The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast two theoretical perspectives, both of which focus on learned behavior. These are the learning theories of B.F. Skinner (Theory of Operant Conditioning) and Albert Bandura (Social Learning Theory). The comparison begins with an overview and delineation of each theory which is followed by a discussion of their similarities and differences.
Skinner's Theory of Operant Conditioning
American psychologist, B.F. Skinner, spent over 50 years of his life developing and refining a theory of conditioning to elicit desired behavior in both animals and people. This theory was an outgrowth of an early study (Skinner, 1938) in which pigeons were taught to respond to bars of different colors by using rewards delivered as a consequence of the response.
Abstracting the findings of this study and others, Skinner derived the following principal: Organisms will tend to perform a behavior to obtain a desired response. This principal that behavior can be controlled via manipulation of rewards and punishment serves as the basis of operant conditioning theory. This manipulation is termed "reinforcement."
In his writings over the years (Skinner, 1950; 1957; 1959; 1969), Skinner identified several mechanisms and processes that give rise to effective operant (sometimes termed "instrumental") conditioning. In general, these mechanisms and processes are derived from the basic postulate that any response (operant) emitted by an organism can be strengthened (positively reinforced) or weakened (negatively reinforced).
Babladelis (1984) reports that the distinction between positive and negative reinforcement is often confused by many. Positive reinforcement occurs when the presentation of a reinforcer (usually, but not always, a reward) increases the probability that some desired response will occur. For example, a grade of "A: on a test will increase the probability that one will con...