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Skinner Theory

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  4.4 Skinner Theory (ii) Operant Conditioning Theory (B.F. Skinner) :- In the series of theories based upon conditioned response...

 

4.4 Skinner Theory

(ii) Operant Conditioning Theory (B.F. Skinner) :- In the series of theories based upon conditioned responses, B.F. Skinner propounded the concept of Operant Conditioning. Its basis is the contention that the learner’s behaviour becomes instrumental in creating reinforcement of the acquired behaviour. This situation arises when the learner becomes active in a particular environment.
B.F. Skinner conducted a number of experiments in the sphere of learping and observed that learning becomes practical and effective due only to motivation. Stimulus is the basis of motivation. A stimulus determines the potential behaviour or activity. For instance, the teacher guides the activity in the class through the use of certain clues or indicative words, for instance, “sit down, take out your books, read, tell, practise,” etc. which condition the students to react in certain specific ways.


Skinner conducted numerous experiments on rats, pigeons, etc., and evolved the concept that creatures exhibit two kinds of behaviour (i) respondent and (ii) operant. Response is connected with stimulus whereas the operant form of behaviour is not associated with any known or obvious stimulus. It is an independent form of behaviour. Since it is not linked with any known stimulus, its power and effectiveness cannot be measured by laws governing reflexive behaviour. The rate of response is the only measure is of operant power.


In 1830, Skinner performed some experiments upon white rats. He constructed a box fitted with a lever which made a striking sound as soon as a rat’s foot fell on it. When the rate moved forward after hearing this sound, it found food lying re^dy for it in a cup. The food performed the function of reinforcement, and it encourages the rats to press the lever. Being hungry, the rat was driven and hence it became active or operant.


Basis of Operant Conditioning: - Reinforcement is the basis of operant conditioning, Explaining the phenomenon of reinforcement, it has been sad that “A reinforcer in operant conditioning is only a stimulus or event which, when produced by a response makes that response more likely to occurs in the future.” And, any reinforcer repeated frequently becomes a determinant of potential behaviour in the future.


Reinforcement:- In the process of operant conditioning as defined by Skinner, there are two kinds of reinforcement - (I) Positive (ii) Negative. In case of positive reinforcement, the individual co-operates in the performance of an activity, whereas negative reinforcement occurs when the individual saves himself from or avoids participating in a particular activity.


iii) Stimulus Response (S.R.) Theory:- The theory of stimulus response is also called connectionism. It is studied as one of the associative theories of learning. Thomdike is held to be the father of this school of thought because he did extensive work in the sphere of learning theories and determination of behaviour. According to Thomdike, learning means connection and man’s mind is nothing more than connection. The process of connection, that is, how and when a connection is formed was explained first on the basis of three laws - (i) law of preparation, (ii) law of practice and (iii) law of effect.


Thorndike’s Experiments :- Thomdike conducted many experiments to establish the principle of connectionism. In one of his experiments, a hungry cat was put inside a box constructed in such a manner that as soon as that cat’s paw fell upon a latch fitted inside it, the box opened at once. A piece of fish was placed outside the box through a slit. On observing the piece of fish outside, the cat became extremely anxious to emerge from the box, gobble the piece of fish and assuage its hunger. In order to get outside, the cat began to jump up and down inside the box. In this vexed jumping and in the process of pressing various knobs fitted in the box, its paw touched the right knob, at which the box opened allowing the cat to emerge and eat the fish.
This experiment was repeated many times. Initially, the number of unproductive efforts made by the cat was very high, but gradually it diminished. Finally, a stage came when the cat managed to open box at the first attempt, without making any false moves.


The knowledge obtained from this experiment can be applied to human life also^For example, when a child is taught cycling at, first he falls a number of times. He makes many attempts, but often forgets either to manipulate the handle or the pedal in the right sequence and hence fails. After some time, however, the child acquires the requisite skill and manages to get astride the cycle without falling and hurting himself.
In both these experiments, the learner made many attempts and errors. They then tried to remove these errors, until all of them were removed and the activity fully leamt. For the reason, this principle is sometimes also referred to as the principle of learning by ‘Trial and Error’.

Criticism of The S.R. Theory

These criticism were based upon the following grounds :


1. Emphasis upon fruitless efforts- This theory lays too much stress upon fruitless efforts in the process of learning any activity. Such activities result in loss of time, expecially where the activity can be leamt through a single effort.
2. Descriptive- The theory describes the process of learning of an activity. It does explain how a particular form of activity is leamt or acquired, but without saying anything about why it is leamt. What this implies is that it does not provide a satisfactory solution to the problem.
3. Mechanical- This theory bases itself upon the functioning of the nervous system and also regards the human individual as a machine. Hence, it has been alleged that it is too mechanistic to explain human behaviour. Had man been a mere machine, he would not have possessed powers of thought and reason and all his activities would have been explicable in terms of casual relations or reactions to actions. In fact, such a simplistic explanation applies to very few human activities.
4. Stress upon learning by rote- Because of its inherent emphasis upon mechanistic modes of behaviour in the sphere of learning, it lays undue stress upon learning by rote. It ignores the fact that this kind of learning is merely temporary and that it does not influence potential behaviour and future life at all.

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