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What Is Operant?

In the realm of behavioural science and psychology, one term that holds great importance is “operant.” Coined by renowned psychologist B.F. Skinner, the concept of operant refers to a fundamental unit of behaviour that plays a central role in understanding human and animal behaviour. By comprehending the concept of operant, we gain insights into how behaviour is shaped, influenced, and reinforced.

So, what exactly is an operant?

An operant refers to an observable behaviour that is influenced by its consequences. According to Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, behaviour is not solely determined by external factors or internal drives; rather, it is a product of the consequences that follow it.

Skinner distinguished operant behaviour from a closely related term, “respondent behaviour,” which is reflexive or automatic in nature. Operant behaviour, on the other hand, is voluntary and directly influenced by its consequences. It is a purposeful action or response that an individual engages in to obtain a desired outcome or avoid an unwanted consequence.

Operants Behaviour Support - Child Cleaning Room Operant Behaviour

To illustrate this, let's consider an example:

Imagine a child who is asked to clean their room. If the child cleans their room as requested, and as a consequence, their parent praises them and offers a small reward, such as extra playtime or a treat, the behaviour of cleaning the room is more likely to be repeated in the future. In this scenario, the act of cleaning the room is the operant behaviour, and the positive reinforcement provided by the parent serves as a consequence that strengthens that behaviour.

In behaviour analysis, the consequences that follow an operant behaviour can be categorised into four main categories: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Positive reinforcement involves providing a desirable stimulus to increase the likelihood of the behaviour occurring again. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, involves removing an aversive stimulus to reinforce the behaviour. Positive punishment refers to the addition of an unpleasant consequence to decrease the likelihood of the behaviour happening again, while negative punishment involves the removal of a desirable stimulus to discourage the behaviour.

Understanding the concept of operant is not only valuable in psychology and behaviour analysis, but also in various fields such as education, parenting, and organisational behaviour. By recognising the influence of consequences on behaviour, individuals can use operant conditioning techniques to shape and modify behaviour effectively.

For example, teachers can utilise positive reinforcement to motivate students and encourage desired behaviours in the classroom. Parents can employ a combination of reinforcement and punishment techniques to teach their children appropriate behaviours. In workplace settings, managers can implement reinforcement strategies to reinforce desired employee behaviours, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction.

In conclusion, the term operant holds significant importance in the field of behaviour analysis and psychology. By understanding the concept of operant, we gain insights into how behaviour is influenced by consequences and shaped through reinforcement and punishment techniques. This knowledge can be applied to various domains of life, allowing individuals to understand and modify behaviour more effectively.