Operant conditioning and its use in media

Operant conditioning and its use in media

Operant Conditioning is a method of learning studied by psychologists since 1920. Behaviorists such as John B. Watson and Burrhus Frederic Skinner became famous by spreading the idea that human behavior could be conditioned through reinforcement – a term created by Skinner. Simply put, according to his ideas, repeated stimuli leads to repeated patterns of behavior.

Throughout the years, this concept has evolved and has been used in pop culture, in many movies and tv shows, such as The Office. There are three forms of operant conditioning:  positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment.  Jim’s prank with Dwight in The Office is a clear example of positive reinforcement, where he ads the Windows sound to his offer of an Altoid to increase the likelihood of Dwight raising his hand to receive the aAtoids.

Advertising has also discovered operant conditioning and uses it in many different ways. This Doritos ad, for example, focuses on the force of punishment, and how it should avoid people from wanting to eat a Dorito.

There are also examples of ads that are created around the concept of positive and negative reinforcements, through rewards for behavior. This Friskies ad uses both reinforcements as a foundation: in the cats’ eyes, standing in front of the tv is a positive reinforcement that leads them to be rewarded with food; but for the humans, how the cats disturb their attention during the Superbowl is a negative reinforcement that conditions them to give Friskies to the cats, – so that they can be distracted. Nevertheless, the idea is always the same: if you play your cards right, you will be rewarded.

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