Instrumental Learning

Instrumental Learning/Operant Conditioning

Instrumental Conditioning: Learning how to tie your shoes

Instrumental conditioning is the process that allows a change in behavior. The change of behavior may be either positive or negative, depending on the individual, and his or her environment. This paper will assess the relevance of instrumental conditioning as it pertains to teaching a child how to tie his or her shoes. This paper includes a description of how to tie your shoes, and compare and contrast the concept of positive and negative reinforcements as it describes tying your shoes. The objective of reward and punishment in tying your shoes, and the explanation of what form of instrumental conditioning to consider to be the most effective in learning how to tie your shoes.

Instrumental Conditioning

            According to (2011), instrumental conditioning (operant conditioning) is “The process of reinforcing a behavior by consistently giving positive or negative reinforcement.   The goal is to increase the probability that the rewarded behavior will occur more frequently.”

One example of instrumental conditioning would be a child is given a pack of gummy bears after he or she cleans up his or her room; more likely the child will clean his or her room regularly. Cleaning the room is the desired behavior, and instrumental conditioning is used to teach the child to clean his or her room. According to Kirsch, Lynn, Vigorito, and Miller (2004), “Instrumental (operant) conditioning is a type of learning that involves the acquisition of emitted responses i.e., responses, like a wink of the eye, that can occur in the absence of reliable or well defined antecedent stimuli and are experienced as voluntary.” Some of the more important factors in instrumental conditioning is the consequence of the response. According to Terry (2009), “Responding often seems to be under exquisite control of the reinforcement conditions: Larger and tastier rewards provoke a more vigorous response, delayed rewards weaken responding, and the satiation of drive leads to a reduction in responding.” Meaning the sweeter the pot, the better the response, and if the pot is not sweet, the lessened the response.

Description How to Tie Your Shoes

The whole process of learning how to tie your shoes may take a few minutes to 60 minutes from start to finish. This can be a hard task for a child who has never learned how to tie his or her own shoes. The child needs a few seconds to prepare him or herself to learn how to tie his or her shoes. He or she must have his or her shoes on, once his or her shoes are on, he or she will pull the shoe strings together making sure the shoestrings are even. The next step is to fold the shoe strings around each other and make rabbit ear, once the rabbit ear is made the child will hold the other half of the shoestring and wrap it around the rabbit ear and this makes two rabbit ears. Once the child has formed the two rabbit ears, the child will pull the rabbit ears together making a bow, and the child needs to pull both rabbit ears tightly so the shoe stays tied.

Compare and Contrast of Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the existence of a response to a reinforce connection. Terry (2009), states that “In positive reinforcement, reinforce is contingent on the performance of the instrumental response.” Negative reinforcement is the attempt to entice a particular behavior to persist in the future, the way this is achieved by eliminating the negative behavior. Ormrod (2008) states that negative reinforcement is, “Something is being taken away from the situation.” Essentially, acquiring a decrease and nonexistence of the negative behavior something is given as well as something is taken away.

One importance is that negative reinforcement may appear to be a form of punishment, but they are two different situations. An example of a negative reinforcement: A child is continuously late coming home; the parents want the child home on time. The child comes home two nights on time, the parents take the child out to the theater to watch a movie, the child comes home on time and eventually the child stops coming home late completely. Positive and negative reinforcement is the underlying practice of rewarding an individual for demonstrating a desired behavior, such as tying his or her shoes. In contrast, the child may not like the concept that he or she has to learn how to tie his or her own shoes.

On any occasion there is a concept to be learned and children may be cautious to learn as the idea is not completely achieved the first few times. Not forgetting that there will be numerous mistakes in the beginning, but as time goes by and the child continues trying he or she will soon achieve the desired goal. If a negative reinforcement is used when the child makes a mistake, the child will soon believe that tying his or her shoes must be avoided, no matter what the outcome may be.

The Role of Reward and Punishment

Rewards can come any different forms that can be used to entice the child in learning how to tie his or her shoes. In turn, for the reward process to be effective it should be contributed immediately and consistently after the child has tried to tie his or her shoes. The most effective rewards used are verbal praise; telling the child he or she did a good job trying to tie his or her shoes. Verbal praise allows the child to see that the parents are proud of him or her for the effort that he or she is making. Other rewards, such as a cookie, which is something the child likes, or a small toy.

Punishment is teaching the child how to tie his or her shoes, the parent needs to avoid the punishment process completely as it does not help the child’s confidence that he or she needs to achieve his or her goal of learning how to tie his or her shoes. Learning to tie shoes can be stressful for a child. If a parent screams, and expresses negative feelings toward the child he or she will feel that he or she has let the parent down, so using positive reinforcement such as, “the silly rabbit will not stay in the hole it is okay he will stay in there the next time.” With the learning environment being relaxing the child can grow.

The Most Effective Form of Instrumental Conditioning

Positive reinforcement is the more effective form of instrumental conditioning relating to teaching a child how to tie his or her shoes. Positive reinforcement gives the child the encouragement that he or she needs in accomplishing tying his or her shoes, and it also helps him or her to grow in other aspects of his or her life. If a child is in an environment his or her growth potential there is no limits to what he or she can achieve, his or her mind becomes a cocoon, and it works best when opened.


            In conclusion, this paper provides an evaluation of the application of instrumental conditioning relating to teaching a child how to tie his or her shoes. The process of tying shoes has been laid out in detail. A comparison and contrast of the concepts of positive and negative reinforcement has been described relating to learning how to tie ones shoes. The role of reward and punishment has been discussed while explaining what form of instrumental conditioning would be more effective in learning how to tie ones shoes.






References (2011), Definition of: Instrumental Conditioning.   Retrieved on October 15,

2012, from:

Kirsch, I., Lynn, S. J., Vigorito, M., Miller, R. R., (2004).   The role of cognition in classical and

operant conditioning. Journal of clinical psychology, Volume 60.(4).369-392.   Retrieved

on October 14, 2012 from:

Ormrod, J. E., (2008) Human learning (5th ed.) pg. 58. New Jersey: Pearson/Merrill Prentice

Hall.   Retrieved October 15, 2012 from:


Terry, W. S., (2009) Learning and memory: Basic principles, processes, and procedures (4th

ed.).   Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon

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