Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning theory was developed by B. F. Skinner. This theory is also known as behavioral modification and reinforcement theory. The theory states that the conditioning of behavior leads to reward or prevent punishment. People learn to behave in various ways as a result of its consequences. The theory is based on Response --> Stimulus connection (R --> S). It involves reinforcement of reward for desired behavior as a central process in learning. The theory can be explained on the basis of ABC of behavior modification. According to this theory (B) Behavior is influenced by two environmental forces. i.e. antecedents (A) and Consequences (C). Antecedents are events that precede the behavior where as consequences follow the behavior. The theory implies "the likelihood that an operant behavior will be repeated depends upon its consequences". That results an individual to learn the behavior followed by pleasant experiences only.

Operant is defined as behavior that produces effects. Operant conditioning given by Skinner suggests that individuals emit responses that are rewarded and will not emit responses that are either not rewarded or are punished. Operant conditioning is a voluntary behavior and it is determined, maintained and controlled by its consequences. In contract, respondent behavior is an involuntary response to an environmental stimulus.

Operant conditioning acts on environment to produce consequences. It is basically assumed that man's behavior is determined by environment and individuals learn by producing alternation in their environment. Operant conditioning pre-supposes that human beings explore their environment and act upon. In classical conditioning the sequence of event is independent of subject's behavior. In operant, conditioning reinforcement is given only when the correct response is made. According to Skinner, the consequences determine the likelihood that the given operant will be performed in the future. To change behavior, the consequences of that behavior must be changed.

Operant conditioning is a powerful tool for managing people in organization. Most behavior in organizations are learned, controlled and altered by the consequences, i.e. operant behaviors. Management can use the operant conditioning process successfully to control and influence the behavior of the employees by manipulating its reward system. If one expects to influence behavior, he/she must also be able to manipulate the consequences.

For example:

Response (R) --> Stimulus (R)

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