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Example of positive reinforcement
Did You Know?
Operant conditioning, also referred to as instrumental conditioning, was first described by psychologist B.F. Skinner.

Think about this for a minute ... how did we learn to behave the way in which we do? How did we learn that a particular behavior is good behavior and some other behavior is bad? Our parents and the society taught us, yes? But what were the tools that were used for driving the behavior home?

According to psychologist B.F. Skinner, the way in which we behave is influenced and learned by drawing an association between the way in which we behave and the consequences that our behavior leads to. This learning of behavior is termed operant conditioning, and is an integral subject in the study of behavioral psychology.

In the following sections, we will use certain operant conditioning examples to help make the concept clearer.

What is Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is the process of learning behavioral patterns which are based on certain stimuli from the environment, such that, external stimuli lead to certain behavior. A human being knows the kind of consequences that a particular behavior will lead to, and therefore, to either encourage or discourage that consequence, he will behave in a particular way. This concept can be further explained by breaking it down into 4 sub-parts.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement occurs when a particular behavior strengthens or increases in the hope of experiencing a positive action or behavior.

For Example:
A student will continue to do his homework because he knows he is rewarded with a candy (action) or is praised (behavior) by his parents or teachers if he completes it. This is a great example of positive reinforcement in the classroom.

Negative Reinforcement

In this form, a particular behavior strengthens or increases in the hope that a negative consequence can be avoided.

For Example:
The elevator in a building makes a lot of noise, so a person decides to take the stairs. Taking the stairs helps avoid the negative action of dealing with the noise.

Positive Punishment

In this concept, a particular behavior pattern decreases so as to avoid dealing with something unpleasant after.

For Example:
A student tries to avoid turning in late for class so that the teacher does not insult/shout.

Negative Punishment

In this, a particular behavior pattern decreases so that a positive stimulus or object is not taken away or removed.

For Example:
A child might stop throwing tantrums after his favorite toy is taken away after each tantrum.

While positive and negative reinforcement help in increasing or strengthening a particular behavior, positive and negative punishment help in decreasing or discouraging it.

Examples in Children

There are certain operant conditioning behavior examples in the classroom as well as in a home set up that you can observe in children. Here are a few examples.

Example # 1
A child learns to clean his/her room after being rewarded with TV time, every time he cleans it. (Positive reinforcement)

Example # 2
After hitting a classmate, the child is made to sit separately and no one is allowed to talk to him. This will ensure that the child never ever hits any classmate again. (Positive punishment)

Example # 3
A child will clean his room in order to avoid being nagged by his mother (where the nagging is the negative stimulus), and will end up having a clean room. (Negative reinforcement)

Example # 4
A child is stopped from watching his favorite cartoon show because he gets into a fight with his sibling (where the cartoon show is the positive stimuli), and he learns to avoid getting into a fight henceforth. (Negative punishment)

Examples in Adults

Learning behavior through operant conditioning does not stop at childhood; in fact, it continues throughout a person's life. Here are some examples.

Example # 1
A person decides to take a different route on his morning walk to avoid a garbage dump and therefore increases his running speed and the distance that he covers. (Negative Reinforcement)

Example # 2
A person stops teasing his girlfriend about a certain issue after she gives him the silent treatment. (Negative Punishment)

Example # 3
Every time the wife makes her husband's favorite dish, he gets into a good mood and takes her out for a romantic evening. (Positive reinforcement)

Example # 4
A student's cell phone is taken away and he is given a scolding, after the cell phone starts ringing in the middle of a lecture (where the shouting becomes the negative stimuli). The student will learn either to put the phone on silent mode or never to get it in class. (Positive punishment)

These operant conditioning examples show us a pattern which dictates that most behavior patterns that we learn are not merely as a result of our thoughts and conscience, but due to the fact that there are negative and positive stimuli in the environment that influence the way in which we act and behave.