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Instrumental Conditioning. Also called Operant Conditioning. Pavlovian Conditioning = Stimulus learning Instrumental Conditioning = Response learning. Instrumental behavior = behavior that occurs because it was previously instrumental in producing certain consequences.

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instrumental conditioning

Instrumental Conditioning

Also called Operant Conditioning


Pavlovian Conditioning = Stimulus learning

Instrumental Conditioning = Response learning

Instrumental behavior = behavior that occurs

because it was previously instrumental in

producing certain consequences

Also called ‘goal-directed’ behavior


Early work in this area done by Thorndike (late 1800s)

  • put cats in puzzle boxes
  • the cats had to manipulate a latch to open the door,

escape and get food

  • initially the cats would thrash about randomly until

they accidentally opened the door

  • then the latency to escape and get food would decrease

over successive trials


The behavior, or response, is instrumental in, or

responsible for, the outcome (i.e., escaping and

getting food).

Thus, this type of learning became known as

‘instrumental conditioning’


Thorndike interpreted the results of his experiment

as reflecting the learning of an S-R association

Thorndike believed the cats learned an association

between the stimuli inside the puzzle box and the

escape response

The consequence of the successful response – escaping

the box – strengthened the association between the box

stimuli and that response

On the basis of his work, Thorndike formulated

the law of effect


Law of effect

  • this law states that if a response in the presence of a

stimulus is followed by a satisfying event, the association

between the stimulus (S) and the response (R) is


  • if the response is followed by an annoying event,

the S-R association is weakened

  • according to the law of effect, animals learn an

association between the response and the stimuli present

at the time of the response – the consequence of the

response is not one of the elements in the association

  • the satisfying or annoying consequence simply serves

to strengthen or weaken the association between the

response and the stimulus situation


Modern approaches to the study

of Instrumental Conditioning

Discrete-Trial Procedures

  • involves a single response performed only at a certain time
  • rat is put in start arm and runs to

goal arm where it receives food

  • only single action (or response

sequence) and reward is given

  • then rat removed from the apparatus
  • after ITI the animal is placed in the start

arm again for another trial

  • each response is a discrete action. The speed and onset of the

behavior is determined by the subject. The experimenter

determines when the subject may begin the action (usually by

putting the rat in the start arm)


Modern approaches to the study

of Instrumental Conditioning

Free-Operant Procedures

  • more like what you will do in the lab with bar-pressing
  • here the experimenter decides which behavior is correct but

the subject determines when the behavior will be executed

  • your rats will be put in an operant chamber and allowed to

respond at their own pace

  • subjects can make the response and receive reward more than


  • an operant response (such as a bar-press) is defined in terms of

the effect that it has on the environment – the critical thing is not

the muscles involved in the behavior but the way in which the

behavior ‘operates’ on the environment


Cumulative Record

  • way of presenting data in free-operant procedures
  • one response builds on the previous response

Response Measures

  • with discrete-trial procedures can measure speed, and

latency to make the response

  • with free-operant procedures can measure rate of

responding (#BP/min)


Studies can also combine elements of both discrete-trial

and free-operant procedures

For ex., L tells subject when to respond and the subject

can then respond at its own pace

Responses are freely emitted by the subject, but some

control by the experimenter


Magazine Training and Shaping

  • in order for instrumental conditioning to occur, the

subject must make the desired response prior to receiving

the reward

  • how do we train rats to make the response

(i.e., bar-press)?

  • the preliminary phase is called magazine training
  • the food-delivery device is called the food magazine
  • when food is delivered the device makes a noise
  • after enough pairings of this noise with food
  • delivery, the rat will go to the food cup when it hears
  • the noise

Magazine Training and Shaping

  • after magazine training, the animal is ready to learn the

instrumental response

  • we ‘teach’ the response through a process called response


  • shaping involves:
  • reinforcement of successive approximations to the
  • required response
  • and nonreinforcement of earlier response forms

Instrumental Conditioning Procedures

There are 4 basic types of instrumental conditioning

These 4 types are categorized according to:

1. Nature of the outcome controlled by the behavior

a. Appetitive stimulus – pleasant outcome (food)

b. Aversive stimulus – unpleasant outcome (shock)

2. Relationship or contingency between the response

and the outcome

a. Positive contingency – R produces O

b. Negative contingency – R eliminates/prevents O


Instrumental Conditioning Procedures

1. Positive reinforcement – also called reward training

  • response produces an appetitive outcome that is not
  • as likely to occur otherwise
  • positive contingency between the response and an
  • appetitive stimulus
  • example, rat bar-press for food
  • result: response increases

Instrumental Conditioning Procedures

2. Punishment

  • positive contingency between the response and an
  • aversive stimulus
  • if the subject performs the response, it receives the
  • aversive outcome
  • if the subject does not perform the response, it does
  • not receive the aversive outcome
  • example, shock a rat whenever it makes a BP
  • or mother scold child for playing in the street
  • result: response decreases

Instrumental Conditioning Procedures

3. Negative reinforcement

  • negative contingency between the response and an
  • aversive stimulus
  • the response terminates or prevents the delivery of
  • an aversive stimulus
  • example, put a rat in a box and give him continuous
  • shocks. The rat could jump over a barrier to turn off
  • or escape the shock.
  • this is called an escape procedure
  • subjects can also avoid an aversive stimulus that is
  • scheduled to occur

Instrumental Conditioning Procedures

3. Negative reinforcement (Escape/Avoidance)

  • example, students can study before an exam to avoid
  • getting a bad grade
  • example, a rat may be scheduled to receive a shock
  • at the end of a warning stimulus. If he makes a certain
  • response (BP or jump over a barrier) before the
  • warning stimulus is over, he avoids getting shocked
  • result: response increases

Instrumental Conditioning Procedures

4. Omission Training

  • negative contingency between the response and an
  • appetitive stimulus
  • the response prevents the delivery of a pleasant
  • event
  • if the subject does not make the response, the reward
  • is delivered
  • example, a child is told to go to his room when he does
  • something bad
  • example, suspending someone’s driver’s license for
  • impaired driving
  • result: response decreases

Instrumental Conditioning Procedures

4. Omission Training

  • usually with omission training, the subject can receive
  • the reward for engaging in other behaviors
  • sometimes referred to as DRO
  • Differential Reinforcement of Other behaviors