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SCIENTIFIC PSYCHOLOGY

OPERANT CONDITIONING, textbook examples of application

From a Canadian on-line Athabascau University at http://psych.athabascau.ca/html/prtut/pr.cgi.  This exercise teaching the concept of positive reinforcement is a web version of a written exercise used in Athabasca University's Psychology 387 (Learning).

From a Canadian on-line Athabascau University at http://psych.athabascau.ca/html/prtut/pr.cgi.  This exercise teaching the concept of positive reinforcement is a web version of a written exercise used in Athabasca University's Psychology 387 (Learning).

 

 

 

TEACHING EXAMPLES

Concept Definition: Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is one of the key concepts in behavior analysis, a field within psychology. Positive reinforcers are something like rewards, or things we will generally work to get. However, the definition of a positive reinforcement is more precise than that of reward. Specifically, we can say that positive reinforcement has occurred when three conditions have been met:

         A consequence is presented dependent on a behavior.

         The behavior becomes more likely to occur.

         The behavior becomes more likely to occur because and only because the consequence is presented dependent on the behavior.


Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #1: The Importance of an Increase in the Level of the Behavior

 

Example of positive reinforcement of smiling:  Stephan and Cody were two mentally disabled boys who seldom smiled at other people. Dr. Hopkins used a procedure in which he would take them for walks, and if they smiled at passers by, he would give them some pieces of M & M's candy. This procedure caused Stephan and Cody to smile much more often than they had before.

 

Nonexample of positive reinforcement of smiling:  Stephan and Cody were two mentally disabled boys who seldom smiled at other people. Dr. Hopkins used a procedure in which he would take them for walks, and if they smiled at passers by, he would give them some pieces of M & M's candy. Stephan and Cody ate the candy quickly.

 

Analysis:  The first item is an example of positive reinforcement. First, a consequence was presented dependent upon the target behavior. The candy was dependent on smiling because there was an if-then relationship between smiling and candy: If smiling occurred, candy was presented; but if no smiling occurred, no candy was presented. Second, there was an increase in the level of smiling. Third, the increase in the level of smiling was due to the relationship between smiling and candy.  The second item (nonexample) is not an example of reinforcement because there is no mention of an increase in the level of the target behavior. There must be an increase in some measure of the behavior in order to say that reinforcement has occurred.

 

 

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #2: Importance of Response-Dependent Consequences

 

Example of positive reinforcement of cooperative play:  Martha was a five-year-old girl who attended preschool. She seldom played with the other children. Workers at the preschool began praising and admiring Martha when she engaged in cooperative play with other children. As a result of this procedure Martha's level of cooperative play with the other children increased.

 

Nonexample of positive reinforcement of cooperative play:  Martha was a five-year-old girl who attended preschool. She seldom played with the other children. Workers at the preschool began praising and admiring Martha more than they had before. As a result of this procedure, Martha's level of cooperative play with the other children increased.

 

Analysis:  The first item is an example of positive reinforcement. First the praise and admiration were presented dependent on cooperative play because there was an if-then relationship between cooperative play and praise and admiration. Second, the level of cooperative play increased. Third, the increase in cooperative play was due to the dependency between cooperative play and praise. The second item (nonexample) is not an example of positive reinforcement because the presentation of the consequences, praise and admiration, was not response-dependent. In order to say that an increase in behavior is due to reinforcement, the behavior must have a response-dependent consequence; there must be an if-then relationship between the behavior and the consequence. In this example, there is no mention of an if-then relationship between the cooperative play and presentation of praise and admiration. When there is no consistent if-then relationship between a response and a stimulus presentation, the stimulus presentation is said to be response-independent

 

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #3: Using Rules or Instructions to do Something More Often is not Positive Reinforcement

 

Example of positive reinforcement of quiz answers:  Students in Professor Ohno's class were given a weekly quiz. The students' percent correct quiz responding on the first quiz was low, so Professor Ohno began praising the performance of those students who answered the quiz questions correctly. As a result of this procedure, the students' quiz performance improved on the rest of the quizzes.

 

Nonexample of positive reinforcement of quiz answers:  Students in Professor Ohno's class were given a weekly quiz. Over the years Professor Ohno had given a lecture in which he emphasized two rules for success in his class: study hard, and pay careful attention to your work. Ohno would sometimes give the rules before the students had done any work, and would sometimes give it after they had taken several quizzes. No matter when he gave the lecture, it would always improve the students' percent correct quiz responding.

 

Analysis:  The first item is an example of positive reinforcement. Praise was dependent on correct quiz responses, correct responses increased, and correct responses increased because of the dependent relationship of responses and consequences.  The second (nonexample) item is not an example of reinforcement. Here the increase in the target behavior is due to a rule or instruction to engage in a behavior, not to positive reinforcement. Giving a rule or an instruction to engage in a behavior can sometimes strengthen a behavior, but this strengthening is not due to response-dependent consequences. That the strengthened behavior in the second item was not due to a response-dependent consequence is shown by the fact that Ohno's rules improved the students' performance even when they were presented before the target behavior had occurred. In general, do not classify items in which rules or instructions to engage in the behavior are used as examples of reinforcement.




Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #4: In Positive Reinforcement, the Consequence is Dependent on Behavior Occurrences, not Behavior Nonoccurrences

 

Example of positive reinforcement of on-feet behavior:  Dee was a three-year-old girl enrolled in nursery school. She crawled, crouched, or sat 93% of the time at school and was on her feet only 7% of the time. The teachers implemented a procedure in which Dee was not given any attention for off-feet behavior. Conversely, when she was on her feet the teachers gave Dee special attention and tried to make her feel liked and appreciated. This procedure resulted in Dee engaging in on-feet behavior almost all the time like the other children at the school.

 

Nonexample of positive reinforcement of on-feet behavior:  Dee was a three-year-old girl enrolled in nursery school. She crawled, crouched, or sat 93% of the time at school and was on her feet only 7% of the time. The teachers implemented a procedure in which whenever Dee was off-feet, she was made to stand in a corner of the room for five minutes with her back to the room. This procedure resulted in Dee engaging in on-feet behavior almost all the time like the other children at the school.

 

 

Analysis:  The first item is an example of positive reinforcement because presentation of attention was dependent upon the target behavior of being on-feet, and this resulted in an increase in the level of the target behavior. The second item (nonexample) is not an example of positive reinforcement because there was no stimulus presentation dependent upon the target behavior. Instead, in the second item, the stimulus change was dependent upon behavior other than the target behavior (i.e., dependent on not engaging in the target behavior). In order to say that positive reinforcement has occurred, a stimulus must be presented following and dependent upon the target behavior, not dependent on behavior other than the target behavior or dependent on the failure to engage in the target behavior

 

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #5: Ostensibly Undesirable Consequences can be Positive Reinforcers if They Function to Strengthen a Behavior

 

Example of positive reinforcement of disruptive classroom behavior:  In an elementary school classroom research was conducted to study the effects of teacher behavior on student behavior. During one phase of the study, the teacher began disapproving of the students' disruptive behaviors when they occurred. This resulted in an increase in the level of disruptive behaviors.

 

Nonexample of positive reinforcement of disruptive classroom behavior:  In an elementary school classroom research was conducted to study the effects of teacher behavior on student behavior. During one phase of the study, the teacher began disapproving of the students' disruptive behaviors when they occurred. This resulted in a decrease in the level of disruptive behaviors.

Analysis:  The first item is an example of positive reinforcement because teacher disapproval was presented dependent on the disruptive behaviors, and this caused an increase in the level of the target behaviors. The second item is not an example of positive reinforcement because the procedure caused a decrease in the target behavior levels, not an increase.  As illustrated in the first item, stimuli and events that seem negative, undesirable, or even painful can act as positive reinforcers.

 

Illustrative Example/Nonexample Pair #6: Positive Reinforcement Involves Stimulus Presentation, not Stimulus Removal

Example of positive reinforcement of physiotherapeutic behavior:  Phoenecia was a 67-year-old woman who had had a stroke six months earlier. As a result she was unable to use her left forearm, because she could not flex her left elbow. To solve this problem, a researcher set up an apparatus in which a counter indicated a number of points. Phoenecia earned points on the counter by flexing her left elbow 5 degrees. After the physiotherapy session, Phoenecia could exchange the points for money. As a result of this method, Phoenecia flexed her left elbow much more often than she had before. After 19 sessions, Phoenecia could flex her elbow as much as 70 degrees.

 

Nonexample of positive reinforcement of physiotherapeutic behavior:  Phoenecia was a 67-year-old woman who had had a stroke six months earlier. As a result she was unable to use her left forearm, because she could not flex her left elbow. To solve this problem, a researcher attached electrodes to Phoenecia's right forearm and administered an electric shock. Phoenecia could turn off the shock by flexing her left elbow 5 degrees. As a result of this method, Phoenecia flexed her elbow much more often than she had before when the shock came on. After 19 sessions, Phoenecia could flex her elbow as much as 70 degrees.

 

Analysis:  The first item is an example of positive reinforcement, because presentation of points was dependent on flexing the elbow, and the procedure caused an increase in the level of flexing the elbow. The second item is not an example of positive reinforcement because the removal of a stimulus, the shock, was dependent on the target behavior. Positive reinforcement involves the response-dependent presentation of a stimulus, not the response-dependent removal of a stimulus 

 

 

Next

You have now reached the end of this section and now may proceed to an exercise that will give you practice in correctly identifying examples of positive reinforcement.

 

The Nudist

 

Decide if the following item is an example of positive reinforcement. Focus on the highlighted target behavior to determine if it was positively reinforced. Provide a reason for your answer.

Martha had a three-year old son named Noah. For reasons that Martha could not understand, Noah would sometimes take all his clothes off and run about the house. Every time Noah did this, Martha gave Noah a stern lecture telling him about the dangers of not wearing enough clothing. As a result of this, Noah took his clothes off and ran about the house more often than he had previously

Analysis: This is an example of positive reinforcement because the lectures were consequences dependent upon removing the clothes and because this caused clothing removal to become more frequent. As illustrated in this example, sometimes stimuli that are painful and seemingly unpleasant can act as positive reinforcers. When a child is being lectured, that child is also receiving attention, and especially among attention-deprived children lectures of this kind can function as reinforcers.

 

Learning to Read

 

Decide if the following item is an example of positive reinforcement. Focus on the highlighted target behavior to determine if it was positively reinforced. Provide a reason for your answer.

Margaret was learning to read by saying the sounds associated with each letter of the alphabet when her mother pointed to the printed letter. When Margaret said the correct sound when presented with the appropriate printed letter, her mother praised Margaret. Margaret enjoyed praise a great deal. Analysis: This is not an example of positive reinforcement. Although making the praise was a dependent consequence for the target behavior of saying the correct letter-sound, there is no mention of an increase in the level of the target behavior. For this to be an example of positive reinforcement, there would have to be some indication that the target behavior, saying the correct letter sounds, was strengthened.

 

Los Trabajadores Llegan en Punto Ahora: 

Decide if the following item is an example of positive reinforcement. Focus on the highlighted target behavior to determine if it was positively reinforced. Provide a reason for your answer.

At a Mexican factory the workers were often late for work. A new procedure was put into effect in which, every time a worker would arrive on time for work, he would receive a bonus of 10 pesos. Before the procedure was used, 85% arrived on time for work. As a result of the bonus procedure, the percentage of on-time workers per day increased to 97%.

Analysis: This is an example of positive reinforcement because the pay bonus was dependent upon the target behavior and the procedure increased the level of the target behavior.

 

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