Author Archives: Rachel Labarbera

Operant Conditioning

German shepherds are known for being incredibly intelligent animals. This stereotype holds true to my dog, Holly. When Holly was four months old, my family started to train her to do tricks. Learning to sit, lay down and give her paw was super easy. We then wanted to move on to more advanced tricks and decided to teach her how to roll over. We began teaching Holly how to roll over by making her sit, then we gave her a treat, we made her lay down, then we gave her a treat, then we would roll her body over for her, then we gave her a treat and made a lot of noise to congratulate her. After doing this a few times, we stopped helping her roll her body over and let her do it on her own.  If she was successful, she received a treat.

This training is considered operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is conditioning that requires either a reward or punishment. Operant conditioning is extremely easy to do with animals. B.F. Skinner discovered operant conditioning and was successful in training pigeons to turn around by giving the pigeons food. This lead to the discovery that it is simple to train a human or animal to complete a task if a reward or punishment is involved.

In the case of my dog, the treat was a positive reinforcer that resulted in Holly learning how to roll over. It is considered a positive reinforcer because it increased her behave by presenting a positive stimuli. If Holly did not cooperate and refused to roll over, she would not receive a treat, which was a form of negative punishment. This is negative punishment because we removed a desirable stimuli. Holly wanted the treat badly, so by removing it from her, we decreased her behavior of not cooperating.

It only took a day for Holly to be able to do the trick on her own.  Holly is now nine years old and is a professional at rolling over. Holly is so well trained that whenever we open the cabinet where her treats are located, she runs into the living room and does a roll over without us even asking. Since we save how well operant conditioning worked, we used that method to train Holly to do other things as well, like open up the back door to let herself outside.

My Flashbulb Memory

The most vivid memory from my youth is a particular day during elementary school. This day is September 11, 2001. My 6th birthday was September 10th, 2001. Unfortunately, I was sick on my birthday and was unable to bring in cupcakes to celebrate with the class. Due to my illness, my birthday celebration took place on September 11th. I remember my mom coming to school with cupcakes, but half of my class was gone because their parents picked them up early. I was so confused why people weren’t there to celebrate my birthday with me. I remember my 1st grade teacher, Mrs.Comisky crying as she kicked open the backdoor to let her husband in. I remember watching them hug and kiss for a long time. The entire class was grossed out because we were watching our teacher kiss her husband. Later, I found out that he works in New York City and made it home safely. I remember my mom taking me home from school early after my birthday celebration. When we got home, my mom turned on the news and on the screen was the image of the towering burning down. She stood there crying.

This day is a flashbulb memory. A flashbulb memory is a very vivid and thorough memory. Even though this was almost 13 years ago and I was only 6 years old, I still remember this day almost perfectly. I can remember the yellow shirt and brown pants that Mrs.Comisky was wearing, I can remember that the cupcakes my mom brought to school were vanilla with blue frosting, and I can remember the feeling I got seeing my mom crying while watching the news.

This day is engrained into my memory. I truly believe that I will remember this day for the rest of my life. This event was very significant to my life and extremely tragic, which is why I am able to remember it so well.

Why do we put up with toxic relationships?

Recently, I’ve been helping a friend who has been stuck in a toxic relationship for the past 6 months. I have a hard time helping her because I can’t understand why she would want to be with someone who half the time is great, and half the time horrible. He is unappreciative and rude to her most of the time. It seems simple to me for her to leave the relationship and completely forget about him. However, after reading an article I found on, I understand why that is so hard for her. As stated in the article, although we have been programed to make life as enjoyable and happy as possible, sometimes toxic relationships are hard to avoid.

The article talks about reasons that my friend could possibly still want to be in this relationship could have to do with the way she grew up. The article explains that if my friend grew up with a relationship with her parents similar to her relationship with her romantic partner, she may perceive this behavior as acceptable. She could believe that, “if you are nice to me, you are allowed to hurt me.” ( This would relate to the psychology concept of nurture, and learning behavior.

Another reason that my friend wants to stay in this toxic relationship is because of chemical reactions in the brain. The article refers to the chemical dopamine, which is responsible for feeling happy, being released during lust. Also, being in this unpredictable relationship creates adrenaline in the brain. The article says, “Adrenaline is a stimulant. Stimulants are addictive. In terms of neuro chemicals, you can think of dopamine as straight whiskey, adrenaline as beer, and the brain as a boozehound.”( This explanation relates to the psychology concept of neurons and chemicals in the brain.

The article suggests that the way to escape a toxic relationship like the one my friend is in, is to learn why she wants to be in this relationship. She needs to realize that the reason she wants to be in this relationship is because of subconscious psychology and chemicals in the brain.