ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Man or Machine

Updated on December 16, 2011

It is easy to latch on to generalizations- to reduce everything to one simple answer. 'It's all sex...' we tend to say. And, until recently, many behaviorist psychologists believed that learning was 'all conditioning'. They thought that all learning took place through conditioned responses and reinforcement-classical or operant conditioning.

A growing school now accepts that, although conditioning accounts for much of human behavior, it is not responsible for it all. Think of a small child who has learned to cross a busy road cautiously by a conditioned set of prohibitions instilled by fear.

As the child grows older, it needs to learn for itself a true understanding of the complexities of traffic-that earlier conditioning has to be removed.

Thus, although we are mechanical in a large part of our behavior and learning, this is probably not the only way in which we learn (if it were, we should be reduced to the state of automata or robots). But it is often difficult to say which component - conditioning or reasoned choice - dominates any particular behavior. For example, take the man who has been conditioned to behave in an obsequious way towards his social superiors. His training may have given him no option but to behave in this manner. On the other hand, he may have come to the realization that a wider range of behavior is open to him and decided that pandering to his superiors would be the most productive choice.

A similar thing could be said of tantrum children. Their constant fiery outbursts may be conditioned responses, or calculated devices which they have found to be useful.

Take Your Cue

Rather than responding rigidly to direct stimuli, we seem to be able to use selectivity in our behavior. Some psychologists are now using the words 'cues' or 'signals' in place of the term 'stimuli'- and these cues that we receive may or may not be acted upon.

This exercising of choice is not confined to mature humans. Even animals have been shown to digress from the 'stimulus response' path. Two psychologists, Breland and Breland, described a number of 'disobedient' subjects in their animal experiments. There was the chicken who would not sit still, the raccoon who refused to put money into a slot, rabbits who balked at approaching the feeder and the stubborn pig who just would not put tokens into a piggy bank...

Putting it to the Test

B.F. Skinner, who firmly believes that without reinforcement there would be no learning, devised a teaching machine that delivered sweets every time a correct response was made by a child who was being taught. It soon became clear, however, that the child progressed just as quickly with no reward at all. The satisfaction of learning was sufficient reinforcement on its own.

This realization has been put to practical use by modern educationalists. Teaching machines have been invented not to deliver goodies but to flash lights, play merry jingles or ring bells each time students perform satisfactorily. Immediate feedback of this nature is beneficial to learning. And, predictably, enthusiastic learning is encouraged by prompt knowledge of examination results rather than the customary long delays.

Shaping Behavior

There are three kinds of reinforcement: positive, negative, and punishment. Positive reinforcement is the giving of a reward after a wanted response so that it is more likely to occur again. Negative reinforcement consists of providing some unpleasant stimulus that is only removed when the wanted response is made. Punishment means applying an unpleasant stimulus after a response that is not wanted.

Research with animals has shown that positive reinforcement is overwhelmingly the most effective form of shaping behavior.

Negative reinforcement is unreliable in its effectiveness, and punishment often produces undesired side-effects.

Continue reading: How Should Punishment Be Used


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)