Operant Conditioning In Learning And Parenting

Learning is a never-ending process to which all beings with at least a hint of intelligence are subjected. It can occur in various ways, for instance, depending on the stimulus from the external environment. In this case, the learning process is called conditioning (Blackman, 2017). It can be divided into two categories: classical and operant conditioning. The latter is widely used in teaching since it possesses uniform and ubiquitous features that can even be used on both pets and children.

The main advantage of operant conditioning, sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning, resides in its definition. According to Blackman (2017), it can be described as a learning method implying rewards and punishments for specific behaviors. For instance, it can be used to train a rat to develop specific behaviors, such as pressing one type of button and avoiding the other. If a blue button is pressed, the rat receives food as a reward; however, if a red button is pressed, the rat is slightly electrocuted.

Operant conditioning relies on a relatively simple premise – actions followed by reinforcement will be strengthened and thus are more probable to be repeated in the future; analogically, punishment produces the opposite effect. Since reinforcement and punishment occur daily in natural environments, operant conditioning is not restricted to experimental laboratory settings. Consequently, it plays an essential role in the learning and teaching processes. In particular, operant conditioning serves as an invaluable tool in the hands of parents and pet owners.

In terms of learning and from the parental perspective, pets and children do share similarities. If left unattended or inadequately raised, they can cause a lot of trouble for the adults responsible for them. That is why adults use operant conditioning to avoid troublesome outcomes – they encourage “good” behavior and punish the “bad.” For example, dog owners can scold their dog for chewing on something inappropriate in the same way parents do not let babies take everything into their mouths.

Overall, operant conditioning presents an inseparable part of the learning and teaching processes for living beings. It is centered around of simple reinforcement and punishment concept and has value both in the experimental and everyday environment. Its simplicity is very helpful when it comes to developing specific behavioral patterns, which is why it is commonly used, for example, by parents and pet owners, as a universal teaching tool.


Blackman, D. (2017). Operant conditioning: an experimental analysis of behaviour. Routledge.