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Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning Theories

Question:

Discuss about the Understanding Operant Conditioning.

Psychology is a subject that focuses on the scientific study of the human mind, and its activities or functions, especially those aspects that are involved in behaviors (McLeod, 2018). As a result, scientists have constantly tried to understand how behavior is controlled of affected by other factors (Colman, 2016). Many psychologists and behavioral biologists have sought to explain these complex etiologies in order to provide a template which can be used to make changes in a behavior. The Classical Conditioning of Ian Pavlov, or Operant Conditioning by B.F Skinner, both focuses on how behavior can be controlled through either associations between stimuli or through the process of positive or negative reinforcements (Gormezano  et al., 2014; Blackman, 2017). It is therefore important to understand these concepts build a comprehension on the subject, and help to create better understandings on what influences human behavior and how certain behaviors can be changed through operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning was first explained by the American Psychologist, B.F Skinner, and the theory focused on how behavior can be modified through positive and negative reinforcements (Blackman, 2017). The process facilitates the formation of connection between behavior and its consequences. Skinner’s theory was based on observations of behavior (which is a much easier thing to do), instead of the observation of the internal mental conditions (which are a lot more difficult, since they are not easy to observe) (Skinner & Ferster, 2017). His work was based on the outlook that Classical Conditioning Theory (which implies that when a neutral stimulus is presented in association with a non neutral stimulus leading to an unconditional response, an association between the two stimuli can be formed. Due to the formation of the association between the two stimuli, the neutral stimulus can also cause the unconditional response), which was proposed by Ian Pavlov was insufficient to explain complex behavior in humans (Gormezano  et al., 2014; McLeod, 2018). In the Classical Conditioning context, neutral stimulus is any stimulus that does not bring about change in behavior by itself, or a stimulus that means nothing to the recipient (e.g. ringing of bell), while a non neutral stimulus is a stimulus that can bring about a response or reflex action (such as the smell of food which can cause salivation) (Gormezano  et al., 2014; Sternberg & Sternberg, 2016). Skinner, proposed that instead of analyzing the human behavior in such a simplistic and intellectually deficient context , it is important to study the cause as well as the consequences of an action (Ross & Ross, 2017). This aspect, he explained as Operant Conditioning. The Theory also suggests that positive or pleasant consequence of an action is more likely to be repeated (getting strengthened), while actions that entails negative or unpleasant consequence are less likely to be repeated (getting weakened) (Prescott & Buchanan-Smith, 2016). This is also known as ‘reinforcement’ of behavior (Skinner & Ferster, 2015). Skinner studied the phenomenon of Operant Conditioning by placing animals in a special box called the ‘Skinner Box’, similar to the Puzzle Box of Thorndike (Brock et al., 2017; Manabe 2017).

Using Operant Conditioning to Modify Behavior

The design of this paper is to understand Operant Conditioning as a form of ‘psychological modeling’, its applications, how they can be used to bring about systematic and meaningful behavioral changes, and performing a critical evaluation of the process to bring about a change in a target behavior (Strauss, 2017; Blackman, 2017). In this paper I would like to use Operant Conditioning system to change my own behavior.

The target behavior that I would like to change is my engagement in cardio exercises. While performing Cardio, I also listen to audio books (antecedent of the target behavior). I would like to understand how factors like listening to audio books and attending classes can influence the amount of cardio done every day.

4 Day Observation of Normal Behavior:

During the period from day 1 to day 4 of the observation, I was spent 20 minutes on cardio on the first day, however on the second to fourth days, I did not spend any time on cardio (as shown in table 1 and graph 1 in appendix). My Cardio routines are always accompanied with me listening to audio-books, which is a common activity for me. Here I have tried to use audio books as a form of motivation to engage in cardio. I have also noticed that my rate of cardio also was influenced by how much interest or the level of enthusiasm/engagement with the audio-book, I had was well as engaging in my classes. My cardio tended to increase when I was at a climax of an audio book, which made me want to hear more of it, and therefore spend more time on cardio, while decre3ase in the amount of cardio occurred if I finished the audio book, and was not interested to listen to another one, or if I had classes. The outcome of this behavior is that the amount of time I spend on cardio directly changes with my level of enthusiasm on the audiobook, and hence, the longer I listen to the audiobook, the longer time I spends time on cardio. The good effect of such a behavior is that it helps me keep my interest on the cardio by listening to audio books while exercising. However the possible negative consequence is that if I lose interest in the audio book, or if I listen less of the audio book, the lesser time I spend on cardio (George et al., 2014; Schaumberg et al., 2016). I still continue this behavior, despite the possible negative relation, is because, of the possibility of increasing the time spent of cardio by directly increasing the time spent listening to the audio books, and listening to audio books, which I know I would like.

The program that I wanted to implement was to study how the time spent on cardio changed with the amount of time I spent listening to audio-books. The data from the observation from the 5th to 10th day (as shown in table 2 and graph 2 in the appendix), shows how time spent on cardio fluctuated with such factors.

Studying the Target Behavior: Engagement in Cardio Exercises with the Use of Audio-Books

The Graph above shows how my Cardio levels changed each day, based on factors that influenced by exercise practices. On the fifth day, I was able to practice for 40 minutes, as I liked the audio book I was listening to. However, on the 6th day, I wasn’t able to exercise because I had 2 classes. On the 7th and 8th day, I was able to maintain a 40 min cardio routine, and on the 9thy day, I reached the climax of the audio book, due to which I spent an extra 10 min exercising. By Day 10, the audio-book was over, and I didn’t want to start off with a new one, and hence did not spend any time on cardio (0 min).

The key ‘positive reinforcement’ for increasing my cardio was the level of interest or enthusiasm and consequently the time spent listening to the audio book, while the ‘negative reinforcement’ was excreted through a lesser time spent listening to audio books and involvement in classes.

Overall, the program was a great success for me to understand how operant conditioning can be applied to increase the rate, frequency and time spent on cardio, by controlling the time spent on listening to audio books (Blackman, 2017). Such was proven by the peak level of cardio, I was involved in on the 9th day, when I reached t6he climax or the most interesting part of the audio-book, due to which I exercised for 50 minutes on the 9th day. Day 6 and 10 were particularly futile in this context, as I was unable to spend any time on cardio, due to classes (day 6) and after I finished with the audio-book (day 10). On the initial part of the observation (day 1-4), I spent only 20 min on day one and no exercise on the other 3 days. From the 5th day, I started listening to an audio-book that I like, and consequently, the average time of cardio significantly increased, as I spent more time listening to the audio-books. I followed this plan till day 10th, as a result I was able to increase the average time spent on cardio, from 5 min (for days 1 to 4) to 28.33 minutes (for days 5 to 10). However I feel that the average could have been better, if I was able to start of listening to another audio book after finishing the current one on day 9.

In the above program, I was able to demonstrate the effectiveness of a positive reinforcement to change a key behavior (time spent on cardio). Factors such as my enthusiasm on the audiobook, and the time spent listening to the audiobook were a significant contributor to my ability to practice cardio for a longer duration. In this aspect, the subject matter and my interest of it was an important aspect which determined how much I was interested in it. Also, the climax of the audio book was related to an increase in the cardio time. Such reinforcements have a direct effect on the amygdale, thereby causing changes in behavior (Janak & Tye, 2015). This explains how reinforcements can affect behavior (Ferster, 2017). However, factors like involvement in classes as well as finishing up the audio-book, and not starting with another one resulted in a complete lack of cardio on such days. When I had 2 classes, I hardly had time to engage in cardio. Also, after finishing the audio-book, I did not perform cardio, since I had no audio-book that I wanted to listen to. In this aspect, I believe that it would have been of better result, if I had a preselected set of audio books, which I could immediately select from, after I was done with one. Also, since I listen to audio books at other times (while not exercising) I could listen to select (climax stages) of the audio books while exercising, thereby increasing the time spent listening to them as well as increasing the cardio. Considering how the time spent on cardio also reduced due to my involvement in classes, it might be useful to schedule time for the exercise, in such a way that I does not conflict with the class schedule, and therefore I would be able to continue the cardio routine, without affecting my attendance in class, and vice versa.

Conclusion:

After completing my 10 day observation, I was able to learn the following important aspects: 1) the longer I listened to audio books while exercising, longer was the duration of the exercise. 2) My exercise increased significantly while listening to the climax of an audio-book. 3) After finishing with an audio book, my exercise went down, when I did not have another audio-book to listen to 4)if I had classes, I could not exercise. From such aspects, I understood that my interest or enthusiasm on the audio book acted as a key positive reinforcement, while lack of interest in it was a negative reinforcement for the behavior of regular cardio exercise, apart from involvement in classes as another barrier towards by exercise schedule. In such scenario, keeping an interesting selection of audio books, or listening to the climax of the audio books while exercising can help to improve the exercise time. Also removing conflicts between the schedule of cardio and that of my class’s ca; also help me ensure I attend my classes without missing on my cardio routine. I believe that through such operant conditioning system I should be able to improve my cardio time on the longer run.

References:

Blackman, D. E. (2017). Operant conditioning: an experimental analysis of behaviour. Routledge.

Brock, A. J., Sudwarts, A., Daggett, J., Parker, M. O., & Brennan, C. H. (2017). A fully automated computer based Skinner box for testing learning and memory in zebrafish. bioRxiv, 110478.

Colman, A. (2016). What is psychology?. Routledge.

Ferster, C. B. (2017). Arbitrary and natural reinforcement. In Behavior therapy with children (pp. 37-43). Routledge.

George, O., Koob, G. F., & Vendruscolo, L. F. (2014). Negative reinforcement via motivational withdrawal is the driving force behind the transition to addiction. Psychopharmacology, 231(19), 3911-3917.

Gormezano, I., Prokasy, W. F., & Thompson, R. F. (2014). Classical conditioning.

Janak, P. H., & Tye, K. M. (2015). From circuits to behaviour in the amygdala. Nature, 517(7534), 284.

Manabe, K. (2017). The Skinner box evolving to detect movement and vocalization. Revista Mexicana de Análisis de la Conducta, 43(2), 192-211.

McLeod, S. (2018). What is Psychology? | Simply Psychology. Simplypsychology.org. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/whatispsychology.html

Prescott, M. J., & Buchanan-Smith, H. M. (2016). Training Nonhuman Primates Using Positive Reinforcement Techniques: A Special Issue of the journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. Psychology Press.

Ross, S. M., & Ross, L. E. (2017). Classical conditioning and intellectual deficit. In The experimental psychology of mental retardation (pp. 42-77). Routledge.

Schaumberg, K., Schumacher, L. M., Rosenbaum, D. L., Kase, C. A., Piers, A. D., Lowe, M. R., ... & Butryn, M. L. (2016). The role of negative reinforcement eating expectancies in the relation between experiential avoidance and disinhibition. Eating behaviors, 21, 129-134.

Skinner, B. F., & Ferster, C. B. (2015). Schedules of reinforcement. BF Skinner Foundation.

Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K. (2016). Cognitive psychology. Nelson Education.

Strauss, A. L. (2017). Psychological modeling: Conflicting theories. Routledge.

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