Short Essay on Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory

Operant conditioning theory has been developed by American psychologist B.F. Skinner. The basis of operant conditioning is Reinforcement. The term ‘operant’ emphasizes the fact that behaviour operates upon the environment to generate its own consequences.” Operant behaviour is external.

The Pigeons of Ed-Tech

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It can be observed. In operant conditioning a response occurs spontaneously in the absence of any stimulation with which it may be specifically correlated.

It differs from classical conditioning mainly on two tissues; firstly in it ‘operant behaviour’ is conditioned whereas in classical conditioning ‘respondent behaviour is conditioned. Secondly in operant conditioning the behaviour should get immediate reinforcement, it has to occur at least ‘once before it can be reinforced.



While classically conditioned reflex may have zero strength in the beginning respondent behaviour is internal and personal.

According to Skinner, “The whole behaviour is the result of operant conditioning. In every field of life, reinforcement brings changes. When any behaviour is reinforced there is more opportunity of repetition of that behaviour.”

Skinner proposed two types of behaviour:


1. Respondent Behaviour

Respondent behaviour is known as S-R type behaviour. There must be a known stimulus for evoking respondent behaviour such as jerking at the pinch of pin, salvation at the sight of food, to pulling of the hand back by touching hot objects such behaviour is known as Stimulus-Response (S-R. type) behaviour.

2. Operant Behaviour

Operant behaviour is not evoked by any known stimuli or cause. Whistling, movement in the class while teaching, jumping the chalk is the examples of operant behaviour these activities occur without any reason. In such behaviour response occurs before than stimulus.


Due to this reason it is known as Response-Stimulus (R-S type) behaviour. It is the consequence of behaviour that is quite fundamental in operant conditioning.

If the behaviour is followed by pleasant consequences it will lead to its repetition and maintenance. In other words a behaviour must get due reinforcement for its proper conditioning or learning.

In case if we want that particular behaviour should not occur, we may do well by ignoring it i.e., not providing any reinforcement for its reoccurrence.

Any stimulus that strengthens behaviour is considered as a rein force there are two types of reinforces. A stimulus whose introduction or presentation strengthens behaviour may be said to be a positive reinforce.

Examples of such reinforces are praise, money, food, medal, certificates etc. On the other hand, a stimulus whose removal strengthens behaviour is considered as a negative reinforce.

Negative reinforcement involves the concept of negative reward, the avoidance of which gives the individual relief from the unpleasant situations. Negative reinforcement strengthens desirable behaviour by withdrawing unpleasant consequences.

When a teacher announces in the class that those who will draw this picture here in the class will be exempted from home work in this case home work is considered as an unpleasant task than exemption from it will be reinforcing.

One learns through the mechanism of operant conditioning. When a child pays regard to the guest at home, his parents praise him; they reward him and ask to do again. The behaviour that was operated on the environment by the child spontaneously without any specific reason now gets due reinforcement.

It this way in operant conditioning, behaviour just occurred spontaneously has almost all chances of its learning as a habit by the individual if it gets immediate proper reinforcement for its maintenance and repetition.

Skinner conducted his experiment on pigeon i.e., learning to dance in a specific way by a pigeon.

For this purpose he suggested to break the tasks into steps and providing reinforcement at the each step. For this purpose one can start from any desired simple response say turning its neck in the left direction by a pigeon.

The initial response can be immediately reinforced by a small amount of grain for elucidating the other desired response i.e., moving a step in the left direction and then taking round like dance, and thus leading it to learn to dance in a desired way.

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