The dynamics of operant conditioning.


Journal Article

Existing models of operant learning are relatively insensitive to historical properties of behavior and applicable to only limited data sets. This article proposes a minimal set of principles based on short-term and long-term memory mechanisms that can explain the major static and dynamic properties of operant behavior in both single-choice and multiresponse situations. The critical features of the theory are as follows: (a) The key property of conditioning is assessment of the degree of association between responses and reinforcement and between stimuli and reinforcement; (b) the contingent reinforcement is represented by learning expectancy, which is the combined prediction of response-reinforcement and stimulus-reinforcement associations; (c) the operant response is controlled by the interplay between facilitatory and suppressive variables that integrate differences between expected (long-term) and experienced (short-term) events; and (d) very-long-term effects are encoded by a consolidated memory that is sensitive to the entire reinforcement history. The model predicts the major qualitative features of operant phenomena and then suggests an experimental test of theoretical predictions about the joint effects of reinforcement probability and amount of training on operant choice. We hypothesize that the set of elementary principles that we propose may help resolve the long-standing debate about the fundamental variables controlling operant conditioning.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Dragoi, V; Staddon, JE

Published Date

  • January 1999

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 106 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 20 - 61

PubMed ID

  • 10197362

Pubmed Central ID

  • 10197362

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1939-1471

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0033-295X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1037/0033-295x.106.1.20


  • eng