Go Operant! — Operant?
Photos Capture the Moments . . . of How All Animals Learn
Operant = Learning!
Rats Learn They Can Do Something to Make Something Happen
How does it work?
- I have taught Robin that if he decides to hop onto the scale, something enjoyable will happen (Treat!).
- In order, first something happens in the environment. For Robin, minimally, the scale is present and his human is waiting. These cue Robin that he now has a choice about what to do. He chooses to hop on. The immediate consequence of his behavior is rewarding to Robin, he gets a treat.
- When the consequences of Robin's behavior of hopping-on-scale are reliably rewarding, his scale-hopping behavior is reinforced – strengthened. He LEARNS.
- And this is how learning works! Robin learns a behavior I taught him, because I set it up right: I set up the scene, and then reinforced his good, scale-hopping behavior.
- Said all sciency: Robin's behavior is modified by what comes before (the antecedents) and what comes after (the consequences of) his behavior .
- Again: Robin LEARNS to repeat a behavior because of what happens before and after he does the behavior.
- Don't worry, this does not mean that the rat will “Only work for food”. If that were the case, the food would have to be present first. “Oh, finally, you showed up with food? Okay, I'll hop”. Operant training instead means, “Oh, a scale! If I hop onto it, good things happen.” HOP! . . . Treat!
- And yes, like all things in life, for humans as well as rats, we do things because the outcome, from our perspective, is good.
- In the sequence of photos of Robin below, one in particular adds something additional and important: The CLICK! - a clicker, or marker, marks the exact moment of the good behavior for Robin, AND signals a reward is coming. This means the reinforcer (treat) doesn't have to be presented immediately after Robin hops up. That can be hard to do sometimes. Think, how do I deliver the fish to the dolphin the moment her jump reaches 15 feet in the air? I can't be there at that exact moment, but by using a marker (whistle, in her case) right ON the moment of the desired behavior, she recognizes what I wanted, and, the delivery of the food can come a bit later.
BIG IDEA: ... an individual's behavior is modified by its antecedents and consequences. Whether the rat will do more of something depends on what happened before and what happens after he does it. This is Operant Conditioning.
More BIG: The rat learns he can change his environment. He learns he can Do Something, to Make Something Good Happen. This is very empowering to any creature.
This, too, is an aspect of Operant Conditioning.