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Operant conditioning: learning through punishment and rewards?

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Are you among those parents who use punishments when a kid has bad conduct? Either, do you praise and reward your child when it has good conduct? I believe that you are among them. Almost every parent and educator, use these educational techniques. But, what every parent doesn’t know is that these techniques represent a form of learning called  instrumental or operant conditioning.

For example, I will explain to you the experiment by Edward Thorndike. Namely, he placed a cat in a box with a lever and door. To escape from the box, the cat needed to press the lever which opened the box door. After a more trying to get rid of it, the cat pressed the lever accidentally. The escape was the cat’s reward. Thorndike had returned the cat to the box multi-time and cat succeed to get out of the box every time faster than before. Finally, after several repetitions of the same situation, the cat learned to press the lever immediately and go out from the box. Thorndike has called that observation the law effects. The law of the effect says that any behaviour that results in good consequences will be re-elected in the future.Operant Conditioning Edward Lee Thorndike

Types of punishments and reinforcements

There are two concepts of operant conditioning: reinforcements and punishments. Using reinforcement, we encourage good conduct. On another side, using punishments, we discourage bad behaviour. Both of them can be positive and negative. Be careful here, the terms positive and negative don’t mean good or bad. To explain, positive means adding and negative means of removing a stimulus.

Positive reinforcements mean adding stimuli to encourage good conduct. These are praise words, stunned on the shoulder, a positive grade in the school… In contrast, negative reinforcements mean removing stimuli to encourage good conduct. 

Positive punishments mean adding some stimuli to discourage bad conduct. For example, which is not recommended, a parent spanked a child because it had done something bad. Negative punishments mean removing some stimuli to discourage bad conduct. 

At the end… 

Above all, uur thoughts and feelings about behaviour consequences have a major role in the way we learn. In addition, a reward for some person is punishment for another. In fact, learning involves understanding the means of achieving the goal and all thoughts and feelings about those means and goals. For example, a child will react pleasantly when gets a cookie as a reward for good conduct, but if it likes that cookie. Therefore, operant conditioning is not as simple as it seems. Furthermore, it can result in negative consequences if we don’t use reinforcement and punishments in the right way. So, we must be careful in using it. Whit this in mind, in order to examine whether you are supporting the child in the right way, consider the following questions:

  • Do you use more negative or positive critics?
  • Do you use material things to reward a child?
  • Are the prizes bigger if the child is disobedient?
  • Do you ask the child what he/she needs?
  • Do you neglect your child emotionally?
  • Does your child feel depressed because of your negative critics?
  • Do you behave on the way that a child should not?

P.S.

Do this article helps you to understand operant conditioning? If you want to discover more about it, I recommend the books in the presentation below. Also, if you know some good book more about this subject, please, share with us. Thanks!

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