Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Experiment with rats

This is a guest post from former VCE student Cait Sexton for VCE Psychology. If you want to write a guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

TITLE OF RESEARCH: Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Experiment with rats (1930’s)

AIM: To investigate operant conditioning in rats, looking at whether the rats can use their environment to lead to a desired behaviour.

HYPOTHESIS: It can be hypothesised that the hungry rats would operate on their environment to get the desired response by pressing the lever in the Skinner Box to receive a food reward.

IV: Food reward and Skinner Box

DV: Time taken to push the lever


MATERIALS: Skinner Box which is a small chamber in which an animal learns how to make a particular response for which the consequence can be controlled by the researcher, it contains a speaker, signal lights, lever, food dispenser which dispenses pellets, and grid floors which can deliver a mild electric shock. There is also a cumulative recorder which records the frequency and speed of the desired response which is made by the pressing of a lever.

PROCEDURE: A hungry rat was placed in the Skinner box and every time it pressed the lever it was rewarded with a food pellet in the food dish which was used to reinforce its behaviour.

RESULTS: Rats scurried around the box randomly touching parts of the floor and wall. Eventually the rat accidently touched the lever and a food pellet was released. The same sequence was repeated and with more trials the time taken to press the lever eventually decreased. The random movements of the rat eventually became deliberate, rats then ate the food as fast as they could press the lever.


-Small sample size

-Use other animals

-Motivation levels

CONCLUSIONS: It can be concluded that the rats operated on their environment to receive a food reward.

GENERALISATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Organisms can learn to operate on their environment to get a desired outcome. Kids learn that if they hand their homework in on time it will lead to them receiving a sticker.

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