The Quadrant Quandry: Clarity and Perspective of an Icon
The quadrants of operant conditioning have been both a help and a hindrance for animal trainers who want to understand more about behavioral processes. When used effectively, the quadrants provide a convenient framework for explaining the defining properties of positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. Sometimes, however, the quadrants are explained in a way that creates confusion about certain behavioral processes, and invites uses of the quadrants beyond their intended purpose.
Phrases used to describe parts of the quadrants, such as “add good stuff,” “take away something bad,” etc., introduce ambiguity with respect to the procedures, and lead to characterizing certain quadrants as inherently good or bad. This presentation will illustrate problems that arise when we talk about the quadrants in certain ways, and will suggest a way to describe the quadrants that minimizes ambiguity and debate.