Tag Archives: operant conditioning

Operant Conditioning

A man by the name of B.F. Skinner changed the way we looked at behaviors. As a graduate student at Harvard (Goldstein, 2011, p. 10) he presented an approach that is still used today. This was the time of behaviorism, in American psychology, when psychologists were shifting their focus to the study of behavior from the study of the mind.

I have worked in schools and for private companies as a behavior technician. A behavior technician works with those who have behavioral issues. I would observe their behaviors and record data. From that data I would identify the functions of the behaviors and come up with a plan to decrease the undesired behaviors and reinforce the positive behaviors. As a behavior technician I have used the works of B.F Skinner and his idea of operant conditioning. B.F. Skinner introduced operant conditioning, which observed how the use of reinforcement strengthens behavior. (Goldstein, 2011, p. 10) As a behavior technician I used operant conditioning to help increase the positive behavior and decrease the undesired behavior.

I worked with a student who had verbal outbursts, yelling or screaming above speaking level, every one and a half minutes. This behavior was very disruptive to their opportunity to learn while in class. To strengthen the appropriate behavior they were reinforced every 45 seconds for having a quiet voice, which meant no verbal outbursts. The verbal outburst behavior began to decrease slightly by the end of the day. This reinforcement was continued for weeks until the outbursts were close to one every two hours.

There are other additions to the study of behavior that B.F. Skinner has given us since the 1938 introduction of operant conditioning, but this is where it all stems from. (Goldstein, 2011, p. 11)  Operant conditioning allows us to increase the desired behavior with reinforcement. When the undesired behavior is not reinforced it tends to decrease. This technique is used in classrooms that have students with behavioral issues, residential programs with those with intellectual disabilities and with those with autism. It is not limited to just these populations but these are just a few to name that staff are increasing positive behavior using operant conditioning.



Goldstein, E. (2011). Introduction to Cognitive Psychology. In Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed., p. 10-11). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.