Behavioral Consequences I
A baby shakes a rattle, a child runs with a pinwheel, a scientist
operates a cyclotron—and all are reinforced by the results.
(Skinner, 1968, p. 153)
Discussed in this reading are (a) the limitations of classical conditioning, (b) the role of behavioral
consequences in bringing about behavioral change, (c) the dynamics of reinforcement, (d) issues in
implementing reinforcement, (d) the behavioral sequence, and (e) shaping behavior.
Limitations of classical conditioning
When John Watson discovered the Russian studies that demonstrated classical conditioning,
he was ecstatic.
At that time, he believed that the research held the key to understanding all
forms of behavior
He excitedly exclaimed
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well formed, and my own
specified world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take
any at random and train him to become any type of specialist
I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief. . . . .
(Watson, 1924, p. 82).
Watson’s experiments demonstrated that emotional reactions could be trained (conditioned)
to respond to neutral objects or events.
This is one type of behavioral change.
other psychologists then tried to apply the association model (classical conditioning) to non-
reflex, executed behaviors. Examples are singing a song, writing a letter, or, in today’s world,
operating a computer. However, they were not successful. One problem was the major limitation of
Because it requires an existing relationship between a
stimulus and a reaction, classical conditioning is restricted to two types of limited behaviors:
(a) reflex reactions
(such as the knee jerk that occurs when the doctor taps the knee with a small
(b) emotional reactions.
In other words, the only behavioral change that classical
conditioning can address is causing an already-existing reaction to respond to a neutral stimulus.
Classical conditioning is unable to deal with the vast repertory of executed (non-reflex) behaviors.
The role of behavioral consequences
B. F. Skinner pointed out that psychologists were looking in the wrong place for events that
bring about such behaviors. Skinner’s (1953) research indicated that
the outcome produced by
a behavior is the important event in causing an accidental occurrence of a new behavior (new
for the child or the individual) to be repeated.