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Skinner's Experiments On Behaviour

In the 1930’s an American psychologist, behaviourist, author, inventor and social philosopher, Skinner saw human action as dependent on consequences of previous actions, a theory he would articulate as the principle of reinforcement. To study operant conditioning, he invented the operant conditioning chamber called Skinner Box.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner has defined learning behaviour through an operant conditioning theory. According to him, “The behaviour of an individual is influenced by the consequences. It is the form of conditioning which explains the relationship between behaviour and their consequences or rewards (Reinforcements and Punishments)”.

Operant Conditioning

BF Skinner made a chamber, called the Skinner Box, and put a small animal inside. As the first step to his experiment, he kept a hungry rat inside the Skinner box

The rat was initially was not active inside the box, but gradually as it began to adapt to the environment of the box, it began to explore the box. Eventually, the rat discovered a lever, pressing upon the lever which; food was released inside the box. After it satisfied its hunger, it started exploring the box again, and after a while, it pressed the lever again for the second time as it feel hungry again. This phenomenon continued for the third, fourth, and fifth time and so on, the hungry rat immediately pressed the lever. Then the conditioning was considered to be complete.

Through his experiments, Skinner differentiate two types of consequences that could affect new learning: reinforcement vs punishment. Reinforcement encourages target behaviour, while punishment reduces it.

Positive Reinforcement


Workers are often provided with incentives and bonuses in return for completing their targets in time or for regular attendance. It increases their productivity so that they can motivate to get those incentives and bonuses.

Negative Reinforcement

Car Honking

When the light goes green at a traffic light. the car in front doesn’t move. Everyone hates when this happens and from experience knows that blasting car horn gets cars that are in front out of the way. Dutifully blasts the horn and the car moves out of the way.

Positive Punishments

Your cell phone rings in the middle of a class lecture, and you get scolded by your teacher for not switching off your phone before class.

Negative Punishment


For instance, a driver gets fined some amount, and his driving license is seized for not following the traffic signals. Here, money and license are removed.

Operant Conditioning in Dog Training

Operant Conditioning is a powerful method of dog training. However, the key to its successful implementation lies in knowing when to use its various principles. Both punishment and reinforcement techniques can be used to modify animal behaviour.

Operant conditioning studies tell us that a variable schedule of reinforcement is more powerful than a fixed schedule of reinforcement i.e. reinforcing our dogs intermittently for behaviors is more powerful than rewarding our dogs every time, or every other moment. Similarly, if you over-correct a dog, he will quickly get irritated with your corrections, and may no longer respond to future corrections.

For example, getting your dog to perform good command (e.g. Sit Down) as well as stopping your dog from performing unacceptable behaviors.

It can be tricky for many people, especially new dog parents. This is where an experienced dog trainer can help. Get in touch with a professional dog trainer to get your dog trained through Operant Conditioning and also lead the tactics of how to use these principles in everyday life to encourage various behaviors.

When teaching dogs new behaviors, we mostly focus on positive reinforcement, in other words, on adding something to the situation that will increase particular behavior or aspect of behavior to repeat. Giving the dog a treat for commands is easy to do and understand, and is at the core of most modern dog training protocols.

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