Operant Conditioning and Behavioral Therapy

     B.F. Skinner is known as the father of operant conditioning which is a method of learning that is studied in psychology. Skinner believed that the best way to study behavior is to evaluate the cause and consequences of an action (Cherry). Through operant conditioning, the consequences of a behavior determine the likelihood of the individual repeating it. The behavior that is repeatedly punished is less likely to reoccur and the behavior that is repeatedly rewarded is more likely to reoccur (McLeod). Operant conditioning has been studied in experiments involving lab rats receiving a reward for one action and punishment for another action. Once the rats learn which behavior produces a reward, the likelihood of the behavior increases (Cherry). Operant conditioning occurs in natural settings as well. This can occur in everyday situations such as a child learning they will be rewarded with extra allowance for doing extra chores, or in structured environments like therapy.  

    Operant conditioning in behavioral therapy uses punishments and rewards to shape the likelihood of a behavior occurring. One approach of behavioral therapy that uses operant conditioning is contingency management. Contingency management outlines the consequences, rewards, and reinforcements of behaviors in a clear and formal written contract between the therapist and client (Cherry). Behavioral modeling is another approach of behavioral therapy that uses operant conditioning. Through behavioral modeling, the client observes behaviors and the resulting consequences or rewards in order to learn acceptable behavior skills (Cherry). Behavioral therapy approaches, such as contingency management and behavioral modeling, that use operant conditioning can be efficient ways of learning behavioral skills and shaping behavior through therapy.