Operant Conditioning Theory

The bearing of all animals and humans is guided or created by the consequences of their responses to a particular drive. These drives are experienced by an organism when it comes to the presence of different types of environments. The prolonged association of bearing with various stimuli gives rise to learning. This approach to learning uses the concept of rewards and punishment in order to acquire certain bearing. As it can be suggested, the response which is rewarded will tend to repeat itself, and the other responses which are punished will reduce their occurrence. For example, while working in corporate culture, employees repeat the same effort once a project is rewarded. If the same has been punished, the employees will lose all motivation and gradually will reduce the efforts on that project.

What is Operant Conditioning Theory?

Operant Conditioning theory suggests an explanation of how animals and humans relate their actions to the consequences of reward and punishment. This is a very basic form of learning which is observable at every level. Theory broadly tells that every stimulus results in bearing, which finally leads to consequences, which can be either positive or negative, ultimately governing the future occurrence of that bearing change. These responses are further divided into three sub-categories based on the type of consequence they generate.

  • Neutral Operants − These are responses from the environment that produce no stimulus. This means that when these conditions occur, they do not increase or decrease the possibility of the bearing being repeated.

  • Reinforcers − These environmental responses increase the probability of occurrence or relatedness of a bearing and can be positive or negative.

  • Punishers − They are the negative operants that decrease the chances of the bearing repeating itself. In other words, it can also be said that they weaken the bearing.

Types of behavior

It includes

Respondent Behavior

These are the bearings that a person does not have to learn. They get acquired involuntarily or automatically, like shivering in the body by coming in contact with cold surroundings.

Operant Behavior

On the flip side, these are well under our conscious control, sometimes, they are generated spontaneously, and sometimes they are acquired purposely. However, the nature of actions determines the probability of these occurring again.

Types of Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a key concept in understanding this theory. The main characteristic of reinforcers is that they directly increase the possibility of the occurrence of these bearings. These reinforcers are further divided into two forms.

Positive Reinforcers

They are the positive outcomes or favorable events presented after the bearing. In these, the bearing is strengthened by the addition of praise or rewards. If an incentive is given at the timely completion of any project, this incentive will increase the future possibility of completing the project timely.

Negative Reinforcers

In this reinforcing, a negative outcome or unfavorable event is removed from the final consequence, which in turn results in the increased possibility of the repetition of the bearing. If a child has been providing an ice cream that prevents crying, then this ice cream is considered a negative reinforcer in this case

Punishment in Conditioning

It is the procedure of decreasing the relative possibility of repetition of any bearing change with the help of adverse events or outcomes followed by the bearing. These punishments are of two types.

Positive Punishment

It is also called punishment by application, in which an unfavorable outcome is presented to decrease the repeatability. If a student is given a beating on the hand with a stick for making a mistake in a classroom, this will very likely reduce the possibility of the occurrence of the same mistake.

Negative Punishment

It is also known as punishment by removal. In this kind, a favorable event is taken out or removed from the environment, which results in a decrease in the bearing. If a child is playing too much videogame, then if videogame is taken away, obviously, it will reduce the playing, but in some cases, It may also lead to misbearing.


The Skinner box is a simple box used to condition operant behavior in animals. This box generally contains a lever or another gadget that must be operated to obtain a prize. Skinner used a semi-starved rat in his classic experiment. There was a lever that, when pressed, activated a device that delivered a food pellet to the rat. At first, the rat engages in various random behaviors, such as strolling, sniffing, and scratching. None of these aided in obtaining the meal. The rat unintentionally pushed the lever at some point, and the food was supplied. Of course, this was a substantial prize for the semi-starved rat. Skinner noticed that after a few unintentional manipulations of the lever, the rat began to spend more time at the lever and eventually purposefully pressed the lever whenever it was hungry. As a result, pushing the lever has become a new operant for the rat. Skinner also observed that if pressing the lever no longer delivered food, the rat's operant behavior reduced and eventually halted. This is known as operant conditioning experimental extinction.

In Skinnerian terminology, any random behavior displayed by the rat within the box was also an operant behavior. However, these had been conditioned in the rat before your intervention, and each of these behaviors was previously rewarded for the rat. It had previously scratched a paper packet, causing food to fall from it.

However, none of them could satisfy its hunger within the Skinner box. The reward was therefore brought about by an unintentional behavior (pressing of the lever), which was wholly novel to the rat. The meal served as a reinforcer for this new operant. As the newly learned behavior was rewarded in subsequent trials, the likelihood of its recurrence rose. Skinner established his theory of environmental behavior determination. The rat accidentally pressed the lever for the first time. However, this unintentional behavior might be shaped into a rather long-lasting alteration in the behavioral repertoire by controlling its consequences in a certain manner. Skinner's viewpoint emphasizes that behavior outcomes rather than the antecedents decide to learn. Antecedents set the stage, but consequences determine whether or not the behavior is conditioned. You can see how this is a fairly controversial statement that opens up a wide range of possibilities for manipulating human behavior.

Applications in Daily Life

We are all defined by the types of habits we acquire, and they have the power to influence a person's life. These habits can be automatically or reflexively acquired, and in some cases, it is purposefully created. In all of the above cases, they are still habits, which means various environmental changes can manipulate them, and this operant conditioning theory can play a vital role. Applying this theory requires understanding its basic principles to be proven useful and functional in a person's everyday lifestyle. Once the concepts are well understood, the next step is to break down a habit into different parts. Then these parts are analyzed, and this theory is applied to them to achieve the desired results. For understanding, if a person wants to make a schedule of exercising but is unable to get motivated for the same, then this theory can be applied, which will help to create a new training schedule and also help in creating motivation to do the same tasks with more interest.


While the study of behaviorism has lost much of its significance in modern society, these theories also hold particularly significant today. It allows us to wander the vast horizons of the mind. To analyze the bearing pattern and provide various supplements that ultimately result in modifying such traits to our advantage. These concepts are mostly read with an educational and academic view, but these can also be used in daily activities to acquire good habits and eliminate wrong ones. It can also be used at home to help children acquire good bearing and can also be used to train animals. It serves various purposes; it depends on the person's ability to utilize the concepts.