Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning explains how changes in voluntary behaviors (like studying, exercising, etc) are learned through the good and bad consequences of that behavior. The idea here that is future behavior is governed by what happened the last time you engaged in that behavior. For example, let’s say you passed your Intro Psych test because you studied. If you want to pass the next test, you’ll know you have to study again. If you failed your last test because you really only read your textbook, but didn’t really study, then the next time if you want to pass your test, you know you’re going to have to change your study habits. (See the Chew website named above.)

In operant conditioning, a behavior is either increased or decreased. Something that leads to an increase in behavior is called reinforcement. Something that leads to a decrease in behavior is called punishment. Not all punishment is bad in this context. If you want to change your behavior such that you want to decrease your alcohol use, then you use a form of punishment.

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Both reinforcement and punishment can have positive or negative consequences. Again, this does not mean good or bad. It refers to whether something is being given or taken away (Links to an external site.).

In the case of decreasing your alcohol use:

· positive punishment might be something like every time you drink, you get sick, while

· negative punishment might be something like every time you drink, you get your phone taken away

In the case of increasing your study habits:

· positive reinforcement might be something like every time you study a chapter, you reward yourself with a cup of coffee

· negative reinforcement might be something like every time you study a chapter, you get to stop feeling bad about not studying

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