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Flashcards in Skinner's Reinforcement Theory Deck (80):

Theorist who placed exclusive emphasis on the overt responses a subject makes and nothing more; believed that internal forces are not useful for science

B. F. Skinner
(a radical behaviorist; known for his reinforcement theory which attempted to account for all behavior; his system of psychology and his view of people as "complex systems behaving in lawful ways" reflected his own early life experiences)


The title of the novel that Skinner published during his period of depression in his 40s; it describes a society in which all aspects of life are controlled by positive reinforcements

Walden Two (1948)
(the book provided Skinner with immediate therapy in the form of an emotional catharsis)


Involves a response made to or elicited by a specific environmental stimulus; unlearned behavior and occurs automatically and involuntarily

Respondent Behavior
(ex. reflexes)


Higher-level learning through which a respondent behavior is learned

(associated with the work of Ivan Pavlov)


The act of strengthening a response by adding a reward; thus increasing the likelihood that the response will be repeated

(A conditioned response cannot be established in the absence of reinforcement.)


The process of eliminating a behavior by withholding reinforcement



TRUE OR FALSE: The greater the reinforcement given during training, the more resistant the conditioned response will be to extinction.



Behavior emitted spontaneously or voluntarily that operates on the environment to change it

Operant Behavior


The procedure by which a change in the consequences of a response will affect the rate at which the response occurs

Operant Conditioning
Skinner believed that most human and animal behavior is learned through operant conditioning.


According to Skinner, as the infant grows, the __ behaviors, those of which the parents approve, will persist, whereas those of which the parents disapprove will be __.

Positively reinforced; Extinguished or discontinued


Skinner made the analogy of operant conditioning as shaping human behavior to that of __.

A sculptor shaping a lump of clay


To Skinner, a pattern or collection of operant behaviors



Patterns or rates of providing or withholding reinforcers

Reinforcement Schedules


Identify Skinner's various reinforcement schedules

Fixed-interval schedule
Fixed-ratio schedule
Variable-interval schedule
Variable-ration schedule


Identify the reinforcement schedule described by the following: Reinforcers are given only after the organism has made a specified number of responses

Fixed-ratio schedule


Identify the reinforcement schedule described by the following: The reinforcer might appear after 2 hours in the first instance, after 1 hour 30 minutes the next time, and after 2 hours and 15 minutes the third time

Variable-interval schedule


Identify the reinforcement schedule described by the following: Based on an average number of responses between reinforcers, but there is great variability around that average

Variable-ratio schedule
(effective in bringing about high and stable response rates; extremely effective means of controlling behavior)


Identify the reinforcement schedule described by the following: Reinforcer is presented following the first response that occurs after a fixed time interval has elapsed

Fixed-interval schedule


An explanation for the acquisition of complex behavior

Successive Approximation / Shaping
The organism is reinforced as its behavior comes in successive, or consecutive, stages to approximate the final behavior desired.


Persistent behavior that has a coincidental and not a functional relationship to the reinforcement received

Superstitious Behavior


The ability to exert control over the variables that determine our behavior

Skinner contended that there is nothing inside us - no process, drive, or other internal activity - that determines behavior but we can act to alter the impact of external events.


Identify the self-control techniques that Skinner proposed

Stimulus Avoidance (removing oneself from an external variable that affects one's behavior)
Self-Administered Satiation (overdoing the behavior, usually to cure of bad habits)
Aversive Stimulation (involves unpleasant or repugnant consequences)
Self-Reinforcement (rewarding oneself for displaying good or desirable behaviors)


A form of therapy that applies the principles of reinforcement to bring about desired behavioral changes

Behavior Modification
It has been successful with children and adults, with the mentally healthy and the mentally disturbed, and with individuals as well as group behaviors.


A behavior-modification technique in which tokens, which can be exchanged for valued objects or privileges, are awarded for desirable behaviors

Token Economy
Found to be effective only within the setting in which they are implemented (e.g. mental institutions)


Identify one way in which behaviors conditioned in the institutional token-economy situation are more likely to be continued in the home setting

Caregivers are trained to reward desirable behaviors with reinforcers such as smiles, praise, hugs and other signs of affection


Skinner suggested that this is how children learn the complex behavior of speaking

Successive Approximation / Shaping


Identify the reinforcers used in business

Job Security
Recognition from supervisors
Perks and status within the company
Opportunity for personal growth


The application of an aversive stimulus following a response in an effort to decrease the likelihood that the response will recur

Skinner found this ineffective in changing behavior from undesirable to desirable.


The strengthening of a response by the removal of an aversive stimulus; the removal of which is rewarding

Negative reinforcement


Identify Skinner's notion of the ideal human society as discussed in his novel 'Walden Two'

Skinner stated that individual behavior must be directed toward the type of society that has the greatest chance of survival.


Skinner believed that although controlled by our environment, we are responsible for __ that environment. We constantly change our environment, often to our advantage. When we do so, we are acting as both __ and __.

Designing; Controller; Controlled


Skinner stated: "I am not trying to change __. All I want to do is change the __."

People: World in which they live


Skinner's main approach to assessing behavior

Functional Analysis


Identify the three aspects of behavior included in Skinner's functional analysis

1. The frequency of the behavior
2. The situation in which the behavior occurs
3. The reinforcement associated with the behavior


Unless functional analysis has been evaluated, it is not possible to plan and implement a __.

Behavior Modification Program


Identify the three approaches to assessing behavior

Direct Observation (two or more people conduct the observation)
Self-Report (interviews and questionnaires)
Physiological Measurements (heart rate, muscle tension, brain waves)


The ultimate goal of the applications of Skinner's theory is to __, not to change personality.

Modify behavior
(The focus remains on what people do, not on what might have motivated them to do it.)


TRUE OR FALSE: Skinner preferred the intensive study of a single subject. He believed that a science that deals with averages provide little information to help in understanding the unique individual.



Identify topics of Skinner's research that have been highly supported of his ideas

Reinforcement schedules
Language acquisition
Behavior shaping
Superstitious behavior
Behavior modification


The substitution of instinctive behaviors for behaviors that had been reinforced

Instinctive Drift
Proposed by two former students who challenged Skinner's idea that all behaviors are learned by studying more than 6,000 animals of 38 species.


Title of Skinner's groundbreaking book, which was also his first book on behaviorism, described as one of the few books to truly change the nature of the field

The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis (1938)


Skinner's controversial book that became a bestseller and made him a celebrity

Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971)


Skinner denied the existence of this and did not seek causes of behavior within the organism. To him, this is simply a pattern of operant behaviors.



Skinner's theory of personality is based largely on his __ of rats and pigeons.

Behavioral Analysis


To Skinner, although __ such as thinking and feeling exist, they cannot be used as explanations of behavior; only __ can be studied by the scientist.

Internal states; Overt behavior


Identify the three forces that shape human behavior according to Skinner

-Individual's personal history of reinforcement
-Natural selection
-Evolution of cultural practices


__ is a process of changing behavior in which reinforcement (or punishment) is contingent on the occurrence of a particular behavior.

Operant Conditioning


A __ is any event that, when added to a situation, increases the probability that a given behavior will occur; whereas a __ is any aversive stimulus that, when removed from the environment, increases the probability of a given behavior.

Positive reinforcer; Negative reinforcer


Identify the two types of punishment according to Skinner

-Presentation of an aversive stimulus
-Removal of a positive stimulus


Identify the ways in which social control is achieved according to Skinner

-Operant conditioning
-Describing the contingencies of reinforcement
-Depriving or satiating a person
-Physically restraining a person


People can also control their behavior through self-control, but all control ultimately rests with the __ and not __.

Environment; Free will


According to Skinner, how are unhealthy behaviors learned?

In the same way as all other behaviors, that is, mostly through operant conditioning


To change unhealthy behaviors, behavior therapists use a variety of __ techniques, all of which are based on the principles of operant conditioning.

Behavior modification


A doctrine that avoids all hypothetical constructs, such as ego, traits, drives, needs, hunger and so forth

Radical Behaviorism
Prominent figures are Watson and Skinner


The first psychologist to systematically study the consequences of behavior; proposed the Law of Effect

E. L. Thorndike


Watson argued in Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It that the goal of psychology is the __ and __ of behavior.

Prediction; Control


The realm of philosophy concerned with causation



Identify the 3 main characteristics of science according to Skinner

1. Science is cumulative
2. Science is an attitude that places value on empirical observation above all else (rejects authority, demands intellectual honesty, suspends judgment)
3. Science is a search for order and lawful relationships


Identify the major distinction between classical/respondent conditioning and operant/Skinnerian conditioning

In classical conditioning, behavior is elicited from the organism, whereas in operant conditioning, behavior is emitted. An elicited response is drawn from the organism, whereas an emitted response is one that simple appears.


A procedure in which the experimenter or the environment first rewards gross approximations of the behavior, then closer approximations, and finally the desired behavior itself

Shaping / Successive Approximation


Identify the 3 conditions present in all instances of operant conditioning

(A) Antecedent (environment or setting in which the behavior takes place)
(B) Behavior
(C) Consequence


To Skinner, the behavior is not discrete but __; that is, the organism usually moves slightly beyond the previously reinforced response.



A consequence of our reinforcement history in which we react to some elements in our environment but not to others

Operant discrimination


A response to a similar environment in the absence of previous reinforcement; in Skinner's words, the reinforcement of a response increases the probability of all responses containing the same elements

Stimulus generalization


Identify the 2 effects of reinforcement

-Strengthens the behavior
-Rewards the person


Identify the major distinction between negative reinforcement and punishment

Negative reinforcers remove, reduce or avoid aversive stimuli, whereas punishment is the presentation of an aversive stimulus or the removal of a positive one.


Identify the effects of punishment

-Suppress behavior
-Conditioning of a negative feeling (by associating a strong aversive stimulus with the behavior being punished)
-Spread of its effects


__ are those environmental stimuli that are not by nature satisfying but become so because they are associated with such unlearned or primary reinforcers as food, water, sex or physical comfort; __ are associated with more than one primary reinforcer

Conditioned (or secondary) reinforcers; Generalized reinforcer


Identify the five important generalized reinforcers that sustain much of human behavior

Submission of others
Tokens (money)


Identify the two primary types of reinforcement schedules

Continuous schedule (organism is reinforced for every response)
Intermittent / Partial schedule (produce responses that are more resistant to extinction)


TRUE OR FALSE: Nearly all reinforcement schedules begin on a continuous basis, but soon the experimenter can move from continuous reward to an intermittent reinforcement.



The tendency of a previously acquired response to become progressively weakened upon nonreinforcement

Operant extinction takes place when an experimenter systematically withholds reinforcement of a previously learned response until the probability of that response diminishes to zero.


Identify the reasons in which responses can be lost once learned

-Simply be forgotten during the passage of time
-Lost due to interference of preceding or subsequent learning
-Disappear due to punishment


Identify the inner states and complex behavior which Skinner believed can be studied but their observation is limited and behavior cannot be attributed to them

Purpose and Intention
Higher Mental Processes
Unconscious Behavior
Social Behavior


Identify the three basic strategies for counteracting excessive social control

Passive Resistance


Identify the inappropriate behaviors that follow from self-defeating techniques of counteracting social control for from unsuccessful attempts at self-control

Excessively vigorous behavior
Excessively restrained behavior
Blocking out reality
Self-deluding responses


Skinner believed that __ is one of the chief obstacles blocking psychology's attempt to become scientific.



TRUE OR FALSE: A major goal of therapy is to change behavior and if the changes are stable over time and situations, one could talk about changing personality



A self-report measure that captures a person's general tendency to actively pursue rewards

Behavioral Activation Scale (BAS)


At best, a repertoire of behavior imparted by an organized set of contingencies