The use of consequences (reinforcement or punishment) to modify behavior. This idea was first proposed by the psychologist, B.F. Skinner. He felt that most things that made us behave in certain ways were external and that we should try and look for these patterns in daily life to see what made us the way we are.
Operant conditioning is very simple…at it’s most basic it means that people do things when they think they will be rewarded for them or conversely, that they will be punished if they do not complete them. Students get A’s on their report cards to please their parents so that they might buy them a new toy. Adults work harder at work when they think that they could get further in the company or receive a pay raise. In Skinner’s mind, incentives are what drive people to complete tasks.
Example: A child works particularly hard on a homework assignment because he knows his parents will give him $5 if he gets an A.
Want more details about operant conditioning? Check this out: http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/introopcond.htm