Skinner’s operant conditioning is a form of learning whereby the consequence of behaviour results in changes in the probability of a certain behaviour occurring. Changes in behaviour can also be a result of an individual’s response to events that happened in his surroundings. A response on the other hand, can also be conditioned if a certain stimulus is reinforced (Santrok, 2007).
Skinner believed that the main mechanism to produce changes in the behaviour is through contingent reinforcement. This is done through the expansion of Thorndike’s Law of Effect. According to Thorndike (1906), “a response can be strengthened if it is followed by pleasure, and weakened if followed by displeasure.” (p.232) Reinforcement is thus a key element in Skinner’s theory.
There are two types of reinforcement, positive and negative. Positive reinforcement is the addition of pleasant stimulus while negative reinforcement is the removal of unpleasant stimulus. Positive reinforcement does not necessarily means “good”. It works more like a catalyst to speed up a particular action (Tan et al., 2003).
Positive reinforcement comes in many forms. For instance, a dog is given a bone after she found a treasure. This example is a concrete reinforcer whereby it is something that is obvious and can be seen to encourage a particular behavior. Another example can be seen in the scenario whereby a coach shook hands with the soccer player that scores as a winner in the match.
Santrock, John W. (2008). Educational Psychology (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Tan Oon Seng, Richard D.Parsons, Stephanie Lewis Hinson & Deborah Sardo-Brown. (2003) Educational Psychology.