Operant conditioning and Social learning

Operant conditioning argues that behavior is a function if its consequences. People learn to behave to get some thing they want or to avoid something they don’t want. Operant behavior means voluntary or learned behavior in contrast to reflexive or unlearned behavior. The tendency to repeat such behavior is influenced by the reinforcement or lack of reinforcement brought about by the consequences of the behavior. Therefore, reinforcement, strengthen a behavior and increases the likelihood that it will be repeated.

The Harvard psychologists B.F Skinner did research on operant conditioning. Skinner argued that creating pleasing consequences to follow specific forms of behavior would increase the frequency of that behavior.

People will most likely engage in desired behaviors if they are positively reinforced for doing so; that rewards are most effective if they immediately follow the desired response; and that behavior is not rewarded, or is punished, is less likely to be repeated.

Illustration of operant conditioning can be seen everywhere. For, any situation in which it is either explicitly stated or implicitly suggested that reinforcement are contingent on some action on an individual involves the use of operant learning. If an instructor says that if a higher grade in the course is required then the student must supply correct answers on the test. A commissioned salesperson wanting to earn a sizable income finds that doing so is contingent on generating high sales in his/her territory. Of course, the linkage can also work to teach the individual to engage in behaviors that work against the best interests of the organization.

Assume that of a boss tells his subordinate to work overtime during the next three-week busy seasons, he’ll be compensated for it at the next performance appraisal. However when performance appraisal time comes, the subordinate finds that he is given no positive reinforcement for overtime work. The next time the boss asks him to work overtime, what will he do? He’ll probably decline! His behavior can be explained by operant conditioning: If a behavior fails to be positively reinforced, the probability that the behavior will be repeated declines.

Individuals can also learn by observing what happens to other people and just by being told about something, as well as by direct experiences. So, for example, much of what we have learned comes from watching models — parents, teachers, peers, motion picture and television performers, bosses, and so forth. This view that we can learn through both observation and direct experience is called social-learning.

Although social-learning theory is an extension of operant conditioning — that is, it assumes that behavior is a function of consequences – it also acknowledges the existence of observational learning and the importance of perception in learning. People respond to how they perceive and define consequences, not to the objective consequences themselves.