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Operant Conditioning. Education

The upbringing of a child often requires significant efforts; however, it is also important to understand various aspects of rewards and punishments. Operant conditioning is one of the learning methods described by Skinner, who identifies four consequences of reinforcement that can be applied in different situations. Further, this framework is presented in the form of a short story, which demonstrates the peculiarities of each consequence.

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Once upon a time, there was a young babysitter who was asked to stay with a four-year-old girl and a twelve-year-old boy because their parents left for a two-day business trip. She did not have a lot of experience with children but was very responsible. Unfortunately, the children were misbehaving and did not listen to the babysitter. When she became desperate to control the brother and sister, their house suddenly disappeared, and they found themselves in a magical forest called Operant Conditioning.

After wandering around the woods, the babysitter and children saw four doors, each with its own name. They opened the first door, which was called “Positive reinforcement.” Behind this door, there were a lot of sweets, toys, smartphones, and other things that could be used as rewards for misbehaving children. The babysitter understood that positive reinforcement means that certain behavior of a child is encouraged by praise or a reward (Cherry, 2020). At the same time, it is important to understand that rewards do not always help achieve the desired result (Coon & Mitterer, 2014). For example, giving an iPhone to a teenager can be more effective than giving him chocolate. Therefore, she decided to check other techniques of maintaining children’s behavior.

She opened the second door to see if there is another way out of the magical forest. The door “Positive punishment” led to the world where children’s behavior was controlled by presenting an unfavorable outcome to weaken the undesired response (Cherry, 2020). An example of this technique is slapping a child or a teenager for cursing in order to prevent similar behavior in the future. However, she understood that disciplining an older child in this way could result in worse consequences (Coon & Mitterer, 2014). Therefore, together, the babysitter and children moved to the next door.

She tried to open the third door called “Negative reinforcement.” Inside, she learned that to increase children’s response, she could remove negative outcomes after the display of the behavior (Cherry, 2020). It is necessary to emphasize that this model refers to the reinforcement of an adult’s behavior (Cherry, 2020). For example, the babysitter could give chocolate to a crying four-year-old girl after throwing a tantrum. As for her older brother, she could let him play computer games or watch TV when he was shouting because he had to do his homework.

Finally, the babysitter decided to check what was behind the last door, which was called “Negative punishment.” According to Skinner’s model, negative punishment refers to adding an aversive motivation to the situation (Cherry, 2020). For example, the babysitter could take away the girl’s favorite toy for breaking the vase or ground the teenage boy for not doing his homework. Suddenly, she understood that every method is individual and depends on the age of children, their character, and their particular responses to different types of rewards and punishments. As soon as she thought about it, the characters of this story found themselves back in their house.

After this short journey to the magical forest Operant Conditioning, the babysitter understood that all four consequences have advantages and disadvantages. She decided that a fixed-reinforcement schedule would probably be the best option for controlling children’s behavior. This method implies reinforcing a reply after a specific number of desired responses and gives high and steady results (Cherry, 2020). Indeed, by using this technique and praising both a four-year-old girl and a twelve-year-old boy for good behavior, she enjoyed spending time with children, who behaved in the best way.

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Cherry, K. (2020). What is operant conditioning and how does it work? Verywell Mind. Web.

Coon, D., & Mitterer, J.O. (2014). Psychology: A journey (5th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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