11.07.2019 in Psychology

Instrumental Condition Essay

Terry defines instrumental conditioning as the type of learning process in which a response is paired with reinforcements in a number of trials. Robert Thorndike is considered as the first individual in the field of psychology who conceptualized the concept of instrumental conditioning. For instrumental conditioning to be effective, reinforcement must occur immediately a response is observed. For instance, if a rat is put in a cage that bears a lever and its food placed outside the cage on the other arm of the lever, the rat may try to get the food in a number of attempts including pressing the lever. When the rat presses the lever downwards and the food falls inside the cage, it will continue to do so until the food is over. In this example, food is a reward that is used to reinforce the response of pressing the lever, and this response of pressing the lever is discovered by trial and error. However, reinforcement can either be positive or negative. In this discussion, positive and negative reinforcement, and reward and punishment of learning to ride a bicycle as a selected learning situation will be considered.  

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Learning to ride a bicycle  

By trial and error method, an individual finally learns how to ride a bicycle. Initially, learning to ride a bicycle appears to be a challenging task. Children are very curious to know how to ride a bike. A child must master all the functions of the bicycle riding process in order to ride a bicycle successfully. These functions include balancing on the bicycle, steering, pedaling, and braking. For the first attempts, the child will keep falling off because he or she has not mastered any of the functions. Movement is another factor that is very important in the process of riding a bicycle. When the bicycle moves forward at a faster speed, the rider find it easier to balance than when the forward movement is slow. Pedaling makes the bicycle to move forward and steering ensures that the bicycle moves in a straight line. Therefore, if the rider can be able to master both pedaling and steering, he or she can find it easy to balance on the bicycle while moving forward. Children become very happy when they are able to ride a bicycle without being supported either by an adult or the training wheels.

A mother can decide to train her son how to ride a bicycle. The first step that she will follow is to establish a good relationship of encouraging her son not to give up once he falls off (Gagnon & Collay, 2006). She will put her son on the bicycle and start pushing it around the compound until she feels that her son is comfortable on the bicycle and that he can be able to steer it well. Once in a while, she can keep releasing the bicycle to let her son ride without any support, but she should remind him to continue pedaling while they are moving forward. The mother should keep reminding her son not to forget pedaling and to brake when approaching an obstacle. For the first time the boy is left to ride the bicycle without a support, he fall off several times but there is always some improvement for every trial. The mother can as well promise his son that she will buy him a gift when he successfully masters the whole process of bicycle riding (Gagnon & Collay, 2006). After a number of trials, her son will finally be able to ride the bicycle without being supported.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement  

Positive reinforcement is defined as a technique that is used in learning process to increase and strengthen the desired behavior. According to Hearst , learning occurs successfully when positive reinforcement follows the desired behavior immediately so that an individual or animal can be able to associate their success with the reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is very necessary in the process by which a child learns to ride a bicycle. In this case of learning how to ride a bicycle, the son can be positively reinforced when his mother warmly encourages him to put more effort even when he falls off. Her son will be motivated to keep trying several times until he is successful without fearing that his mother will scold him.

It has also been found that a child can successfully learn the process of riding a bicycle due to negative reinforcement. Sidman defines negative reinforcement as the withdrawal of an aversive stimulus to increase and strengthen the desired behavior. In the process of learning to ride a bicycle the aversive stimulus which should be removed, is the falling off and sometimes getting bruises. Because the son is aware of the negative consequences of falling off, he will put more effort to pedal, balance and steer the bicycle. Therefore, with this effort he will be able to understand the whole process and become successful.  

The role of reward and punishment

A reward is defined as a desirable event that follows an appropriate behavior immediately the behavior has been exhibited (Hearst, 1999). During the process of riding a bicycle, the son can consider his continued success as a reward. For every trial, his mother tells him that he has done it better than the previous attempts. Therefore, her son will be motivated to do even better.  The mother can as well buy her son French fries as a reward when he masters the whole process of bicycle riding. A reward can actually increase and strengthen the learned behavior. In the field of psychology, punishment is defined as an aversive stimulus that follows a negative behavior so that to reduce the possibility of that behavior recurring. Punishment can also be used to accelerate the process of learning how to ride a bicycle. As a punishment, the mother can decide that she is not going to allow her son watch television if he fails to master the whole process of bicycle riding. Her son can therefore put more effort to avoid the punishment. Reward and punishment can accelerate learning process if they are applied effectively.   

The most effective form of instrumental conditioning

Positive reinforcement is the most effective form of instrumental conditioning in this learning situation of riding a bicycle. The son will feel motivated when his mother keeps encouraging him to put more effort even when he falls off several times. The mother should be patient and understanding while she is training her son. It is important to inform the child that he is doing better after every attempt because this can make them perform even better. For this particular learning situation, negative reinforcement may not effectively remove the aversive stimulus such as falling off, because for the first few trials the child must fall off when he is released by his mother.


Instrumental conditioning encourages an animal or person to acquire new behavior on the basis of reinforcement. Positive and negative reinforcement, reward, and punishment have been found to significantly influence learning. The desirable behavior can increasingly occur as a result of positive or negative reinforcement. A reward is useful in strengthening the desirable behavior while punishment is applied to suppress negative behaviors. In the situation of learning how to ride a bicycle, positive reinforcement is the most effective from of instrumental conditioning.  

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