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The concept had its beginnings in experimental techniques for the study of reflexes. The traditional procedure is based on the work of Ivan P. Pavlov, a Russian physiologist. In this technique the experimental subject is a dog that is harnessed in a sound-shielded room. The neutral stimulus is the sound of a metronome or bell which occurs each time the dog is presented with food, and the response is the production of saliva by the dog. Eventually the sound of the bell or metronome produces salivation, even though the stimulus that originally elicited the response (the food) is no longer presented.
In the technique just described, the conditioned stimulus is the sound of the bell or metronome, and the conditioned response is the salivation that occurs when the sound is heard. The food, which was the original stimulus to salivation, is the unconditioned stimulus and the salivation that occurred when food was presented is the unconditioned response.
Reinforcement is said to take place when the conditioned stimulus is appropriately followed by the unconditioned stimulus. If the unconditioned stimulus is withheld during a series of trials, the procedure is called extinction because the frequency of the conditioned response will gradually decrease when the stimulus producing the response is no longer present. The process of extinction eventually results in a return of the preconditioning level of behavior.
The traditional example of instrumental conditioning uses the Skinner box, named after B. F. Skinner, an American behavioral psychologist. The subject, a rat, is kept in the box and becomes conditioned to press a bar by being rewarded with food pellets each time its early random movements caused it to press against the bar.
The principles and techniques related to instrumental conditioning are used clinically in behavior therapy to help patients eliminate undesirable behavior and substitute for it newly learned behavior that is more appropriate and acceptable.
operantadjective Referring to responses contingent upon, or influenced by, their impact on the environment or a situation, and/or by the success of those responses in achieving a reward or reinforcement.
operantPsychology adjective Referring to response(s) contingent upon or influenced by their impact on the environment or a situation, and/or by the ability of response(s) to achieve reward or reinforcement
Synonym(s): target response.
Patient discussion about operant
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