Operant Conditioning : A Case Study
An old adage says “give man a fish and he will live for the day, teach him to fish and he will live throughout his life”. This is classic operant conditioning. Learning by doing.
Operant conditioning is a type of learning which involves increasing a behavior by following it with a reward or decreasing a behavior by following it with a punishment (James Mazur, 2005). A man who is hungry who learns that by fishing he can eat, would definitely increase the chance that he would fish again when he is hungry. But when we only give the man a fish when he is hungry, he would just sit and wait and salivate when he sees us. That is classical conditioning, and that is the main difference between the two. In operant conditioning one has to do something to get something.
We learn many undesirable things in life. Unless we are psycho and sociopaths who have twisted moral judgment, we as normal people could discern what is right and wrong. And by the rules of the society, we pick the right over than the wrong. But sometimes, it is the attention that we got from the society that encourages us to do the wrong. Bullying is common to our school children but is not limited to them. Bullies in school would assert and push themselves around, would get snack, laugh and hurt other kids to get what they want. The snack would have been a reward in itself to the bully, but the fear and reverence smaller kids show him seem to taste better. Thus, the bully enjoys being one. Thorndike’s Law of Effect suggests that behaviors followed by positive outcome are strengthened. This seem obvious but isn’t to many people. Same is true with nagging. Sometimes it is not anymore what a nagger wants to be done, but the nagging itself that becomes rewarding. This is called negative reinforcement, the release of the urge to nag. Cheaters would choose to cheat than to fail because it is more rewarding to pass than to fail.
Sometimes it is also the good behaviors that fail to develop because of lack of reward and punishment. One example is paying the correct amount of taxes. Many taxpayers feel that the authorities are not using their money properly on social services, so they feel not obligated to pay their taxes. Honest and principled people in workplaces are often victims also. Bribery is often considered a way of life, so many people eat their principles and go with the flow. Excellence is also a virtue that is becoming to archaic. When all you get are scorn from the popular mediocrity, most of us choose to go with the flow just to be “in” and earn their praise.
Abusive marriage is a poison to the society, it is the children who carry it out. Operant conditioning can be use in avoiding this. First, emphasize that hitting people is wrong. Children who grew up in a violent and abusive home are more likely also to grow up abusive. Second, wives should not be solely dependent on husbands especially financially. Most wives stick to abusive relationship because they don’t have anywhere else to go. Lastly, report incidents of abuse, once the abused party wont talk about it, the abuser gains power over her and continue harassing her because he is not being punished anyway.
Mazur, James (2005) "Learning," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia
Thorndike et al. (1928) (http://tip.psychology.org/thorn.html)
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