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OPERANT CONDITIONING: Birth-12 months
Written By: Amanda L. Dunstan
The developmental stage from birth to 12 months for a baby is vital to the baby's development. While I conducted an observation on a baby in this age group, I was once again reminded at how important operant conditioning is during this stage. Operant conditioning is one of many learning tools that a baby will naturally use to learn.
During this observation the baby was crying because he wanted a toy that his brother had showed him at the store. After I heard the mother say no to the baby who wanted the toy, she then gave in and gave the toy to the baby to stop him from crying. From the mother's perspective, she decided to purchase that toy to earn the baby's cooperation and to have a quite shopping experience. However, from the baby's experience, he had learned that if he continues to cry he will get what he wants. This was an example of negative operant conditioning, in which "infants act, or operate, on the environment, and stimuli that follow their behavior change the probability that the behavior will occur again" (Berk, 2010). Due to the baby receiving the toy because he didn't stop crying, a reinforced behavior was created because he had a desirable stimuli (getting the toy) linked to the crying behavior. This reinforcer will likely be attempted in other environments; however, the baby just learned that when he is in a store environment and cries, that he will most likely get a toy. This is a very bad habit to get into as a parent and it is difficult to break because the baby has learned it at an early age.
Like in Exodus 2:6 story of Moses, the Pharaoh's daughter saw a basket, "opened it, and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him" (The holy bible, 1984). She then immediately got somebody to nurse the baby so he would have milk and be fed. It is in our human nature to feel sorry for babies when they are crying and to take immediate action on their crying behavior. In this story the Pharaoh's daughter reinforced the crying behavior and the stimuli of receiving milk. This is an example of positive operant conditioning for a baby.
(1984). The holy bible: New international version. Biblica. Retrieved from http://niv.scripturetext.com/
Berk, L. E. (2010). Development through the lifespan. (5th ed., p. 134). Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.