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This paper seeks to explain the concept of operant conditioning proposed by Skinner in illustrating how and why individuals behave or carry out themselves in the manner that they do. To achieve this purpose, the movie called Wit is analyzed, by discussing the conduct or behaviors of some of the characters in that play. First, an overview of the play is provided. Then, the character of Vivian, the main figure in that play is described. The general concept of operant conditioning is identified in this part; having both the negative and the positive reinforcement principles being discussed in detail. The application of the operant conditioning concept is then done by analyzing the character of Vivian. Her behavior during her treatment is analyzed as being characterized as either being attributed to positive or negative reinforcement. The final part of the paper is the conclusion, which sums up all the main points considered in the body of the paper.

Vivian in Wit


The action of the play happens in the final hours of a University professor, Dr. Vivian Bearing. She is suffering and dying from the cancer of the ovary. The doctor examining her, Dr. Harvey Kalekian, suggests trying the chemotherapeutical treatment, and she accepts. Vivian regrets having chosen to concentrate on her career instead of building relationships. She notices that the medics treating her are also making the same mistake as she did. They are ignoring humanity at the expense of knowledge. Vivian agrees on the non-resuscitation option, as her condition is very severe. The play ends with Vivian dead, and nakedly walking towards a little light away from her hospital bed (Vy Danay, 2013).

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General Ideas about Vivians Character

Throughout the play, Vivian makes a reflection of her life experiences by the use of the English language intricacies, particularly using wit. She keeps reciting the poem Death, Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnet 10) by Donne to reflect upon her situation. She is famous for her rigorous teaching techniques. Vivians life has been full of solitude as she is not married, childless, an orphan, and has no one to contact in the case of emergency. Vivian remembers going through tests conducted by different medical experts and being subjected to grand rounds. She also recalls how she and her father used to share books and love language. While still in the hospital, Vivian realizes that the doctors' interests in her are due to her research worth. Just like her, the physicians tend to ignore humanity at the expense of knowledge (Edson, 1999). Slowly, she realizes that she chooses kindness instead of intellectualism. When Vivian reaches the final stage and experiences severe pain, a nurse named Susie Monahan gives her sympathy. Susie also tells Vivian about the choice to exercise her last option. The do-not-resuscitate order is given in the event of severe worsening of a patient's condition. Vivian accepts to make that option. It means that she had accepted her fate. Vivian also refuses to be reminded of the things that she liked such as the writings of Donne. She wants her last minutes to be different. For instance, Dr. Ashford, her former lecturer, offers to read her a Donne sonnet but Vivian does not agree. Instead, Dr. Ashford reads to Vivian The Runaway Bunny by Wise Brown, which she has purchased for her great-grandson (Bradford, n.d.).

The Operant Conditioning

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The operant conditioning concept is founded on the notion that learning is an element of chance in open behavior. The changes observed in the conduct of an individual are due to the person's response to happenings that take place within their environments. These happenings are known as stimuli. Every response results in the production of a consequence (Huitt & Hummel, 1997). Behavior commonly leads to a positive or negative outcome. Among the elements of operant conditioning is the reinforcement principle established upon the concept that the outcomes of actions will affect future conduct. If a certain pattern of stimulus-pattern is reinforced or rewarded, a person is conditioned to respond. This way, conduct that rewards are regarded as reinforcement since it demonstrates to an individual that the particular conduct is desired (McLeod, 2007). A person is, therefore, encouraged to repeat it.

Negative reinforcement is regularly confused with punishment. Despite both phenomena may comprise of aversive stimuli, they differ. To begin with, they have contradictory effects. Punishment leads to the reduction of the regularity of a response while negative reinforcement leads to the increment of the regularity of a response. Another element of operant conditioning is punishment. It is based on the idea that an aversive stimulus should be applied to reduce the rate of recurrence of behavior in the future (McLeod, 2007). Punishment reduces conduct swiftly. There are two forms of punishment: positive and negative. Positive punishment entails the presenting of an aversive stimulus to cause a reduction in undesired conduct. Negative punishment, on the other hand, entails the removal of a stimulus, normally a pleasant one, to reduce undesired behavior (Huitt & Hummel, 1997).

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The connection between the Theory and Vivians Behaviors

The play Wit illustrates some aspects of positive reinforcement. To begin with, Vivian cooperates during her treatment. She takes up the chemotherapeutical treatment suggestion given by Dr. Harvey Kalekian though it is only experimental. It shows that she is positive that the treatment may yield positive though the doctor is not sure about that.

Negative reinforcements are illustrated in this play too. Vivians choice of concentrating on her profession and ignoring the social life seems to hurt her. Even on her deathbed, she has no one to visit her. She only receives consolation from one nurse and her former lecturer, who comes only because she is in town to visit her great-grandson. Vivians solitude death seems like a punishment for her wrong choices in social life. She seems to sympathize with the medics treating her, as they also seem to be making the same mistake.


The play Wit is a clear depiction of how people learn the element of chance in open behavior. The main character, Vivian, is forced to make a reflection of the things she prioritized in her lifetime. Now that she is dying from ovarian cancer, Vivian wishes she had done things differently. Her suffering from the cancer of the ovary acts as a stimulus for her to change. She cooperates during her treatment, although she knows the chances of her survival are slim. She dies without having any close friends or family by her side.

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