The Effects of Operant Conditioning of Study Behavior Among Academically Deficient College Sophomores

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Operant conditioning procedures were utilized to assure the successful surveying study behavior of four black academically deficient college sophomores. They were asked to watch and listen to a video-taped lecture on surveying: the reading aloud, in order, of all bold-faced headings and the first sentence under each heading throughout the assigned work increments. Typical college textbook material was used for greater relevance. The students were diagnosed by pre-experimental records and observation, as academically deficient and void of survey study behavior. The experiment was conducted in a room specially designed for video taping and recording the subjects' behavior. Trained student experimenters supervised the experiment from an adjacent room where the subjects' performance was observed by TV monitor and heard by earphones. The subjects sat at a desk which had on it a study light which they could see and a large clock, the face of which they could not see. On the clock face was a small light which was not visible to the subjects. Together with the subjects, the study light, synchronized with the clock and its light were videotaped from the room in which the experimenters were stationed through an opening in the wall. Two of the subjects (one male and one female) were randomly assigned to be reinforced and the other two were not reinforced. Reinforcement consisted of the study light coming on (under the control of the experimenters) when appropriate topic sentences were vocalized properly. The light remained on until inappropriate topic sentences were read (additions) or appropriate ones were skipped (omissions). When either occurred the study light was turned off until appropriate text material was read. Most of the time the light remained on, since appropriate behavior most often was emitted. The clock light was synchronized with the study light. Non-reinforced subjects did not know when their behavior was appropriate, since reinforcement (the study light) was withheld. Whenever they emitted appropriate behavior, however, the clock light was turned on for purposes of analysis. The experimenters tallied the numbers of surveying or acquisition omissions and additions by means of noting the time on the clock face when the light was on or off. Surveying time was tallied also. After surveying each of the 25 chapters comprised of 636 appropriate topic sentences, the subjects were given mimeographed tests. These contained true statements incorporating all the topic sentences in that increment as well as others incorporating distracters, or inappropriate topic sentences. The tests measured the subjects' ability to discern and mark the appropriate material. Performances showed that as designed, the reinforced subjects Were under stimulus control of the study light. Reinforcement of surveying behavior following a lecture on the subject was more effective than a lecture without reinforcement. That is to say that the reinforced subjects, as hypothesized, made significantly fewer surveying omissions and performed better on the tests. There was little difference in surveying additions since few were made under either condition. Contrary to the hypotheses the time required for surveying was usually longer for the reinforced subjects since they were under stimulus control of the light. Student experimenters were demonstrated as capable supervisors of the experiment. Video-taping proved to be a highly reliable objective means of maintaining continuous records.