PSYC 6717 Discussion: Operant Conditioning

PSYC 6717 Discussion: Operant Conditioning

Emerging from the work of  B.F. Skinner, operant conditioning is also referred to as instrumental conditioning. It is defined as a form of learning that uses positive or negative reinforcement to shape behaviors (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2020).  An example of operant conditioning to which we can all relate on some level is something we experience while operating our vehicle. If we are driving a later model vehicle, we are probably familiar with the sound sensors on our vehicle. Some of these sound sensors are programed to be negative reinforcers to condition us to perform safe behaviors. For example, if we start the ignition and begin driving without fastening our seatbelt, an annoying sound sensor will persist and will not stop until we have secured our seatbelt.

This annoying sound signal acts as a negative reinforcer because the only way we can extinguish the annoying sound sensor is to perform the intended behavior which is to fasten our seatbelt. The antecedent, or condition that exists before the reinforcer is introduced, in this case is the unsafe condition of not having a fastened seatbelt. This is an unsafe practice that our vehicles are programmed to mitigate. This failure to fastening our seatbelts activates the negative reinforcer, which is the punishing sound of the annoying sound sensor. Hence, the negative reinforcer shapes the target behavior of fastening our seatbelt via the antecedent of an unsafe driving condition of not having a fastened seatbelt.


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.

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Throughout your life, you have been conditioned to respond to certain stimuli in certain ways. This is known as operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the type of learning in which the consequences of a behavior influence whether an individual will act in the same way in the future.

Even if there was not a clear behavior plan, the principles of operant conditioning have helped shape your life. In operant conditioning, you learn the relationship between your own behavior and reinforcing or punishing consequences from your environment. You may also learn conditions (antecedents) where consequences are more or less likely to occur.

For this Discussion, you will analyze the fundamental principles of operant conditioning and how it has impacted your life. Additionally, you analyze how behavioral psychological theory (e.g., antecedents, reinforcements, punishment) is applied to condition behavior. As you read this week’s Learning Resources, try to identify times in your life when operant conditioning clearly played a part in your learning.

To Prepare

  • Consider how terminology of operant conditioning relates to specific behaviors.
  • Think about how your parents reinforced or punished you when you were growing up, and how those acts influenced how you behaved.
  • Consider how situations in your life today contribute to your behavior. Are you more or less likely to do something when a certain person is around?
  • Review the interactive media in the Learning Resources, “Operant Conditioning Terms.”

By Day 4 of Week 1

Post a description of a scenario that illustrates the application of operant conditioning in your life and explain how behavioral theory (e.g., antecedents, reinforcements, punishment) was applied to condition behavior in the scenario you posted. Explain how the antecedent condition facilitated or inhibited the target behavior discussed.

Read your colleagues’ postings.

Note: For this discussion, you are required to complete your initial post before you will be able to view and respond to your colleagues’ postings. Begin by clicking on the To Participate in this Discussion link, then select Create Thread to complete your initial post. Remember, once you click on Submit, you cannot delete or edit your own posts, and cannot post anonymously. Please check your post carefully before clicking on Submit!

By Day 6 of Week 1

Respond to at least two colleagues’ posts in one of the following ways:

  • Expand on each colleague’s explanation of how they applied behavioral theory to their scenario.
  • Offer your perspective(s) on whether you agree or disagree with each colleague’s explanation of how the antecedent condition facilitated or inhibited the target behavior discussed.

Be sure to support your posts and responses with specific references to behavior-analytic theory and research. In addition to the Learning Resources, search the Walden Library and/or internet for peer-reviewed articles to support your posts and responses. Use proper APA format and citations, including those in the Learning Resources.

Return to this Discussion in a few days to read the responses to your initial posting. Note what you have learned and/or any insights that you have gained because of your colleagues’ comments.

Operant conditioning is the notion that individuals learn to react in a specific manner in particular situations (Cooper 2019). It takes practice to achieve desired results, especially when it comes to kids. It’s also not foolproof, as in my particular case, since knowing the potential consequences was not a deterrent. Repeatedly.

As a teenager and young adult, I understood the antecedents of receiving a driver’s license. An antecedent is defined as a “condition” that is applied or happens before the behavior anticipated (Cooper 2019). When it came to being able to use my driver’s license with a car that I paid for by myself, the antecedents were the freedom associated with having four wheels to get around town, and also the discount on car insurance if no tickets are received.

Despite knowing the consequences, I couldn’t help myself and decided that it was so much fun to roll down all the windows, blast ZZ Top songs and zip down the road like there was no such thing as a speed limit. I thought everyone would appreciate my taste in music and would not be offended if I went around them on a road with a solid line for going too slow, i.e., driving the speed limit.

I also thought I was being super smart by checking for police, because looking out my rear view mirror was a good thing, of course. So by doing that, I was actually doing everyone in town a favor by becoming a more alert driver. The police had a different opinion and gave me about four speeding tickets in a relatively short period of time.

In order to decrease this bad behavior, society uses negative punishment as a means to maintain order and safety. In order to alter behavior to achieve the desired results, negative punishment is applied as taking away a “stimulus” in order to lessen or remove the unwanted behavior (Cooper 2019).

In this example, the stimulus removed was two-fold, and both included the loss of money. The tickets and driver’s classes were expensive, and so was the loss of the car insurance discount (antecedent).

Once my wallet was greatly affected by my delusion that I was a great driver, I understood the value of the antecedent and had to work hard to get it back. Believe it or not, car insurance companies are less forgiving than traffic court.

I haven’t gotten a ticket in over a decade, so lesson learned and the antecedents (being safe and saving money) now works to get me to comply with speed limits.


Cooper, John O., Heron, Timothy, Heward, William. (2019). Third Edition. Applied Behavior Analysis. Pearson Publishing: London, UK. Pages 2-46.


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