging and regulating human behavior dismissing the burgeoning fields of behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive science. Skinner argued that humans don’t really think — that they merely respond to environmental cues”. Therefore, this theory can’t apply across all cultures because there are certain cultural factors that one person may experience opposed to someone else. Parents may use stricter forms of operant conditioning in different countries because that is how they were raised and a child may not have the same positive effect like Skinner would hope his theory proves.

My interactions with children are now influenced by this theory because I have grown more cautious in understanding that essentially you can try to train a child through delivery and reinforcement but ultimately it all comes down to how the kid is. Operant conditioning doesn’t necessarily always provide the outcome you want if the kid refuses to go along with it. I will try to apply the method of operant conditioning when babysitting or when I have my own kids someday to alter behaviors as best as I can if a child is acting up unnecessarily.

Some parenting advice that I would give parents would be to stray away from the authoritarian approach as best as possible and realize that there is a difference between discipline and damaging discipline. Using the operant conditioning method to keep children “in line” and exactly how you want them to act can be harming for them down the line. If a child is always harmfully punished for his wrong actions, there will be a lot of mental damage done and it can hurt the child instead of allow him to grow and understand his wrongdoings. The best advice to understand and incorporate into parenting is that there is a fine line between discipline and compassion/understanding. If a child does something incorrectly, talk to them patiently and calmly without the reinforcement. Sometimes a child can grasp and have a better understanding through the kindness a parent shows because they see the concern come from the heart. It is also important to be consistent if applying B.F. Skinner’s method of operant conditioning because a child can get confused on what is right and what is wrong. If a child gets punished for doing something but also receives positive reinforcement, they may perform their behavior once more in hopes of receiving that positive reward once again.

All in all, B.F. Skinner’s method of operant conditioning does work but it is important to use it to an extent in parenting and understand that it may work for some but not for others. It is all dependent on outside factors such as cultural values, parenting styles, and our lives in general.

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GradesFixer. (2018, October, 26) A Personal Study on B. F. Skinner’s Theory on Operant Conditioning. Retrived June 4, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-personal-study-on-b-f-skinners-theory-on-operant-conditioning/
"A Personal Study on B. F. Skinner’s Theory on Operant Conditioning." GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018, https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-personal-study-on-b-f-skinners-theory-on-operant-conditioning/. Accessed 4 June 2020.
GradesFixer. 2018. A Personal Study on B. F. Skinner’s Theory on Operant Conditioning., viewed 4 June 2020, <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-personal-study-on-b-f-skinners-theory-on-operant-conditioning/>
GradesFixer. A Personal Study on B. F. Skinner’s Theory on Operant Conditioning. [Internet]. October 2018. [Accessed June 4, 2020]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-personal-study-on-b-f-skinners-theory-on-operant-conditioning/
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