Behavioral Program

Much of real-life behavior is like this: responses are learned because they operate on, or effect the environment. Referred to as an operant conditioning, this kind of learning occurs in human’s species, as well as in lower species. Alone in a crib, a baby may kick and twist and coo spontaneously.

When left by itself, a dog may pad back and forth, sniff, or perhaps pick up a ball, drop it, and play with it. In the case study presented, Claire apparently learned that her tantrums had given her the leverage to get what she wants and this definitely is also a picture of operant conditioning in application.

Neither organism is responding to the onset or offset of a specific external stimulus. Rather, they are operating on their environment. Once the organism performs a certain behavior, however, the likelihood that the action will be repeated depends on its consequences. The baby will coo more often if each such occurrence is followed by parental attention, just as what happens to Claire, and the dog will pick up the ball more often if petting or a food reward follows this action.

If one would think of the baby as having a goal of parental attention, and the dog as having a goal of food, then operant conditioning amounts to learning that a particular behavior leads to attaining a particular goal (Atkinson, 1993). Theoretical framework Instrumental conditioning, in the strict sense, is based on the concept and idea of or B. F. Skinner. Like John Watson, Skinner insists that psychologists concern themselves only with observable behavior; that is, the psychologist should study behavior as it is and nothing more.

Hence, Skinner tried to look for lawful processes in behavior with the use of rats and pigeons (Atkinson, 1993). Operant conditioning may then play a role in attitude formation where parents tend to reward their children for expressing attitudes that coincide with their own and to punish or ignore then for expressing attitudes that deviate from them (Atkinson, 1993). Applications of the theory Applications of operant conditioning to a child focus on the temporal relation between a response and its reinforcer.

Laboratory experiments have shown that immediate reinforcement is more effective than delayed; the more time between an operant response and a reinforcer the less is the strength of the response. Many developmental psychologists have noted that the delay of reinforcement is an important factor in dealing with young children. If a child acts kindly towards a pet, the act can best be strengthened by praising (rewarding) the child immediately, rather than waiting until later.

Similarly, if a child hits someone without provocation, this aggressive behavior will more likely be eliminated if the child is punished immediately rather than waiting until later (Atkinson, 1993). Allen and Harris (1966) report on a research on the successful elimination of a child’s incessant scratching by first teaching the mother the idea behind operant conditioning. Another study though not so related with Claire’s case is the application of instrumental conditioning in motivating oneself to lose weight (Collier, 1969).

Reinforcement- is anything that increases the probability that a particular response will increase in frequency. The presentation (positive) or removal (negative) of particular consequences may reinforce responses. Thus, reinforcement may be either positive or negative. Positive reinforcer. Increases the probability that an operant will occur when it is applied, or it increases the likelihood that a particular response will occur.

When Claire gets praised whenever she responds in a quiet manner if her wishes were not granted immediately, she is likely to consistently follow this rewarded behavior. This is an example of positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcer. Increases the probability that an operant will occur when it is removed. People often learn to plan ahead so that they need not fear that things will go wrong. Fear acts as a negative reinforcer, because removal of fear increases the probability that the behaviors preceding it will be repeated (Rathus, 1990).

Putting the Behavioral Program in Motion: Since it is predictable that Claire will put on a tantrum anytime of the day for whatever it may fancy her, the parents must know or be knowledgeable about why it happens. The parents must be thoroughly acquainted with the notion of operant conditioning. Claire obviously has learned in a number of events that whenever she puts on a tantrum her parents cannot help but react according to her wishes instead of according to theirs. They must understand that, 1) Claire’s behavior (e. g.

tantrums) will not be changed in an instant or overnight, if that’s to be realistic; 2) that they will probably be tempted to succumb for fear of the unknown or fear of what might happen to their daughter; 3) that they should not give in to their fears or to anger or frustration when the child will not learn immediately. When Claire goes into fits (which is usually the behavioral manifestation of a child in tantrums) like when she demands to have something that should not be hers, both parents must agree never to give in and instead, to leave where the event is happening.

If it is happening inside the house, they must leave the area out of sight of the child but close enough to know what’s happening with her but never without her knowing. This must be done repeatedly until she learns to adapt; if inside a store or in a public area, either parent must anticipate these scenarios to happen and must come up with a variety of diversions. Both must be skillful enough that their diversion tactic must not be another venue or channel for Claire to use her manipulative abilities.

The goal then is to make her know eventually that the child is not in command. The real goal is that parents must be the one in control in a firm manner and the child must come to accept her parents’ superior ability and that her good is their ultimate concern. Measuring the Success of the Behavioral Program The strength of an operant response can be measured by its resistance to extinction; that is, by how long it takes for the behavior to return to its original rate once the pleasant consequent consequence following the behavior no longer occurs.

It is thus told that it is generally correct that for an operant response to be strengthened, the response should be rewarded. But reward in ordinary language denotes things such as money, candy, or praise. There would be times, however, that a reward will not always strengthen an operant response. Suppose, in this instance with Claire, that one of the parents or both parents would give Claire a candy or chocolate but if the problem is to withhold food such as these from her then it will be another dilemma that the parents are getting into.

Hence, psychologists prefer to speak of reinforcement/s rather than reward. The withdrawal of a negative reinforcer will also increase the likelihood of a particular behavior. It is clear that it is possible to increase the occurrence of the desired response by presenting or withdrawing a positive or a negative reinforcer, respectively. Note that positive and negative reinforcers do not connote “good” or “bad. ” Psychologists neither call a positive reinforcer “good” reinforcer, nor a negative reinforcer a “bad” reinforcer.

To eliminate tantrums then, the parents withhold the reinforcer (the attention), the tantrums should extinguish eventually if the parents can hold long enough. Measuring then the success of the program is through the length of time Claire spends in crying from the first time attention was withheld (probably from an hour to 45 minutes the next time it happens); then the second time; the third time and so on and this can be usually noticeable within only one week or seven days. Reference: Allen, K. E. , & Harris, F. R. (1966).

Elimination of a child’s excessive scratching by training the mother in reinforcement procedures. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 4, 79-84. Atkinson, R. L. , R. C. Atkinson, E. E. Smith, D. J. Bem, and S, Nolen-Hoeksema. 1993. Introduction to psychology. 13th Ed. New York: Harcourt College Publishers. Collier, G. (1969). Body weight loss as a measure of motivation in hunger and thirst. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 157, 594-609. Rathus, S. A. 1990. Understanding child development. New York; Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

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