Psychology Retooling Institute and Seminar for the Mid-AtlanticII

Learning and Memory



Child and Adult Development

Social Psychology

Child Development

 Biological Psychology



Operant Conditioning

Classical Conditioning

Memory Module


Learning and Memory Module: Operant Conditioning
Deborah Harris OBrien, Ph.D.
Washington, DC

I. Overview    II. Learning Objectives     III. Content Outline
  IV. Sample Discussion Questions       V. Classroom Activities
   VI. Multimedia Resources

I. Overview

Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which behavior becomes more or
less likely to occur in the future based on the consequences following the
behavior. Unlike classical conditioning, the behavior is freely given by the
organism, not reflexive. The type of consequence (reinforcement or
punishment) determines whether the behavior is likely to increase or
decrease in the future. As in classical conditioning, generalization or
discrimination may occur in which the behavior occurs in response to a
stimulus similar to the learned one or does not occur to a similar stimulus.
Shaping is a method of successive approximations to a desired behavior
during which responses are reinforced for getting closer to the desired end
behavior. Reinforcement is administered through "schedules"; it can occur
after every response, or occur after a number of responses or after a time
interval (partial reinforcement). Principles of the effectiveness of
reinforcement and punishment explain why some interventions are not
successful; in general, punishment is less desirable to use as a learning
method than reinforcement.

II. Learning Objectives

1. Define operant conditioning.

2. Describe and give examples of the following components of operant
learning: stimulus, response, reinforcement, punishment.

3. Distinguish between positive and negative reinforcement, and positive and
negative punishment.

4. List and explain the principles of operant conditioning.

5. Identify and give examples of the following schedules of reinforcement:
Continuous, fixed interval, variable interval, fixed ratio and variable

6. Describe and give examples of the following principles governing the
effectiveness of reinforcement and punishment: consistency, contiguity,

7. Identify the ways an operantly learned response can be weakened
(extinction, suppression, forgetting).

8. Identify the disadvantages of using punishment as a method of behavioral

III. Content Outline

1. Definition of operant conditioning: response freely given by organism
followed by reinforcement or punishment; response operates on the

a. Stimulus ----> Response ----> Reinforcement or Punishment

{Use Exercise A as practice in identifying stimuli and responses}

2. Types of reinforcement and punishment

a. Positive reinforcement: something is added to increase the likelihood of
the behavior in the future.

b. Negative reinforcement: something is subtracted to increase the
likelihood of the behavior in the future

c. Positive punishment: something is added to decrease the likelihood of the
behavior in the future

d. Negative punishment: something is subtracted to decrease the likelihood
of the behavior in the future

e. Emphasize that both types of reinforcement increase behavior and both
types of punishment decrease behavior. Suggest that students think about
positive and negative as mathematical terms, not as "good" and "bad".

f. Individuality of consequences: whether something is a reinforcement or
punishment depends on the individual; what may be reinforcing for one person
may not be for another.

{Use Exercise B to strengthen students= understanding of the types of
reinforcement and punishment).

3. Principles of operant conditioning

a. Extinction: if the reinforcement is discontinued, the response will
gradually stop.

b. Timing of consequences: the sooner the reinforcement or punishment occurs
after the response, the greater its effect. If the delay is too long, the
organism may not make the connection between its response and the

c. Stimulus generalization: the response may generalize to stimuli that
resemble the original stimulus to which the organism responded

d. Stimulus discrimination: the tendency of a response to occur int he
presence of one stimulus, but not another similar stimulus

e. Shaping: procedure in which successive approximations of a desired
response are reinforced. This is used when the organism does not have the
desired behavior in its repertoire or if the probability of the behavior
occurring is low.

4. Schedules of reinforcement

a. Continuous reinforcement: response is reinforced every time it occurs

b. Partial reinforcement: not every response is reinforced. Responses
learned under a partial reinforcement schedule are stronger and more
resistant to extinction.

(1) Interval schedule of partial reinforcement: based on the amount of time
between the behavior and the reinforcement.

(a) Fixed interval: the time between the behavior and the reinforcement is

(b) Variable interval: the time between the behavior and the reinforcement

(2) Ratio schedule of partial reinforcement: based on the number of
responses. Reinforcement occurs after a number of behaviors.

(a) Fixed ratio: the number of responses before reinforcement remains

(b) Variable ratio: the number of responses before reinforcement changes

{Use Exercise C to help students identify the schedules of reinforcement}

5. Operant conditioning in real life.

a. Behavior modification is an application of operant conditioning to
systematically change behaviors. It is used for clinical purposes, as well
as in educational settings.

{Exercise D is an opportunity for students to use behavior modification on

b. Superstitious behavior may occur because of coincidental reinforcement.

6. Principles of effectiveness of reinforcement and punishment

a. Consistency: the behavior must be reinforced or punished consistently

b. Intensity: the stronger the reinforcement or punishment for that
organism, the more effective the consequence

c. Contiguity: nearness in time of behavior and consequence; if
reinforcement or punishment is delayed, the behavior may not be learned.
This is especially true for animals and young children.

7. Ways responses can be weakened

a. Extinction: discontinue reinforcement

b. Suppression: use of punishment; the behavior will not be performed, but
is not necessarily lost from the behavioral repertoire.

c. Behavior is rarely elicited: if behavior is not practiced, it may be

8. The problems with punishment

a. The effects of punishment are sometimes temporary; the behavior may be
suppressed in the presence of the punisher, or in selected environments. The
behavior may reoccur in the absence of the punisher or punishing

b. Punishment does not teach desired behaviors. Punishment teaches the
organism what not to do, but provides little information on what it should
do. This is especially important in the application of behavior

c. An action intended to punish may be reinforcing. What the punisher
believes is unpleasant, may actually be reinforcing, as in the case of
attention from a parent. Also, if punishment involves removal from a
situation, it may be reinforcing because the individual wants to avoid the

d. Most misbehavior is hard to punish immediately; if the punishment is
delayed, it may not be effective.

e. The recipient of the punishment may respond with fear, anxiety, or anger.
The emotional reaction to a punishment may interfere with the learning

IV. Sample Discussion Questions

1. How do classical and operant conditioning differ?

2. How can childrens temper tantrums be explained through operant
conditioning? How do children negatively reinforce parents  behavior of
"giving in"?

3. Which schedule of reinforcement is best for learning a new behavior?
Which schedules are best for maintaining an already learned behavior?

4. Discuss the ethical concerns related to behavior modification.

5. Give an example of an operantly conditioned superstitious behavior.

6. Some people claim they have tried to use behavior modification and it
doesn't work. (This is a complaint frequently heard by therapists).
According to the principles of effectiveness of reinforcement and
punishment, why might the behavior modification have been unsuccessful?

7. Discuss attitudes toward punishment in your culture.

V. Classroom Activities: Worksheets and Demonstrations

A. Stimulus - Response Exercise

Definitions: Stimulus = something that happens TO the person/animal

Response = behavior performed by the person/animal

Identify each of the following as a STIMULUS or RESPONSE.

1. _____ A flashing light

2. _____ Answering this practice exercise

3. _____ A stop sign

4. _____ An ant crawling on your arm

5. _____ Vomiting

6. _____ Coughing

7. _____ The sound of heavy breathing

8. _____ Seeing and smelling a piece of chocolate cake

9. _____ Bad tasting medicine

10. ____ Laughing

11. ____ Screaming

12. ____ A feather tickling your arm

B. Types of reinforcement and punishment exercise

In learning theory, remember that positive means adding something and
negative means subtracting something. Reinforcement will increase the
likelihood of a response in the future; punishment will decrease the
likelihood of a response in the future.

Identify each of the following examples as either: positive reinforcement

negative reinforcement

positive punishment

negative punishment

1. ___________________ Jimmy's father gives him $5 for washing the car.

2. ___________________ Maria was fighting with her sister. Her mother says she can't watch TV tonight.

3. ___________________ Keila is 4 years old. Her mother spanks her for running out into the street.

4. ___________________ Your teacher says you don't have to take the final exam if you have a "B" average at the end of the semester.

5. ___________________ You receive a $100 incentive bonus from your boss for completing a project early.

6. _________________ You are assigned 10 hours of trash pick up after being caught smoking in the campus library restroom.

7. _________________ Lelani's parents don't allow her to use the family car for 2 weeks after she received a "D" in her high school chemistry class.

8. _________________ You always put on your seat belt so that the annoying buzzer will stop.

C. Schedules of reinforcement exercise

1. ___________ You go to Atlantic City and play the slot machines. Sometimes you win money after putting in 3 quarters, sometimes after 15 quarters, sometimes after putting in 7 quarters.

2. ___________ You get a paycheck every Tuesday.

3. ___________ A psychologist gives a rat a food pellet each time it pushes a lever in its cage.

4. ___________ You go fishing in the Chesapeake Bay every weekend. Sometimes it takes 1 hour to catch a fish, sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes.

5. ___________ A college student's mother sends her a box of fudge every Thursday.

6. ___________ George works in a factory putting fenders on cars. He gets paid $100 for every 4 fenders he finishes.

7. ___________ Michael's mother gives him an M & M for each toy he puts away in his toy box.

8. ___________ Teri collects empty soda cans. The recycling center gives her $1 for every 30 cans.

9. ___________ Shaina delivers newspapers in her neighborhood. Sometimes Mrs. Lewis pays her for 2 weeks at a time, sometimes she pays for 1 week, and sometimes she pays for a month.

10. __________ You start playing the lottery. You win $10 the first time you play. You play 12 more times before you win again.

D. Behavior Modification Exercise

This is an opportunity for you to change a behavior of your own using operant conditioning.

DAY 1:

1. Choose ONE behavior that can easily be measured which you would like to change. This exercise is NOT intended to change serious behavioral problems. Some examples of behaviors you might choose are: exercise (how many minutes do you exercise?), smoking (count the number of cigarettes smoked), studying (how much time do you spend studying each day?), eating (count the number of
fat grams in your diet).

2. Record your behavior as it normally occurs for one day. This is your baseline which you will use for comparison after attempting to change your behavior.

3. Choose a reinforcement to give yourself when you have successfully changed a behavior. For example, you could reinforce yourself at the end of the day for smoking less cigarettes than your baseline number, or for exercising or studying longer than your baseline amount. Some examples of
reinforcements are: enjoyable activities (watch TV, take a nap, read a magazine), food (for example, reward yourself with a piece of candy or a soda for each 15 minutes of completed study time), money to spend at the end of the behavior modification period (for example, put a dime in a jar each
time you successfully resist the urge to smoke a cigarette or eat a fattening food). To be effective, your reinforcement must be something that is desirable to you.

DAY 2 - 6:

1. Each day record the behavior you have chosen to modify and the number of times you earned the reinforcement.

DAY 7:

1. Compare the number of times you performed the behavior in days 2 through 6 with your baseline (Day 1). Was there a change in your behavior?

2. If your behavior changed, why do you think your reinforcement was successful? If your behavior did not change, what could be the reasons you were unsuccessful?

E. In class demonstration of operant conditioning

Materials: small candies (M & M's are ideal), a clock, volunteer subject, student behavior recorders.

Select a volunteer who likes the candy you have brought and ask him or her to leave the room for a few minutes. Explain to the rest of the class that you will positively reinforce the volunteer with candy each time he or she uses the word "I". Tell students you will interview the volunteer for 5 minutes as a baseline with no reinforcement and then 5 minutes using reinforcement. Assign several students the task of tallying each time the volunteer says "I" during the baseline period and again during the operant conditioning. Bring in the student volunteer and explain that you will interview him/her for a few minutes. You can ask simple questions related to the course, to your campus, current events, etc. After 5 minutes, give the student a piece of candy each time he or she uses the word "I".

After the 10 minute interview, ask the subject if s/he figured out what was being reinforced. Now have the data recorders report on the number of times the subject said "I" in the baseline period and in the conditioning period. If the reinforcement did not increase the number of times the student said "I" ask the student volunteer and the class to offer possible explanations.

If you prefer, this demonstration can be done in small groups in the class, with each group having a subject, interviewer, and data recorder.

VI. Multimedia Resources

CyberRat CD ROM. (Brown & Benchmark, Windows & Macintosh compatible).
Students can operantly condition a wide variety of behaviors and observe the
results of various reinforcement schedules with this video presentation of a
live rat. Experimental variables can be manipulated.

Discovering Psychology, Program 8: Learning. (1990, 20 min. ANN/CPB). The
basic principles of classical and operant conditioning are presented, as
well as the contributions of behavioral pioneers like Pavlov, Thorndike,
Watson and Skinner, to our knowledge of animal and human thinking.

The Missouri Automated Reinforcer Assessment. (Available for downloading at Students can go through a sequence of questions about what they like and don't like to make a list of reinforcers. Reinforcers are sorted by type, such as edible reinforcers, social reinforcers, etc.

PsychSim. (Worth Publishing, available in DOS, Windows, and Macintosh). Computer based tutorials in 16 subject areas of general psychology, including operant learning simulations.

The Skinner Revolution. (1980, 23 min. Research Press). A comprehensive look at the life and work of B.F. Skinner, including interviews with this giant of behaviorism. Demonstrations of operant conditioning and behavior modification illustrate his theories.

Sniffy, the Virtual Rat. (Brooks/Cole, available in Windows or Macintosh formats). Teaches principles of operant conditioning with a virtual rat who lives in a virtual Skinner box. Students can train Sniffy with virtual food pellets, and use various reinforcement schedules. There are also
Apre-trained Sniffies@ for demonstration in the classroom.

VII. Readings

Bower, G.H. & Hilgard, E.R. (1981). Theories of learning. Prentice-Hall.

DeBell, C.S., Harless, D. K. & Ragland, R.G. (1992). B.F. Skinner: Myth &
Misperception. Teaching of Psychology, 19, 68 - 72.

Graham, R.B. (1998). A computer tutorial on the principles of stimulus
generalization. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 149 -151.

Klein, S. B. (1987). Learning: Principles and applications. McGraw-Hill.

Lukas, K.E., Marr, M. J. & Maple, T.L. (1998). Teaching operant conditioning
at the zoo. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 112 - 116.

Tauber, M. (1988). Overcoming misunderstandings about the concept of
negative reinforcement. Teaching of Psychology, 15, 152.

Watson, J.B. (1998). Behaviorism. Transaction Press.

Please direct comments to: Dr. Deborah Harris O'Brien
Trinity College
125 Michigan Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20017
OR e-mail to:

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Learning and Memory Module: Classical Conditioning
Kiran Chadda
Hood College

I. Overview    II. Learning Objectives     III. Content Outline
  IV. Sample Discussion Questions 


I. Overview

Learning has been defined as any relatively permanent change in behavior brought about through experience.  It is through experience and learning, that one learns attitudes, fears, skills, concept formation and problem solving.  Learning also plays an important role in the development of one's personality.  Psychologists have identified various principles of learning.  Classical Conditioning is one of the principles of learning based on association.


II. Learning Objectives

1.        Identify the key features of the definition of learning.

2.        Describe the key terms of Classical Conditioning (UCS, UCR, CS and CR)

3.        Explain Ivan Pavlov's research.

4.        Describe the processes of extinction, spontaneous recovery, higher order conditioning, generalization, and stimulus discrimination.                 

5.        Importance and Applications of Classical Conditioning.

 III. Content Outline

1.        Definition of Learning:  Learning is any relatively permanent change in behavior brought about through experience. 

2.        Ivan Pavlov's Research:  Ivan Pavlov's studies of classical conditioning.  His experiments on dogs learning association of stimuli.

3.        Definition of Classical Conditioning:  A form of learning in which a previously neutral stimulus is paired with an unconditioned stimulus to elicit a conditioned response that is identical to, or very similar to the unconditioned response.

4.        Classical Conditioning terms:  These terms will be explained with Pavlov's experiment and another real life example such as, a child crying at the sight of  the Dr. as he is associated to giving a painful injection.

a.        Unconditioned stimulus (UCS):  This is a stimulus that can elicit a response without learning.  In Pavlov's experiment the meat powder and in the other example the injection.

b.       Unconditioned Response (UCR):  An unlearned inborn reaction to an unconditioned response. In Pavlov's experiment, salivation to meat powder.  In the other example it is crying to the painful injection.

c.        Conditioned Stimulus (CS):  A stimulus that comes to elicit responses due to being paired with an unconditioned stimulus. In Pavlov's experiment, the sound of the bell, and in the other example the sight of the doctor.

d.       Conditioned Response (CR):  When a learned response is elicited by  the conditioned stimulus.  In Pavlov's experiment, salivation to the bell. In the other example, crying at the sight of the doctor.  

5.        Extinction:   The weakening of a conditioned response by presenting the CS (bell / doctor)  repeatedly and unaccompanied by the UCS (meat powder / injection).

6.        Spontaneous Recovery:  The reappearance of a conditioned response to a conditioned stimulus after extinction and the passage of time.

7.        Higher Order Conditioning:  Conditioned Response elicited to another new Conditioned Stimulus.  In Pavlov's  experiment light followed by bell. In theother experiment the      clinic followed by the doctor.

8.        Stimulus Generalization:  The tendency for similar stimuli to elicit the same response.  In Pavlov's experiment response given to the metronome instead of the bell.  In the other example the child cries when he sees the barber as he reminds him of the doctor.

9.        Stimulus Discrimination:  The tendency for responses to occur more often in the presence of Conditioned Stimulus only.

10.     Importance and Applications of Classical Conditioning:  Classical Conditioning principles applied in health, advertising etc.  Explain Watson's study to show                      how phobias can be learned.  Explain the treatment of systematic desensitization used to cure phobias.


IV. Sample Discussion Questions 

                 1.  Explain the advantages and disadvantages of learning through classical conditioning.

                2.  How can classical conditioning explain our responses to stimuli such as colors, odors, names, words and so on?

                3.  Explain why some dieters confine eating only in the dining area and not in front of TV etc.

                4.   Explain the phrase "Old habits die hard".

                5.  Explain how advertisers use the concept of stimulus generalization.

                6.  Discuss how classical conditioning can play a role in shaping our attitudes toward members of various ethnic groups.

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Orlando Correa
Harford Community College

I. Overview    II. Learning Objectives     III. Content Outline
  IV. Sample Discussion Questions       V. Classroom Activities
   VI. Videos/Films on Memory   VII Suggested Reading

I. Overview

The tasks of organizing and encoding information, storing such information and retrieving this information when needed is crucial to the survival of all animals. Typically, this process is called memory. This module will explore what is known about how memory works. It examines various approaches and theories that attempt to explain how informaion is processed from the raw sensory inputs to the eventual interpretation and consolidation of inputs. Additionally, methods for improving memory are presented.



II. Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, a student should be able to:

III. Content Outline

IV. Sample Discussion Questions

V. Classroom Activities

VI Videos/Films on Memory

VII Suggested Reading


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