Operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning, is a theory of learning that states that behavior can be modified by its consequences. Unlike classical conditioning, operant conditioning deals with voluntary, rather than reflexive, behavior. Operant conditioning’s effects are maintained or extinguished through reinforcement or punishment. Edward Thorndike’s law of effect first proposed the idea that some consequences of behavior strengthen the behavior. He suggested that satisfying consequences will strengthen a response, but negative consequences will diminish it. B. F. Skinner, commonly referred to as the father of operant [Page 1181]conditioning, built on Thorndike’s work but focused exclusively on the empirical study of observable behavior rather than unobservable mental states. This entry includes an evaluation of operant conditioning’s influence on the study of human behavior, the ...
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