As a result, psychologists and efficiency experts know a great deal
about getting the most work out of rats certainly and people perhaps
in highly controlled environments. Advertisers and politicians certainly
know how to sell things. But, psychologists know a lot less about self-
control in more complex situations where people have many
alternatives and can make their own decisions and plans.
Operant conditioning involves operating on the environment in
very specific ways, namely, delivering reinforcers or punishment right
after the "target" behavior. There are several situations in which
behavior-consequence contingencies might be established:
You may reward or punish some specific behavior of someone
else, i.e. you are changing his/her environment in hopes of
changing his/her behavior.
Some specific behavior of yours may be rewarded--or
punished--by someone else or by yourself.
You may engage in some specific behavior because you expect
it to yield some desired change in your environment--a payoff
(5 & 6 in Table 4.1).
Furthermore, learning not only involves acquiring a new response
but also learning to effectively use that response in other situations
(generalization) and learning to not use the response in other
situations where it won't work (discrimination). Thus, as with classical
conditioning, the setting exercises great control over our operant
Classical and operant conditioning were not new kinds of learning
invented by Pavlov and Thorndike. Conditioning has always existed;
psychologists just studied and described its forms more carefully in the
last 90 years. No doubt, animal trainers, parents, bosses, and lovers
used rewards, punishment, and change of the environment quite
effectively 10,000 years ago, much as they do today.
Other examples (5 above) of operant conditioning are salespersons
on a commission and factory workers doing "piece work," where the
better or faster they work the more they get paid. Likewise, studying
for grades, dressing to be attractive, being considerate to make
friends, getting angry to get our way, cleaning up our messes for
approval or because we enjoy neatness, etc., etc., are behaviors
operating on the environment. If they work (yield rewards) the
behaviors are strengthened, i.e. become more likely to occur in the
future, because they have been reinforced.
There are many other self-modification methods based on operant
procedures: self-punishment, negative reinforcement, intrinsic
satisfaction, covert (mental) rewards and punishment, extinction (no
rewards or punishment after the behavior), and others discussed near
the end of this chapter and in chapter 11. You should know them all.