Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence.
Reinforcement is responsible for response strengthening—increasing the rate of responding or making responses more likely to occur. A reinforcer (or reinforcing stimulus) is any stimulus or event following a response that leads to response strengthening.
Punishment decreases the future likelihood of responding to a stimulus. Punishment may involve withdrawing a positive reinforcer or presenting a negative reinforcer following a response.
Stimuli such as food, water, and shelter are called Primary Reinforcers because they are necessary for survival. Secondary Reinforcers are stimuli that become conditioned through their association with primary reinforcers.
As a behaviourist, Skinner believed that one should focus on the external, observable causes of behaviour, and internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behaviour.
Although Operant conditioning has been discredited by current learning theorists because it cannot adequately explain higher-order and complex forms of learning, the influence continues as operant conditioning principles are commonly applied to enhance student learning and behavior. According to Standridge (2002), the "classic" Skinnerian behaviorist rules include:
Generalization - Once a certain response occurs regularly to a given stimulus, the response also may occur to other stimuli. Generalization can advance skill development across subject areas.
The basic operant conditioning method of behavioral change is shaping - learning by doing with corrective feedback, or differential reinforcement of successive approximations to the desired form or rate of behavior (Morse & Kelleher, 1977).
To shape behavior, one adheres to the following sequence: