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Laboratory Exercise: Application of Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning has many uses in our everyday lives. Behavior modification uses mostly operant methods in an attempt to change undesirable behaviors such as bad habits. Similar principles are also used in behavioral therapy for a wide range of psychological disorders. Closer to home, operant conditioning can be used to modify the behavior of children and to train pets. In this exercise, we will look at how an animal can be trained by using reinforcement of desired behavior.


As you complete this exercise, consider the following:

  • How can the principles of operant conditioning be applied to changing behavior?How does reinforcement contribute to behavior change?

By the end of this activity, you will be able to:

  • Explain the principles and processes involved in operant conditioning

Complete the following exercise:

Design an experiment in which you teach a dog how to fetch. Include shaping and continuous reinforcement as components of your experiment.

Next, train the dog to perform under the appropriate schedule of reinforcement. This exercise will allow you to use the operant conditioning principle of reinforcement to train a dog to fetch. By reinforcing the dog with food, you will be able to increase the desired behavior over time. This same technique can be used for training zoo/circus animals or for helping children to develop good habits.

After completing the experiment, view the brief video Pigeon Ping Pong (Links to an external site.) Links to an external site.. The same technique you just used to promote a simple behavior was used in the experiment shown to build up a more complex series of behaviors. Using a word processor, write a brief report (about one page, double spaced) describing the changes that you have observed in your dog’s behavior via shaping and continuous reinforcement. What behaviors would you have noticed if you had stopped reinforcement? What behavior did you condition? What reinforcement schedule did you use to condition the behavior?

Be sure to use the correct vocabulary related to operant conditioning and to relate your observations to operant principles. Sources of information need to be documented with citations and references in APA format. Then give an example of how this technique could be applied to changing the behavior of an animal or a person. Compose your response in your word processor and save a copy to your computer before uploading the file to the Dropbox. The response should be about 1 page, double spaced.

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