Respondent and operant conditioning

Respondent and operant conditioning are two different behavior contingencies. Observe client behavior in your fieldwork setting. Give at least one example of respondent conditioning and operant conditioning that you have observed. Thoroughly describe the S-R and S-R-S components in your explanation. Using your texts and readings from class, support your examples and cite from your readings.

Please use to complete/site post-Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., Heward, W.L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.) Pearson.


Respondent Conditioning

One example of respondent conditioning that I observed was a child who was afraid of dogs. The child had been bitten by a dog in the past, and as a result, she would become very anxious and start to cry whenever she saw a dog.

In order to help the child overcome her fear, we used a technique called systematic desensitization. This involves gradually exposing the child to dogs in a safe and controlled environment. We started by showing the child pictures of dogs, and then we moved on to videos of dogs. Once the child was able to tolerate seeing dogs without becoming anxious, we took her to a park where she could see real dogs from a distance. We gradually decreased the distance between the child and the dogs until she was able to pet a dog without becoming afraid.

The child’s fear of dogs was successfully extinguished through respondent conditioning. The unconditioned stimulus (UCS) was the bite from the dog, which caused the unconditioned response (UCR) of fear. The conditioned stimulus (CS) was the sight of a dog, which initially did not cause any fear. However, through repeated pairings of the CS (the sight of a dog) with the UCS (the bite from the dog), the CS eventually came to elicit the UCR (fear).

In order to extinguish the fear, we used a process called counterconditioning. This involves pairing the CS (the sight of a dog) with a pleasant stimulus (such as food or praise). This pairing of the CS with a pleasant stimulus eventually causes the CS to lose its ability to elicit the UCR (fear).

Operant Conditioning

Another example of operant conditioning that I observed was a child who was having difficulty staying on task in class. The child would often get up out of her seat, talk to her classmates, or play with objects in her desk. As a result, she was not able to complete her work.

In order to help the child stay on task, we used a technique called positive reinforcement. This involves rewarding the child for staying on task. We started by rewarding the child with small tokens, such as stickers or points. As the child began to stay on task more consistently, we started to reward her with larger rewards, such as extra recess time or a special privilege.

The child’s behavior of staying on task was increased through operant conditioning. The reinforcer was the token, sticker, or point. The behavior that was reinforced was staying on task. The consequence of staying on task was the receipt of the reinforcer.

Both respondent and operant conditioning are important tools that can be used to change behavior. Respondent conditioning is used to change involuntary behaviors, such as fear and anxiety. Operant conditioning is used to change voluntary behaviors, such as academic performance and social skills.


Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.

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