|Little is known about the basic functional organization
of operant conditioning
despite its popularity among the students of Cognitive Psychology. An organism
is said to behave operantly if it is modifying its behavior in response
to the comparison between its own behavioral output and its experience.
In contrast to classical
conditioning, where the organism experiences (and eventually memorizes)
contingencies in its environment, an operantly behaving organism is constantly
exploring the consequences of its own actions.
The Drosophila Flight Simulator,
where the sensory input can be precisely controlled and the motor-output
can be surveilled in great detail, is a valuable tool for investigating
possible links between the two modalities:
Thus, a conceptual framework of operant behavior can be proposed:
This concept enables one to distinguish between operant activity (1-4)
and operant conditioning (1-5).
Operant behavior requires a goal (desired state).
In order to achieve the goal a range of motor programs
is activated (initiating activity).
Efference copies of the motor programs are compared
to the sensory input referring to the deviation from the desired state.
In case of a significant coincidence the respective
motor program is used to modify the sensory input in the direction towards
Consistent control of a sensory stimulus by a behavior
may lead to a more permanent behavioral change (conditioning)
Fig.1: General model of operant behavior. The brain generates
a large variety of motor-outputs and cross-correlates them with one or
several sensory inputs. If, for a certain combination, the correlation
is sufficiently positive, the fly can manipulate this sensory input according
to its needs. The long external arrow coupling 'rotatory control manoevres'
and 'temperature', depicts the situation of a fly in the Drosophila
Flight Simulator. This model was originally presented in Wolf R.,
Heisenberg M. (1991): "Basic organization of operant behavior as
revealed in Drosophila flight orientation." J Comp Physiol A.