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Operant Conditioning

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The most influential idea to come from Skinner’s radical behaviorist approach was his theory of operant conditioning–that behavior is conditioned by the consequences of actions.  Despite his admiration for Pavlov and Watson, he felt that behavior is not typically learned through the association of an action with a coincident or preceding stimulus, and that this classical conditioning was something of a special and rather artificial case.

His experiments, following in Thorndike’s tradition, used animals in specially designed devices, which allowed them to explore their environment and discover the actions that produced a reward.  Skinner concluded that the consequences of an action are what is crucial to learning behavior–an organism operates on it’s environment, and encounters a stimulus that reinforces that operant behavior.  The crucial difference between this and classical conditioning is that it involves the subject’s active participation.

A great example of this was covered on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory watch below!

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