Operant Conditioning of Learning Theory


An operant is defined as a behavior that produces effects. Operant conditioning, basically a product of Skinnerian psychology, suggests that individuals emit responses that are either not rewarded or are punished. Operant conditioning is a voluntary behavior and it is determined, maintained and controlled by its consequences.

Operant conditioning is a powerful tool for managing people in organizations. Most behaviors in organizations are learned, controlled and altered by the consequences; i.e. operant behaviors. Management can use the operant condi­tioning process successfully to control and influence the behavior of employees by manipulating its reward system. Reinforcement is anything that both increases the strength of response and tends to induce repetitions of the behavior. Four types of reinforcement strategies can be employed by managers to influence the behavior of the employees, viz., positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, extinction and punishment.



Positive Reinforcement  

Positive reinforcement strengthens and increases behavior by the presentation of a desirable consequence (reward). In other words, a positive reinforce is a reward that follows behavior and is capable of increasing the frequency of that behavior. There are two typos of positive: reinforces: primary and secondary. Primary reinforcers such as food, water and sex are of biological importance and have effects, which arc independent of past experiences. For instance, a primary reinforcer like food satisfies hunger need and reinforced food-producing behavior. Secondary reinforcers like job advancement, recognition, praise and esteem result from previous association with a primary reinforcer. Primary reinforcers must be learned. In order to apply reinforcement procedures successfully, management must select reinforcers that are sufficiently powerful and durable.


Negative Reinforcement

The threat of punishment is known as negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcers also serve to strengthen desired behavior responses leading to their removal or termination.



Extinction is an effective method of controlling undesirable behavior. It refers to non-reinforcement. It is based on the principle that if a response is not reinforced, it will eventually disappear. Extinction is a behavioral strategy that does not promote desirable behaviors but can help to reduce undesirable behaviors.



Punishment is a control device employed in organizations to discourage and reduce annoying behaviors of employees.

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