4 quadrants of operant conditioning

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4 quadrants of operant conditioning

This is a discussion on 4 quadrants of operant conditioning within the Training and Behavior Stickies forums, part of the Dog Training and Behavior category; i see a lot of confusion about what these terms mean when people are discussing training, and i'm hoping that this post will help to ...

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Old 09-02-2012, 04:49 PM
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4 quadrants of operant conditioning

i see a lot of confusion about what these terms mean when people are discussing training, and i'm hoping that this post will help to clear up that confusion. there are 4 quadrants of operant conditioning:


hopefully this illustrates the differences to everyone.
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Last edited by fawkese1; 09-02-2012 at 04:53 PM.
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Old 09-02-2012, 05:06 PM
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breaking down the terms

the word positive has a few different meanings, depending on the context it is used in, it could mean being upbeat, good, certain, having the same polar charge as a photon, etc etc etc. lets define the terms according to how they are used in training. in this context "positive" is a quantity. you are ADDING something. it does not mean that you are adding something good/bad only that you are ADDING something.

so positive = ADDING

in that same light, negative does not mean bad. it means that you are taking something away.

so negative = MINUSING

remember again that we are talking about training here, so any personal definitions you have for these words, outside of this do not apply. for example, reinforcement also does not mean good. reinforcement means that it INCREASES the occurrence of the behavior.

punishment does not mean bad, it means a DECREASE in the occurrence of the behavior.

so reinforcement = INCREASE BEHAVIOR

and punishment = DECREASE BEHAVIOR
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Old 09-02-2012, 05:38 PM
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putting them back together

ok, so now we know what the individual parts of the terms mean:

positive = ADDING
negative = MINUSING
reinforcement = INCREASE BEHAVIOR
punishment = DECREASE BEHAVIOR

let's put them together, first for the "positives"

positive (ADDING) reinforcement (INCREASE BEHAVIOR):
means that you are ADDING something that will INCREASE BEHAVIOR. for example, giving your dog a treat, a toy, for some dogs laughing, letting them continue moving forward etc when he does something you like, means he is more likely to do it again. in the picture, the dog is given a treat for keeping the leash loose, and they keep moving forward, both are rewarding for the dog so he is more likely to keep the leash loose in the future.

positive (ADDING) punishment (DECREASE BEHAVIOR):

means that you are ADDING something that will DECREASE BEHAVIOR. for example, hitting your dog, leash pops, scolding, etc. when he does something you don't like which means that he isn't likely to do the behavior again. in the picture the dog is given a leash pop and a scolding when he pulls. both are likely to be considered aversive to the dog and meant to make pulling on the leash less likely to happen in the future.

on the the "negatives"

negative (MINUSING) reinforcement (INCREASE BEHAVIOR):

means you are MINUSING something, in order to INCREASE a behavior that you like. this is a bit tricky to conceptualize, since there needs to be an aversive in place to begin, but basically you remove the aversive so that the dog will continue/increase a behavior. in the picture they use the cessation of leash pops and scolding to encourage the dog to walk on a loose leash. when the pulling stops the aversives stop. the dog learns that in order to avoid the aversive, he must perform x-behavior.

negative (MINUSING) punishment (DECREASE BEHAVIOR):
this is a bit easier to wrap your brain around. you are MINUSING something that the dog finds rewarding in order to DECREASE BEHAVIOR. taking away what the dog finds rewarding, withholding treats, removing your attention, not moving forward on a walk when the dog pulls, etc. are all things that are intended to DECREASE BEHAVIORS. in the picture, they use the "tree method" and withhold treats until the dog stops pulling.
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Old 09-02-2012, 05:53 PM
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further thoughts

it is important to note that it has been proven, repeatedly, that ALL 4 QUADRANTS WORK. just because they work though doesn't mean that you should/shouldn't use them. for more on this: http://www.dogforum.com/dog-training...-fallout-4776/

it is also important to note that you can't really just use one of the 4, since you will not always be reinforcing/punishing your dog, you will at some point be withholding rewards/ceasing punishments. understanding this difference can be really helpful when it comes to tricky behavior issues.

it is EXTREMELY important to keep in mind that you are not the one who gets to decide what is rewarding/aversive to the dog. sorry, but no matter how many times you tell yourself that all you did was scold the dog, you didn't do anything "harsh" it is up to the dog to decide what harsh means. there are a lot of dogs out there that are emotionally crushed by even a slightly raised voice. i learned this lesson the hard way with my dog, and will always regret taking the approach i did when i first adopted him. anyway, same goes for rewards, some dogs love attention, petting, praise etc, some dogs could care less, or are frightened by these things... YOU DON'T GET TO DECIDE, ONLY YOUR DOG DOES!!!
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Last edited by fawkese1; 09-03-2012 at 04:57 PM.
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Old 01-19-2014, 03:26 PM
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Old 02-18-2014, 11:49 PM
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