Wednesday, June 22, 2016


       Operant conditioning is a type of conditioning that utilizes reinforcement or punishment to strengthen or weaken a behavior, respectively. One of the most useful procedures in operant conditioning is known as shaping, where a new operant behavior is gradually created through reinforcement of successive approximations to the desired behavior. In other words, a new behavior is learned in increments until the desired result is achieved. The following video demonstrates the concepts of shaping: (demonstration ends at 2:34)

       In this activity, the class is trying to teach the girl, without verbal communication, to pick up an object in the back of the room and place it on a stool. The reinforcer being used to shape this behavior is clapping because it can be presented immediately upon occurrence of each approximation. At the beginning of the video, the class "trains" the girl to stand near the back of the room; the clapping subsides as she walks to the front but resumes as she walks to the back. Around the 30-second mark, she no longer walks to the front of the room because she has learned through reinforcement to stay in the back. It is worth noting that as the activity progresses and her approximations get closer to the goal, behaviors that were once reinforced are no longer being reinforced. This facet of shaping is critical in teaching any organism an entirely new behavior.

Powell, R., Honey, P., Symbaluk, D. (2013). Introduction to learning and behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


  1. The clapping reminds me of the "hot and cold" game as a little kid.The biggest difference between shaping and just giving hints at the correct and incorrect behavior is that the reinforcements are withdrawn as the child comes closer to our end goal. Where in the hot and cold game instead of being removed, it is just instructed "cold, colder, freezing!" that you are getting further from the goal. The clapping is the same as the instructor getting more animated/excited as you near the goal and makes the child have a positive feeling. Maybe next time I play with the kids in my family I will try the clapping game instead of hot and cold to see if they reach the goal faster when the reinforcement is removed. It also takes the verbal aspect out of consideration to only be motivated by reinforcements. Using other reinforcers such as treats or attention could work to help get them to learn a new task as well. Interesting stuff.

  2. This is an awesome, simple example of shaping. With the help of the link to the video, it is very easy to see how quickly she learns what the claps mean, which can show the process and steps of shaping. Good example!!