Operant learning is almost a completely new topic to me. I am familiar with the concepts of rewarding and punishing. Nonetheless, my understanding of them is trivial. When I first read this section in the book, I tend to support the behaviorists’ point of view. An organism’s behavior is clearly observable. As a result, empirical investigations can definitely be done; furthermore, conclusions drawn from these studies are more reliable, having such a strong basis. It is an arduous task to find fault with this reasoning; I would argue that that is a logical impossibility. Upon reading about cognitive learning, however, I tend to support both sides. Of course, it is hard to accurately deduce what happens in an organism’s mind. Nevertheless, strong evidence supporting the existence of cognition has been found. One example is an experiment in which psychologists put a mouse in a simple maze with food at its exit. The preferred path to the food is blocked. The motivated mouse therefore worked out the long way to the food. This phenomenon is called cognitive mapping.

Psychologist B.F Skinner, a radical behaviorist, prefers the word reinforcement to reward as a technical term. There are two types of reinforcement, one positive and the other negative. Positive reinforcement is already well-known and therefore will not be defined here. Examples of positive reinforcement include giving A’s to excellent and motivated students and giving a dog a little snack for obedience. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, can be a bit obscure. It is the removal of an unwanted stimulus after the subject responded correctly. One example is a tax cut for companies employing a lot of new people. Another example is the removal of or slash in teaching duties for bright researchers. To be honest, I would like to have the second negative reinforcement when I complete my doctoral program. 🙂

Well, this is the end of my second post for this week.


One response »

  1. Mr. M. says:

    I like your discussion of the pros and cons of the evidence for behaviorism and by extension operant and classical conditioning and cognitive learning and by extension cognitive psychology.

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