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Operant Behavior and Operant Contingencies AILUN – 2008 Lecture 2 – S Glenn.

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Presentation on theme: "Operant Behavior and Operant Contingencies AILUN – 2008 Lecture 2 – S Glenn."— Presentation transcript:

1 Operant Behavior and Operant Contingencies AILUN – 2008 Lecture 2 – S Glenn

2 Behavior “The action of the organism upon the outside world” (p.6) 1 – Action = movement + effect Ongoing behavior is an ever-changing stream of movements and the effects of those movements on the world Some movements and their effects seem to be organized so that they have a combined effect – Ex: Behavior of “cooking a dinner” involves many movements having local effects and the combined effect of the entire sequence of movements – Ex: The behavior of “writing a novel” involves many sequences of movement having local and combined effects that all together result in the completed manuscript

3 Experimental Model of Behavior Purpose is to identify fundamental measurable properties of behavior and explain their occurrence – The behavioral analog of atoms in physics, molecules in chemistry, cells in biology – Take the world apart to be able to understand how it works Need to reduce complexity to a minimum to get to basic building blocks Skinner’s model: Pressing a lever or key that closes an electrical circuit (behavior called “key pressing”) 1, 2 – May be measured by counting switch closures over specified interval of time – May be measured by timing intervals between switch closures – May be measured by timing duration of movements that lead to switch closures – May be measured by timing interval from occurrence of some event and the first switch closure after that occurrence – May be measured by relation of occurrences of switch closures to occurrences of some antecedent event(s)

4 Operant Behavior Some actions have consequences – This relation is expressed R->C – The name for this relation is two-term contingency – Example R = Movement (putting the match to the food) + effect (sudden flame) C = Exclamations of diners In experimental analysis, the contingency (relation between R and C) is manipulated by the experimenter – If R1, then C1 AND if other R then no C1 (R1->C and R other -/-> C1) – The R-> C is a correlation - multiple instances of R (only) followed by C – The manipulated relation is the independent variable – Consequences must be under control of the experimenter to demonstrate experimental control Operant behavior: Behavior (movements + effects) that can be shown to be altered in a measurable way by consequences Operant behavior is said to be “selected by its consequences” 3 – The R-> C contingency results in a lineages of R of given properties (“an operant”)

5 Recurring lever presses All other behavior Switch Closures Movements in relation to the environment (lever) Effect on environment (part of the behavioral definition) Food Pellet Contingent action of external environment OperantConsequence Contingency Schematic of Operant Contingency Increase in relative frequency of lever presses in behavior stream

6 Operant Contingencies in A Behavior Stream Organism O’s Behavior Stream (1 minute) Situation S Environment R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R2 R3 R6 R5 R4 R7 R1 R5 R6 R5 R8 R5 R7 R5 R5 R5 Behavior C1 C1 C1 C1 C1 C1 Environment Contingency – R5 always followed by C1 – Other R not followed by C1 Contingency appears to be affecting frequency of R5 Therefore R5 designated as “an operant” (a lineage of responses undergoing selection by C1)

7 Functions of Consequences Events that are contingent on one or more properties of operant responses Are classified according to how they function in the contingencies – Reinforcers – consequences in operant contingencies that increase frequency of operant responses – Punishers – consequences in operant contingencies that decrease frequency of operant responses – Neutral consequences– consequences in operant contingencies that increase frequency of operant responses

8 Three-Term Contingencies: Stimulus Control Consequence can be made contingent on occurrence of R at a particular time/place (stimulus conditons) – If cafe sign reads “open”, opening the door results in access to coffee – If cafe sign reads “closed”, opening the door does not result in access to coffee S1 * R -> C1; S2 * R -/-> C1 – This contingency will bring opening door under stimulus control of “open” and “closed” signs IF coffee has current reinforcing function The “open” sign is called S+ (it signals availability of coffee) and the “closed” sign S- (it “signals” unavailability of coffee) Result: S1 (“open”) and S2 (“closed”) acquire discriminative function – When S1 (“open”) is present, opening the door is likely – When S2 (“closed”) is present, opening the door is unlikely

9 Motivation 4, 5 The function of S+ may be temporarily altered when coffee does not have current reinforcing function – Example: A person who recently had 3 cups of coffee may not open the door to the café when the sign “open” is present The frequency of behavior that has been reinforced by a particular consequence depends on two things: – the current reinforcer value of the consequence previously contingent on R in the presence of S+ and – the presence of the “open” sign (S+)

10 Hierarchically Nested Operants Organism O Operant Lineages (Recurring operant occurrences) Elements of Each Occurrence Press Place digit on key and depress Open MS Word Locate program icon on desktop Place cursor on icon Press Copy text into a Word document Open MS Word Open Highlight test to be copied Press Press and Press

11 Summary Operant behavior is behavior that operates on the environment to produce reinforcing consequences (or to avoid punishing consequences) The contingency between occurrences of an operant and reinforcing consequences account for (explain) – Formal properties of the behavior – Frequency of occurrence of the behavior – Stimulus conditions under which the behavior is likely to occur Whether a particular consequence has reinforcing function and whether a particular S+ makes behavior more likely at any given time may depend on motivational operations Experimental analysis is accomplished by stripping experimental environment of everything but the fundamental unit Operant behavior in the everyday world occurs at multiple scales (something like function fractals)

12 References 1Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 2Ferster, C.B. & Skinner, B. F. (1957). Schedules of reinforcement. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 3Skinner, B. F. (1981). Selection by consequences. Science, 213, Michael, J. (1982). Distinguishing between discriminative and motivational functions of stimuli. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 37, Laraway, S. Snycerski, S. Michael, J. & Poling, A. (2003). Motivating operations and terms to describe them: Some further refinements.. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36,


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