Define operant conditioning. Discuss the factors that influence the course of operant conditioning.
Conditioning of operant behaviour is called operant conditioning.
Factors that influence the course of operant conditioning.
(i) Types of reinforcement: Reinforcement may be positive or negative. Positive reinforcement involves stimuli that have pleasant consequences. They strengthen and maintain the responses that have caused them to occur. Positive reinforcers satisfy needs, which include food, water, medals, praise, money, status, information, etc. Negative reinforcers involve unpleasant and painful stimuli. Responses that lead organisms to get rid of painful stimuli or avoid and escape from them provide negative reinforcement. Thus, negative reinforcement leads to learning of avoidance and escape responses. For examples, one learns to put on woollen clothes, burn firewood or use electric heaters to avoid the unplesant cold weathers.
One learns to move away from dangerous stimuli because they provide negative reinforcement. But negative reinforcement is not punishment. Use of punishment reduces or suppresses the response while a negative reinforcer increases the probability of avoidance or escape response. For example drivers and co-drivers wear their seat belts to avoid getting injured in case of an accident on to avoid being fined by the traffic police.
No punishment suppresses a response permanently. Mild and delayed punishment has no effect. The stronger the punishment the more lasting is the suppression effect but it is not permanent.
Sometimes punishment has no effect irrespective of its intensity. On the contrary, the punished person may develop dislike and hatred for the punishing agent or the person who administers the punishment.
(ii) Number of Reinforcement and other Features: It refers to the number of trials on which an organism has been reinforced or rewarded. Amount of reinforcement means how much of reinforcing stimulus (food or water or intensity of pain causing agent) one receives on each trial. Quality of reinforcement refers to the kind of reinforcer. Chickpeas or pieces of bread are of inferior quality as compared with raising or pieces of cake as reinforcer. The course of operant conditioning is usually accelerated to an extent as the number, amount, and quality of reinforcement increases.
(iii) Schedules of Reinforcement: A reinforcement schedule is the arrangement of the delivery of reinforcement during conditioning trials. Each schedule of reinforcement influences the course of conditioning in its own way; and thus conditioned responses occur with differential characteristics. The organism being subjected to operant conditioning may be given reinforcement in every acquisition trial or in some trials it is given and in others it is omitted. Thus, the reinforcement may be continuous or intermittent.
(iv) Delayed Reinforcement: The effectiveness of reinforcement is dramatically altered by delay in the occurrence of reinforcement. It is found that delay in the delivery of reinforcement leads to poorer level of performance. It can be easily shown by asking children which reward they will prefer for doing some chore. Smaller rewards immediately after doing the chore will be preferred rather than a big one after a long gap.