Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thorndike's Law of Effect/ Skinner's Operant Conditioning Model

Edward L Thorndike observed in his lab that when placed in a small box with a trip lever a cat would behave randomly and wildly. Once the cat accidentally trips the lever and got out, the animal would go right to the lever when placed back in the box. He then came up with the law of effect, which says, " behavior with favorable consequences tends to be repeated, while behavior with unfavorable consequences tends to disappear." Skinner took this law and went further into depth and called it behaviorism because he strictly dealt with observable behavior. He said behavior has two types: respondent and operant behavior. Unlearned reflexes are respondent behavior. Examples of respondent behaviors are things like crying when you peel an onion or putting up your hands when someone yells heads up. Operant behavior is learned when one "operates on" the environment to produce desired consequences. Skinner did an experiment with pigeons, where he had the pigeons learn to fly in a figure-eight and how to bowl. He did this by giving the pigeons food whenever they more closely approximated the behavior he was looking for. Skinner's work has significant implications for organizational behavior because most of organizational behavior is under the operant category.
I found a website that talks about Skinner in more depth and goes into discussion of some of his experiments. Other than pigeons, he also did a lot of experiments with rats. One experiment was that you shock the rat for doing x behavior, the result was that the rat would do x behavior a lot less.

Boeree, George C. "B.F. Skinner" http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/skinner.html

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