Evaluation of Operant Conditioning Theory of Learning by Burrhus Frederic Skinner

download print

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1068 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Mar 19, 2020

Words: 1068|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Mar 19, 2020


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Concepts of Operant Conditioning
  3. Classical Studies in Operant Conditioning
  4. Real-Life Applications
  5. Critical Analysis
  6. Conclusion


Operant conditioning is a significant theory of learning that has contributed immensely to our understanding of human and animal behavior. While B.F. Skinner is often associated with operant conditioning, it was actually Edward Thorndike who laid the foundational principles of this theory. Operant conditioning seeks to modify behavior through the application of rewards (reinforcement) or consequences (punishment). This essay will provide a comprehensive exploration of operant conditioning, including the concepts of reinforcement and punishment, classical studies in the field, real-life examples, and a critical analysis of the theory.

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?

Concepts of Operant Conditioning

Reinforcement is a key concept in operant conditioning. It refers to the process of increasing desirable behavior by providing rewards or positive consequences. Reinforcement can be categorized into two types: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement involves rewarding an individual with something they find pleasurable after they exhibit a desired behavior. For instance, when a mother gives her daughter a game as a reward for completing her homework, solving homework is the desired behavior, and the game serves as positive reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement entails removing something aversive or unpleasant after a desired behavior is displayed. For example, a child takes a shower to eliminate body odor, making taking a shower the desired behavior, and the removal of the bad smell is the negative reinforcement.

On the other hand, punishment seeks to reduce undesirable behavior by applying consequences, which can be divided into two types: positive punishment and negative punishment.

Positive punishment involves applying an unpleasant consequence after an undesirable behavior. For instance, a teacher assigning extra homework to a student who arrives late to school aims to decrease the undesirable behavior of tardiness.

Negative punishment, conversely, involves the removal of a pleasant stimulus following undesirable behavior. A parent taking away a child's favorite toy due to misbehavior serves as an example of negative punishment, where the removal of the toy aims to discourage the undesirable behavior.

Classical Studies in Operant Conditioning

B.F. Skinner conducted several influential experiments that contributed to our understanding of operant conditioning. One of his classic studies involved rats placed in a controlled environment known as the Skinner Box. In this experiment, a rat learned to press a specific lever to obtain food. The rat's behavior of pressing the lever increased because it received a reward (food) after performing the desired action. This experiment effectively illustrates the concept of positive reinforcement.

In another Skinner experiment, an electric current was introduced into the Skinner Box, causing discomfort to the rat. However, the rat learned that pressing a different lever would stop the electric current, illustrating the principle of negative reinforcement. The rat's behavior of pressing the lever increased to avoid the unpleasant stimulus.

Skinner's studies extended beyond rats to pigeons. In one experiment, pigeons were placed in a box with two buttons—one that provided food when pressed and another that did not. The pigeons quickly learned to press the button associated with food, demonstrating the concept of positive reinforcement once again.

Real-Life Applications

Operant conditioning concepts are not confined to laboratory experiments but are pervasive in our daily lives. Here are some real-life examples of these concepts:

  1. Positive Reinforcement: Imagine helping a friend move to a new apartment, and they treat you to dinner at your favorite restaurant as a token of appreciation. Your friend's act of rewarding you with dinner reinforces your willingness to assist them in the future.
  2. Negative Reinforcement: When experiencing a headache, taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen can provide relief. The removal of the headache serves as negative reinforcement, as it encourages you to repeat the behavior of taking pain relievers to alleviate discomfort.
  3. Positive Punishment: As a child, you might have touched a hot stove, resulting in a painful burn. The pain experienced after touching the stove serves as positive punishment, discouraging you from ever touching it again.
  4. Negative Punishment: In a classroom setting, talking while the teacher is giving a lecture might lead to the teacher confiscating your phone for the duration of the class. The loss of your phone acts as negative punishment, deterring you from talking during lessons.

Critical Analysis

While operant conditioning has provided valuable insights into learning and behavior, it is not without limitations. One criticism is that it primarily focuses on observable behavior and may overlook internal cognitive processes. Human behavior is often influenced by thoughts, emotions, and motivations, which operant conditioning alone may not adequately address.

Additionally, operant conditioning can be seen as manipulative when applied to human behavior. Critics argue that using reinforcement and punishment to modify behavior raises ethical concerns, particularly when applied to vulnerable populations.

Furthermore, operant conditioning may not account for individual differences in learning and behavior. People vary in their responsiveness to reinforcement and punishment, and the theory does not fully explain these variations.


Operant conditioning, a theory initially developed by Edward Thorndike and further expanded upon by B.F. Skinner, has significantly contributed to our understanding of how behavior can be modified through reinforcement and punishment. This essay explored the concepts of reinforcement and punishment, provided classical studies in the field, offered real-life examples, and presented a critical analysis of the theory's strengths and limitations.

Get a custom paper now from our expert writers.

While operant conditioning offers valuable insights into learning and behavior, it is essential to recognize its limitations and consider its ethical implications. As our understanding of human cognition and motivation continues to evolve, operant conditioning remains a foundational theory in the field of psychology, offering valuable tools for behavior modification when used judiciously and ethically.


  1. Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. Appleton-Century.
  2. Thorndike, E. L. (1911). Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. Macmillan.
  3. Domjan, M. (2018). The Principles of Learning and Behavior. Cengage Learning.
  4. Maag, J. W. (2016). Behavior Management: From Theoretical Implications to Practical Applications. Cengage Learning.
  5. Heward, W. L. (2012). Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education. Pearson.
  6. Catania, A. C. (2013). Learning (5th ed.). Sloan Publishing.
  7. Miltenberger, R. G. (2015). Behavior Modification: Principles and Procedures. Cengage Learning.
Image of Dr. Oliver Johnson
This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Evaluation Of Operant Conditioning Theory Of Learning By Burrhus Frederic Skinner. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from
“Evaluation Of Operant Conditioning Theory Of Learning By Burrhus Frederic Skinner.” GradesFixer, 16 Mar. 2020,
Evaluation Of Operant Conditioning Theory Of Learning By Burrhus Frederic Skinner. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Apr. 2024].
Evaluation Of Operant Conditioning Theory Of Learning By Burrhus Frederic Skinner [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Mar 16 [cited 2024 Apr 15]. Available from:
Keep in mind: This sample was shared by another student.
  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours
Write my essay

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled


Where do you want us to send this sample?

    By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    Be careful. This essay is not unique

    This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

    Download this Sample

    Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts


    Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.



    Please check your inbox.

    We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!


    Get Your
    Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!

    We can help you get a better grade and deliver your task on time!
    • Instructions Followed To The Letter
    • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
    • Unique And Plagiarism Free
    Order your paper now