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Operant Conditioning

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Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders


Instrumental conditioning; Instrumental learning


A process of learning in which a behavior’s consequence affects the future occurrence of that behavior. B. F. Skinner (1953) derived the principles of operant conditioning from Thorndike’s “law of effect,” which suggests that a behavior producing a favorable or satisfying outcome is more likely to reoccur, while a behavior producing an unfavorable or discomforting outcome is more likely to decrease in frequency (Thorndike, 1911).

Skinner’s experimental work focused on the effects of different schedules on the rates of operant responses made by rats and pigeons (Skinner, 1953). His work revealed that the frequency of a behavior could be increased through reinforcement. Two types of reinforcement include positive reinforcement, the giving of a rewarding stimulus following a behavior, and negative reinforcement, the removal of an aversive stimulus following a behavior.

Similarly, the frequency of a behavior can be...

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References and Readings

  • Hewett, F. M. (1965). Teaching speech to an autistic child through operant conditioning. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 35(5), 927–936. doi:10.1111/j.1939- 0025.1965.tb00472.x.

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  • Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.

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  • Thorndike, E. L. (1911). Animal intelligence. New York: Macmillan.

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© 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York

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Sproatt, D., Navab, A. (2013). Operant Conditioning. In: Volkmar, F.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer, New York, NY.

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