“He who cannot shape himself first can never shape the world!”
Shaping Definition in Psychology
Shaping is a form of behavioral psychology that aims to train a living being to perform a desired behavior through reinforcing responses that are similar to the desired outcome.
For example, when my girlfriend wants me to clean the house, she’ll first reward me with a cookie anytime I pick up some dirty clothes off the ground. After she’s satisfied with my first step, she won’t reward me until I’ve picked up two pieces of clothing on the next attempt. This goes on and on until I’ve been “shaped” to clean the entire house in order to get a cookie.
So, what exactly is shaping? It involves reinforcing successive approximations of a desired behavior until the behavior itself is exhibited. In other words, it’s teaching a new behavior by rewarding each step toward the desired behavior.
What is “Shaping” in Psychology?
Shaping is a procedure that uses a series of reinforcers to guide a subject toward exhibiting a specific behavior. These reinforcers are applied in steps, gradually getting the subject closer and closer to the target behavior.
The idea of shaping arose from the field of psychology known as behaviorism, which was pioneered by the great B.F. Skinner and his operant conditioning theory. According to Skinner, a reinforcer is a consequence that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again, while punishment decreases the likelihood of reoccurrence.
By using shaping, we can not only reinforce positive behaviors but also reduce or eliminate negative behaviors. Reinforcers can take various forms, such as rewards, praise, or positive feedback. Positive reinforcement occurs when we use rewards to reinforce a behavior, while negative reinforcement occurs when we remove something unpleasant to reinforce a behavior.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is a technique used in psychology that involves applying a reward or a positive consequence to increase the likelihood of a desired behavior occurring again.
When we use positive reinforcement, we’re essentially rewarding a behavior in some way, like with praise, treats, or other forms of positive feedback. This reward strengthens and encourages the desired behavior, making it more likely to happen again in the future.
For example, if a child cleans their room and receives praise from their parents, they’re more likely to clean their room again in the future to receive more positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that can be used in a wide range of settings, from parenting to education to workplace management. By using positive reinforcement effectively, we can encourage and shape behaviors in a positive and constructive way.
What is Negative Reinforcement?
Negative reinforcement is a technique used in psychology that involves removing or avoiding a negative consequence to increase the likelihood of a desired behavior occurring again.
When we use negative reinforcement, we’re essentially taking away something unpleasant or removing a negative consequence to encourage a desired behavior. For example, if you’re experiencing pain and take a painkiller to alleviate the discomfort, you’re using negative reinforcement to encourage taking painkillers in the future.
Negative reinforcement strengthens and encourages the desired behavior, making it more likely to happen again in the future. It’s important to note that negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment, which involves applying a negative consequence to decrease the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.
Negative reinforcement can be used in various settings, such as in education or workplace management, to encourage and reinforce positive behaviors. By understanding and effectively utilizing negative reinforcement, we can shape and encourage desired behaviors in a positive and constructive manner.
Examples of Shaping in Psychology
Here are a few examples of shaping in psychology:
- Teaching a child to tie their shoelaces: A parent might use shaping to teach a child to tie their shoelaces by rewarding them at each step of the process. First, they might reward the child for holding the shoelaces correctly, then for making the first loop, then for making the second loop, and finally for tying the bow. By using shaping, the child is gradually guided towards the desired behavior of tying their shoelaces.
- Training a dog to roll over: A dog trainer might use shaping to train a dog to roll over by rewarding them at each step of the process. First, they might reward the dog for lying down, then for rolling onto their side, then for rolling onto their back, and finally for completing the full roll-over motion. By using shaping, the dog is gradually guided toward the desired behavior of rolling over.
- Teaching a bird to talk: A bird owner might use shaping to teach a bird to talk by rewarding them for making sounds that resemble words. They might start by rewarding the bird for making simple sounds like “hello” or “goodbye,” then gradually shape those sounds into more complex words and phrases. By using shaping, the bird is gradually guided toward the desired behavior of talking.
What Are Successive Approximations?
Successive approximations are an important concept in psychology and refer to the gradual progression of a subject toward a desired behavior through a series of small, incremental steps.
In shaping, successive approximations involve rewarding a subject for behavior that gradually becomes closer and closer to the desired behavior. For example, if a trainer wants to teach a dog to shake hands, they might start by rewarding the dog for lifting its paw, then for moving its paw towards the trainer’s hand, and finally for actually making contact with the trainer’s hand.
Each step in the process represents a successive approximation towards the desired behavior, with the subject being rewarded for each step along the way. By using successive approximations, the subject is gradually shaped toward the desired behavior without becoming overwhelmed or discouraged by attempting to perform the entire behavior at once.
Successive approximations are an essential part of shaping, and they allow trainers and educators to guide subjects toward complex behaviors in a positive and constructive way. By breaking down behaviors into small, achievable steps, we can help subjects succeed and feel motivated to continue learning and growing.