Operant Conditioning and Classical Conditioning Experiment

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Sniffy is a virtual rat, who can experience classical as well as operant conditioning. Operant conditioning consists of shaping a subject to do something based on rewards and punishments. Shaping involves reinforcing small steps that the subject takes towards a target behavior (what the experimenter is trying to condition). Shaping consists of a response class (similar movements towards the conditioned goal). All of these movements of the response class are then reinforced slowly getting the subject to the desired goal. The subject does not automatically perform the desired behavior, they perform variants of that behavior (Alloway 142). For example, when attempting to train Sniffy to press the bar in his conditioning chamber, one variant behavior could be Sniffy moving towards the bar. This behavior is then reinforced with food until he constantly moves toward the bar. A second variant behavior could be Sniffy standing on his hind legs because it is one step closer to the target behavior. This second variant is then reinforced until Sniffy constantly does this behavior. The reinforcement of variant behaviors continues until the subject finally completes the target behavior.

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Within conditioning a series of primary and secondary reinforcers are used in order to condition a subject to complete the desired behavior. Primary reinforcers consist of things the subject biologically needs to survive (i.e. food and water). Secondary reinforcers involve creating a conditioned link between the subject and their biological primary reinforcer in order to elicit a desired behavior. During magazine training, Sniffy endures secondary reinforcement in which a sound-food association is created between himself, the bar in his conditioning chamber, and the food that is dispensed. The sound-food association is essential to Sniffy’s operant conditioning. This sound-food association involves classical conditioning. Sniffy is classically conditioned to expect food when he hears the sound of the bar being pressed and food being released. This creates a connection that when he hears the sound, food will automatically be there. Bar-sound association happens after the sound-food association in Sniffy is strong. This is because Sniffy has been conditioned to know that when it hears a certain sound, food will be there, but it is unaware what causes the sound. After random pressing of the bar, Sniffy begins to associate the bar with the sound, making the connection that if it presses the bar and hears the sound, it will receive food. The next association Sniffy makes is the Action Strength association. This occurs once Sniffy has realized that pressing the bar releases food. Once this association is strong, Sniffy begins to press the bar more and more creating a solid conditioning that pressing the bar gives food.

A cumulative record is used to explain the bar pressing behavior of Sniffy and was created by B.F. Skinner (Alloway 146). The cumulative recorder consists of a long role of tape that has a pen resting on it and every time the bar is pressed, a line is drawn on the paper. The cumulative record measures the frequency of bar pressing from Sniffy. As the frequency of bar pressing increases, it means that Sniffy is becoming more conditioned. As the line is drawn, the pen and paper begin to move upward creating a slope in the line on the cumulative recorder paper (Alloway 147). The slope represents the speed at which Sniffy is responding to conditioning.

Behavioral Observations

With no previous conditioning, Sniffy roams around his conditioning chamber sniffing and not really engaging with anything. He climbs on his hind legs to lean on the walls of the chamber. Sniffy rarely presses the bar, about once every five minutes, and does not gain any association between the bar and food. There are no associations between Sniffy and his habitat and he moves about freely, not being reinforced by anything.

Experiment Procedures and Results

Procedure: Magazine Training

The purpose of magazine training was to create an association within Sniffy of the sound of the bar being pressed and food being distributed. Sniffy was not required to press the bar, just to hear the sound and begin to associate the sound with the food. This is essential because once the training moves to Sniffy pressing the bar, when he presses it he hears the sound and knows that food will be dispensed. In order to reinforce Sniffy and make him begin a sound-food association, the researcher pressed the bar to dispense food whenever Sniffy was near the food dispenser. This began to increase Sniffy’s association between the sound and the food. The more the food was dispensed, the higher Sniffy’s sound-food association got. It is important that Sniffy only got reinforced when he was near the hopper because if he was roaming his chamber, it is possible that he could have begun having an association of sniffing or whatever behavior he was doing before the food was dispensed.

Results: Magazine Training

As the researcher pressed the bar, Sniffy’s sound-food association began to increase. The more the bar was pressed and food dispensed, the higher the association within Sniffy to the sound and the food. The image below on the cumulative recorder shows lines representing the amount of times the bar was pressed. The next image shows the sound-food association within Sniffy. Based on the cumulative recorder and the Operant Association graph, it can be seen that with rapid and multiple bar presses, the association between the sound of the bar and food became very strong.

Procedure: Shaping Sniffy to Press the Bar

After the sound-food association had been made, the next step was to train Sniffy to press the bar. Sniffy would roam his cage and every five to ten minutes would randomly press the bar. As soon as this occurred, the researcher would reinforce the bar press with a food pellet. In order to also shape Sniffy, the researcher reinforced him every time he did a variant of the desired behavior of pressing the bar. Whenever Sniffy went near the bar and turned his back on the researcher facing the wall with the bar press, the researcher would reward a food pellet. Next, whenever Sniffy stood on his hind legs near the bar press, he would again receive a pellet. This led to an association of the desired behavior and eventually Sniffy began pressing the bar and receiving food pellets. This was a very lengthy procedure and took about two to four hours in Sniffy time. Eventually, Sniffy made an association between the bar and the sound, continuing to press the bar for food and strengthening the association between the desired action of pressing the bar. Reinforcement was continuously given every time sniffy pressed the bar.

Results: Shaping Sniffy to Press the Bar

Over a long period of time, Sniffy finally associated the bar with the sound and began pressing it. Initially the bar press was sporadic and spread out, but as the association grew stronger Sniffy would press the bar two to three times and eventually he would press the bar ten times in a row. Sniffy was successfully conditioned that pressing the bar produced food. The cumulative recorder image below shows that the bar presses became more frequent, demonstrating that Sniffy had developed an association between pressing the bar and the food. The Operant Association table also shows that all of Sniffy’s associations had reached the max they could be, proving that he had been conditioned to press the bar for food. Once an association was developed and Sniffy had been conditioned, it can be seen that he would press the bar almost twenty times in a row with very little break in between.

Procedure: Extinction Within Sniffy

After being conditioned to press the bar in order to receive food, the researcher then changed the conditioning chamber to no longer distribute food when the bar was pressed and to eliminate the sound the bar made when pressed. This was done to test whether Sniffy would still keep a strong association with the bar and receiving food. The researcher wanted to know if Sniffy would remain conditioned. Initially the association levels remained high, but as time went on, Sniffy would press the bar, not hear a noise, or receive food. He began to stop pressing the bar and the Action Strength and Bar Sound association levels began to decrease. This is because Sniffy was no longer being reinforced. In the previous experiment, Sniffy had received continuous reinforcement (every time he pressed the bar he received food). Continuous reinforcement is the most susceptible to extinction and was clearly seen in this experiment. Association levels began to rapidly decrease and Sniffy no longer associated the bar with food and began to stop pressing it. Eventually Sniffy went back to roaming around his conditioning chamber and rarely pressing the bar because he no longer expected a reinforcement. Sniffy experienced extinction and was no longer conditioned to press the bar.

Results: Extinction Within Sniffy

The researcher observed Sniffy attempt to press the bar to hear the sound and receive food, but this no longer happened. The more Sniffy pressed the bar, he began to realize that he was no longer receiving food. Eventually, the bar-sound association and strength-action began to decrease dramatically and Sniffy no longer associated the bar with food. Eventually Sniffy stopped pressing the bar all together, minus a few random presses every five to ten minutes. Extinction had successfully occurred within Sniffy and his conditioning had been halted. The result of the cumulative recorder demonstrates this because it can be seen that bar presses all together almost completely extinguish. The Operant Association chart also displays that there is almost a nonexistent relationship between the bar sound and food within Sniffy.

Procedure: Shaping Sniffy to Roll

The researcher attempted to create an association between food and getting Sniffy to roll, but was unsuccessful. The researcher Rewarded Sniffy every time he appeared to do a variant behavior of rolling, but still no association was made. The association between food and rolling and the action strength were at zero. The researcher attempted this for around an hour but was still unsuccessful. Sniffy did not learn to role or associate food with rolling. The reinforcement did not condition Sniffy and no training occurred.

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