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Ferster on the Free Operant

Page history last edited by Regina Claypool-Frey 14 years, 1 month ago

 

Ferster on the Free Operant

 

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The following article was posted on the SC List on July 2, 1999:

Date: 7/2/99 11:54:11 AM Eastern Daylight Time

From: JWESHLEMAN@a

Sender: owner-SClistserv@

Reply-to: SClistserv@

To: SClistserv@

CC: kubina.3

 

 

Rick,

 

One of the best, if not THE best definitions I've found for "free-operant," appears in an article published by C.B. Ferster (1953). I return to Ferster's definition often. In case you don't have a copy of the definition, I have copied it below. In case you don't have a copy of Ferster's article, I highly recommend getting one!

 

Ferster wrote:

"The Skinner box is not a specific technique, but rather a method of research employing the free operant. The use of the free operant is a method of wide generality; it refers to any apparatus that generates a response which takes a short time to occur and leaves the animal in the same place ready to respond again. The free operant is used in experiments when the main dependent variable is the frequency of occurrence of behavior. Nearly all the problems of a science of behavior fit this paradigm when the questions are of the form: what is the likelihood of a piece of behavior occurring on this particular occasion; how strong is the tendency to behave on this occasion relative to another occasion? The free operant has advantages in this respect, because it removes restrictions on the frequency with which a response can occur and permits the observation of moment-to-moment changes in frequency (Skinner, 1950,+1953b)." (p. 263)

 

Even in "discrete trial" scenarios, such as baseball games, you can identify elementary skills or behaviors -- component

skills -- that can be pinpointed, taught, trained, strengthened, and practiced as free operants. The thing to do is find these,

and go from there. Maybe not all components occur or could be made to occur as free operants, but it may be that

even those less-than free operant behaviors could be made more free-operant like.

 

The thing we need to avoid is confusing fluency with simply going fast; or an increase in fluency as simply going faster.

It may include that. But the accuracy dimension remains at least as equally important. Sometimes I think we convey the impression that fluency is frequency only, and that it means simply a higher response rate.

 

The main thing is to be empirical, and be like the "rigorous clinician" species Og identified in one of his old articles.

Also, you might could ask our resident baseball expert, Steve Graf, on identifying useful elementary skills for baseball. :-) Steve's also the world's expert on getting hit by pitched balls -- as he's documented at Chart Shares from time to time. :-)) -- JWE

 

REFERENCE:

Ferster, C.B. (1953). The use of the free operant in the analysis of behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 50, 263-274.


 

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