PSYC101: A Case of Operant Conditioning with a Malfunctioning Door

思然 oce
3 min readFeb 15, 2024
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Our graduate student office, shared by the Psychology and Social Work departments, faced an ongoing issue with the newly installed door lock system. The electronic key card reader outside was unreliable, sometimes malfunctioning but eventually working again.

Inside, the only way to open the door was to press the electronic button, despite the sign’s insistent “Please press hard.” Yet, we often needed multiple forceful presses to unlock the door, its defiance mocking the sign’s polite request.

This, being an electronic lock, made absolutely no sense. Suspecting faulty wiring, I contacted the department, requesting a proper inspection. Their response, however, was dismissive. “It opens eventually,” they shrugged, ignoring my concerns.

Despite primarily working at the kindergarten and only returning to the office for tutorials, this quirky door lock became more than just a minor nuisance. I felt compelled to act. Unfortunately, my concerns weren’t universal. Classmates who frequented the office seemed perfectly okay with the “repeated press workaround,” treating it as a mere annoyance, not a repair-worthy issue. As a result, the malfunctioning door continued to mock us with every forceful press, remaining unaddressed for quite some time.

One particularly exhausting day, after navigating through a series of back-to-back tutorials, I rushed to the graduate office to drop off my laptop before dashing into the restroom. But to my dismay, the door wouldn’t budge.

Panic rising, I pressed the button repeatedly (I swear it was over forty times!) until finally, with a reluctant groan, it yielded. Later, a classmate told me the door had been acting even weirder that afternoon, demanding more and more presses to open.

This was getting ridiculous. Initially, I’d used a bin to prop the door open, but someone had removed it, leaving the door firmly shut and completely unresponsive. Our frantic button-mashing proved futile. Then, a classmate from the Social Work department rushed over, offering advice.

“This won’t work! You have to wait a while, then try pressing again with varying force,” she said.

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思然 oce

PhD | Research Psychologist | Psychometrician | Computer Science Teacher | IT Auditor/Consultant | ex-CISA/CISSP | Top Writer in Humor | Work in HK, UK, USA