Reinforcement Theory and Learning

Reinforcement theory, also called operant conditioning, is generally associated with the work of B. F. Skinner. In its simplest form, reinforcement theory suggests that behavior is a function of its consequences. Thus, behavior that results in pleasant consequences is more likely to be repeated, and behavior that results in unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated.

Reinforcement theory further suggests that in any given situation, people will explore a variety of possible behaviors. Future behavioral choices are affected by the consequences of earlier behaviors. Cognitions also play an important role. Thus, rather than assuming a mechanical stimulus-response linkage suggested by the traditional classical view of learning, contemporary theorists believe that people consciously explore different behaviors and systematically choose those that result in the most desirable outcomes.

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