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Operant conditioning

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BF Skinner explains operant conditioning.



1. Has the pigeon in the experiment been trained to read?

2. How is such behavior produced?

3. What is the relationship between the pigeon's behavior and human gambling behavior?

4. How does Skinner view the question of free will? If all our behavior can be reduced to stimulus and response, how can we be free?


ANSWERS

1. Has the pigeon in the experiment been trained to read?
No, only to discriminate between two stimuli words (turn and peck).

2. How is such behavior produced?
By shaping. The subject is hungry, and trained to associate a food reward with a pecking behavior (reinforcement).

3. What is the relationship between the pigeon's behavior and human gambling behavior?
The pigeon pecks most when on a variable ratio schedule (as opposed to a regular schedule of every 10th peck or every minute). People continue to gamble because the rate of reinforcement (wins) is variable: the next time may be the winner.

4. How does Skinner view the question of free will? If all our behavior can be reduced to stimulus and response, how can we be free?
He cites John Edwards, who suggests we believe in free will because we know about our behavior but not causes. Skinner suggests that if we find causes for our behaviour, then there will be less need to attribute behavior to an act of free will. He concludes thus: "eventually I think we'll need to attribute nothing to it."

To finish, a quotation on free will from Skinner's seminal book Beyond Freedom and Dignity.

In the traditional view, a person is free. He is autonomous in the sense that his behavior is uncaused. He can therefore be held responsible for what he does and justly punished if he offends. That view, together with its associated practices, must be re-examined when a scientific analysis reveals unsuspected controlling relations between behavior and environment.

(Skinner,1972)

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