Instrumental Conditioning And The World Around Us….


Instrumental conditioning

Human beings interact in society in a manner that is reflected by their emotions and feelings. We will repeat actions or re visit situations that make us feel good about ourselves or have positive  memories, and we will avoid situations that have negative memories.

If we take a closer look, we see that instrumental conditioning is a highly relevant aspect in the way we behave. “According to recent reinforcement learning models, two distinct components are involved: a “critic,” which learns to predict future reward, and an “actor,” which maintains information about the rewarding outcomes of actions to enable better ones to be chosen more frequently. (O’Doherty et al. 2004). There are two approaches these parties may take; Positive reinforcement, or negative reinforcement. These techniques influence the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated in the future in response to the cue the critic provides to the actor.

Pet ownership

 Australia has the highest rate of pet ownership in the world as “63% of Australian Households Own pets” (RSPCA, 2014).  As we welcome the animals into our lives we want them to behave in a particular manner, we want them to be toilet trained, friendly, and  to perform tricks for us. Reinforcement with pets is used in the form of offering them some kind of food reward or ‘treat’ for positive behavior, and a negative reward such as being put outside for negative behavior. Below is an example of how we use positive reinforcement to condition our pets.

(William Knapp, 2014)

The puppy is being conditioned through the use of positive reinforcement for its actions as it is rewarded with a treat. Over a period of repetition of command by the ‘critic’ (the trainer), the ‘actor’ (the puppy) learns to roll over as it seeks a treat and learns to act in a desired way.

Human conditioning

We are being conditioned in every action we take. This is achieved through the enforcement of laws and the negative repercussions we incur if we break them all to shape our society into a better place to live in for everyone.

Positive reinforcement is seen in our purchasing habits. Many retailers have embraced the use of a rewards programs  for their benefit. An example is the boost juice rewards card. .  Boost Juice has a rewards card for customers who receive a free boost on their tenth purchase. This entices us to purchase as much of that product as we can because we love the feeling of receiving free stuff as we perceive it as good value.

As our actions are strongly driven by the emotions associated with situations, it makes us easy to be shaped by others to perform in a specific way. As I have explained this concept I finish with a funny example of how easily we allow ourselves to be conditioned which can be seen in the clip below.

(TeachingBizVids, 2012)


O’Doherty,J, Dayan,P, Schultz,J ,Deichman,R,2004, Dissociable ‘Roles of Ventral and Dorsal Striatum in Instrumental Conditioning’, Science AAAS, vol.304, no 5669, pp.452-452.

RSPCA, 2014, How many pets are there in Australia?, viewed 5 May 2015, <;

TeachingBizVids, 2012, Big Bang Theory-operant conditioning, online video, 29 October 2012, You Tube, viewed 5 May 2015, <;

Knapp.w, 2008, Changing Behavior with Operant Conditioning, online video, 14 August 2008, You Tube, viewed 5 May 2015, <;


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