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  1. Stephanie K. Meador,
  2. David B. Hatfield

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0103

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Meador, S. K. and Hatfield, D. B. 2010. Autoshaping. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. Developmental Behavioral Health, Colorado Springs, CO

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Autoshaping typically occurs when biologically primed stimulus-response relations interact with and occasionally override operantly learned, potentially incompatible response-reinforcer relations. It may also be referred to as “misbehavior of organisms.” The name is derived from quick operant shaping that occurred without apparent reinforcement of successive approximations. Typically, the behavior observed depends on object or goal received; for example, food appears to release eating behavior and water to release drinking behavior. Although initially thought to manifest only among simpler mammals, autoshaping may occur in different animals including humans (Siegel, 1978). Consensus regarding etiology is lacking, although this is not a result of irregularities in data; the phenomenon of autoshaping is valid and reliable. As an example of autoshaping, pigeons quickly learn key pecking responses when a key is illuminated and provides a reliable and salient cue for the delivery of food (Brown & Jenkins, 1968). However, attempts to operantly extinguish or negatively punish pecking generally fail, which leaves open the question of whether the behavior was acquired through operant training or some other modality.