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operant conditioning/instrumental conditioning

conditioning in which an increase or decrease in the probability that a behavior will recur is affected by the delivery of reinforcement or punishment as a consequence of the behavior

Skinner box

named for its developer, a box that contains a responding mechanism and a device capable of delivering a consequence to an animal in the box whenever it makes the desired response


selective reinforcement of behaviors that gradually approach (approximate) the desired response

method of successive approximations

sequence of stages used to elicit increasingly closer approximations of a desired behavior (methodical shaping)


any event that increases the probability of a recurrence of the response that preceded it

positive reinforcement

presentation of a stimulus after a particular response in order to increase the likelihood that a response will recur

negative reinforcement

removal of a stimulus (usually an aversive one) after a particular response to increase the likelihood that the response will occur

primary reinforcer

reinforcer (such as food, water, termination of pain) that has survival value for an organism; this value does not have to be learned

secondary reinforcer

any neutral stimulus that initially has no intrinsic value for an organism but that becomes rewarding when linked with a primary reinforcer

superstitious behavior

behavior learned through coincidental association with reinforcement


process of presenting an undesirable or noxious stimulus to decrease the probability that a preceding response will recur

Premack principle

the idea that probable behaviors (ex. socializing) can reinforce less probable/unlikely behaviors (ex: cleaning closets)

primary punisher

any stimulus or event that is naturally painful or unpleasant to an organism

secondary punisher

any neutral stimulus that initially has no intrinsic negative value for an organism but acquires punishing qualities when linked with a primary punisher

learned helplessness

the behavior of giving up or not responding to punishment, exhibited by people or animals exposed to negative consequences or punishment over which they have no control

omission training

process of removing a desirable stimulus to decrease the probability that a preceding response will recur

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