Introduction to Operant Conditioning

What you’ll learn to do: explain operant conditioning, reinforcement, and punishment

You’ve already learned about classical conditioning, or conditioning by association. This section will focus on operant conditioning, which emphasizes reinforcement for behaviors. In operant conditioning, the motivation for a behavior happens after the behavior is demonstrated. An animal or a human receives a consequence (reinforcer or punisher) after performing a specific behavior. You’ll learn that all types of reinforcement (positive or negative) increase the likelihood of a behavioral response, while all types of punishment decrease the likelihood of a behavioral response.

Watch IT

Watch this video for a review of classical conditioning and an introduction of operant conditioning to help you differentiate between the two types of learning.

You can view the transcript for “The difference between classical and operant conditioning – Peggy Andover” here (opens in new window).

Learning Objectives

  • Define and give examples of operant conditioning
  • Explain the difference between reinforcement and punishment (including positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment)
  • Define shaping
  • Differentiate between primary and secondary reinforcers
  • Distinguish between reinforcement schedules


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