Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Principles of Operant Conditioning

I have briefly discussed Operant Conditioning in a previous post after looking at it I thought a better explanation is required. Operant conditioning is a basic tenant of animal behaviour and learning. It says that all living things repeat a behaviour that is rewarding to them and deminish behaviours that make bad things happen. The four principles of operant conditioning are:

Positive reinforcement:(written in behavioural shorthand as "R+") The dogs behaviour makes a good thing happen, so the behaviour increases. He sits so you give him a treat. He likes getting treats, so he sits more.
Positive punishment:(P+) the dogs behaviour makes a bad thing happen, so the behaviour decreases. He jumps up on you so you knee him in the chest (not recommended , I will blog about this another time). He doesn't like the knee in the chest, so he jumps up less.
Negative punishment: (P-) The dogs behaviour makes a good thing go away, so the behaviour decreases. When he juimps up to grab the ball from your hand, you hide the ball behind your back. He doesn't want the ball to go away so he jumps up less.
Negative reinforcement: (R-) The dogs behaviour makes a bad thing go away.A puppy struggles when restrained, so he is held until he becomes calm and them you let go of him. Teaching the puppy that calm behaviour makes the restraint go away. He does not want to be restrained, so he learns that to be calm in order to make the restraint go away.

Because training methods that involve intimidation, coercion, and physical force can cause undesirable side effects, including fear and aggression, positive trainers use primarily positive reinforcement and especially avoid positive punishment. When using negative punishment it works best with it works best when using positive reinforcement for the behaviour you want instead. So using our earlier example of hiding the ball, when he sits you throw the ball (R+) so he sits more and jumps up less.

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