Operant Conditioning and Behavior Change

Operant Conditioning and Behavior Change

Operant condition is the process where humans learn to behave in a particular way so as to avoid punishment or get rewards. This is also known as instrumental conditioning. According to skinners theory on operant conditioning led to the discovery of two basic concepts of the operant conditioning that is reinforcement and punishment (Coon, Mitterer, Talbot, & Vanchella, 2010). Each of these two concepts is divided to positive and negative categories. Operant conditioning uses a promise or probability of rewards that causes an increase in behavior. At the same time, operant conditioning is also be used to reduce behavior. The mitigation of bad outcome or punishment is useful in removing or averting the bad behavior.

Reinforcement is any situation that fortifies or increases a behavior. This is divided into two major parts that is the positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is approving outcomes that are shown after a certain behavior. This often comes in the form of praise or direct reward. On the other hand, negative reinforcement is the removal of bad behavior. Often a response is strengthened by the elimination of bad behavior (Coon et al, 2010). For example, a child hurries to finish her homework early as there is a reward or price they will get for finishing their homework early. Also an employee will finish a project on time and early if there is a reward to be given after. Therefore it is right to say that operant conditioning is experienced in human’s daily life.

Punishment is an outcome that helps reduce a behavior unlike in reinforcement that increases behavior. The two forms of punishment are positive and negative punishment. Positive punishment aims weakening bad behavior response (Lattal, 2010). Negative punishment focuses on removal. This occurs when favorable outcome is removed after a certain behavior occurs. These concepts will be carefully illustrated in the behavioral change of three persons, Andrew Alex, John Steve and Charlie Jane.

Andrew Alex, a 21 year old law student, has the recurring behavior of smoking when tensed up. He will often find himself buying more than one packet of cigarettes in the shop next to his outside gate especially during exam time. This, according to him, helps him more comfortable in an exam room and hence able to think. There is a problem with this behavior as when he was a child, he was diagnosed with bronchitis which is likely to be triggered back if he persists with smoking behavior.

John Steve, a married man with a family of four, is used to sleeping with music on. This behavior has led him to use his phone to listen to music when there is a blackout leaving it with no charge to use the following day. The wife is not having comfortable sleep as the music keeps waking her up during the night. Last but not least, Charlie Jane has continually engaged in drug trafficking. According to her, it is the only way she attains power, wealth and prosperity. This leaves her vulnerable to maladies such as ending to life sentence in jail or possibly being killed.

The basic concepts will be employed to try to alter the behavior of these three persons. This case will involve the application of a follow up project. Operant condition involves using both positive and negative reinforcement to improve on behavior. In Alex’s case, his parents promised to increase his allowance every time he stays for long hours without smoking especially during the exam period. If he smokes, his allowance is reduced. The monitoring of this will be done through Alex noting down on a note book the number of hours does not smoke.  The positive reinforcement that will help stop the habit is increased allowances will the negative reinforcement is its reduction. This reward Alex any time he does without smoking.


In the case of Steve, every night that he has managed to sleep without music will be compensated by the wife with either a massage or a hearty breakfast. Jane will be appreciated for every time she abandons drug trafficking.

The possibility of this leading to positive reinforcement will be determinant on a number of factors. For instance, in the first case, Alex will not stop smoking if the allowance increment does not induce a peace of mind in an exam room. The process is also challenged in the second case as the husband might grow complacent to the nice treatment and revert back to the old ways. In the third scenario, the chances of working and bearing fruits are high as the reward triggers a feel-good effect on the person making her want more and more.

This occurs where the frequency of the behavior is reduced (Kolb, 2010). For instance, in Alex’s case, for every time he smokes and coughs, he will be accruing an overwhelming urge to stop smoking. A way of triggering him to stop is by constantly reminding him what he is risking and revealing to him the kind of damage he is exposing himself to. This in effect can be manifested by the dad rebuking his behavior and hence leading to a reduction of the frequency of smoking and possibly stopping completely.

In the second case, Steve might be rebuked by the wife. She might send a message by going to the guest room to sleep there. This might make Steve feel bad about it and compromise his comfort for the common good. Jane might be taken to a rehabilitation center on engage her into seminars and counselors who advice people on drug trafficking. Jane enrolling in a rehabilitation center can be considered integrationist approach.  Using the social principle of learning, Jane will be able to interact with persons that were drug traffickers before and help her change for the better.

The chance of this process working is high as they trigger in all subjects an emotional conviction. The case of Alex might have the lowest possibility of resulting in success as the subject might resort to hiding so as to smoke.

The result in change after the subject has been exposed to negative consequences (negative reinforcement and punishment). The punishment is likely to push them to stop the bad behavior and adopt a favorable and desired behavior.  In Alex’s case, every time he is found smoking will involve a reduction in his allowances. In Steve’s case, every time he sleeps with the music playing, the wife will involve the church elders in resolving that issue. In Jane’s case, every time it is established that she engaged in drugs, she gets grounded.

The chances of this working are quite high. This triggers compliance. What determines whether or not it functions will be the fact that they (the subjects) have been stopped from doing what they do normally as a punishment of what they do. Initially, they will rebel against it. However, in the long run the will realize that they have to conform so as to get their freedom back.

This involves the adding of an aversive stimulus to decrease a certain behavior or response. In the case of our subjects, Alex’s process will involve receiving rebuke from the family member he really respects such as the grandmother. In the case of Steve, the parents in law will be involved to settle the matter. The family will be called to give advice on how to settle the matter. In Jane, the process is to provide her with guidance on how to quit.

The possibility of this working is quite high, albeit for the short while. This will deal with shame. No human being handles shame well. All fight it off and subconsciously look for ways of mitigating their shame. Some will resort to immediate compliance while others will definitely give in and in the meantime look for a way to get out of the cuffs binding her. In the first case, that is that of Alex, it will work probably even in the long run as the guilt triggered depending on how affectionate he is with the grandmother will definitely have an effect.

In the case of Steve, he will evaluate what he stands to lose if the parents in law get to know that they are fighting over trifles. This will make him choose to stop the habit of listening to music just before sleeping. In the case of Jane, she might probably quit drugs for some time, but she might resort back and even do more than before of her age of rebelliousness.

The behavior change process involves different factors. These factors will either aid in reducing or aggravate the behavior depending on the choice. The subject’s environment also determines whether the change in behavior will occur or not. Therefore it is important for one to understand the subject’s behavior and the expected change so as to put the subject in an environment that is suitable for the desired change



Coon, D., Mitterer, J. O., Talbot, S., & Vanchella, C. M. (2010). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Lattal, K. A. (January 01, 2010). Delayed reinforcement of operant behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 93, (1), 129 – 39.

Kolb, E. M. (2010). Neurobiological and physiological underpinnings of high voluntary wheel       running. Riverside, CA: University of California, Riverside.

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