The principle of reinforcement suggests that when we follow behavior with pleasant consequences, that behavior is likely to be repeated. Additionally, behavior followed by unpleasant consequences may be less likely to be repeated.
The Definition Of Reinforcement In Psychology
The term "reinforcement" may refer to anything that increases the probability that a response will occur. The term "reinforcement psychology" refers to the effect of reinforcement on behavior. Reinforcement may increase or strengthen the response, whether positive or negative.
When we praise a child for helping clean up their toys, they may continue helping with clean up in the future. When we offer a treat to a dog during training, they may repeat the behavior we're teaching them in the future.
Categories Of Reinforcement
There are two categories of reinforcement called primary reinforcement and secondary reinforcement.
Primary reinforcement occurs naturally and doesn't require the subject to learn anything new. The principle of primary reinforcement is sometimes referred to as unconditional reinforcement. Primary reinforcement assists the survival of people, plants, and animals. Natural cycles can provide food, sleep, water, and air.
Our experiences and our genetics may play a factor in primary reinforcement. If we don't like a particular food, we might choose not to eat it. Similarly, people who become sunburned easily may choose to avoid long hours at the beach, bathing in the sun.
Secondary reinforcement is also known as conditioned reinforcement. This reinforcement category involves using a reinforcer paired with another reinforcer. We may find an example of this in dog training, where a trainer uses a clicker in conjunction with a treat.
The primary reinforcer is the dog treat. When the treat is used along with the clicker and praise, the clicker may eventually be able to serve as the primary reinforcer, and the treat can be taken away completely.
Types Of Reinforcement In Psychology
Reinforcement can be positive or negative. When reinforcement is positive, the trainer adds something to increase or invoke a response. An example of this could be giving a child a sugary treat as a reward for toilet training.
Negative reinforcement can be removing something to increase the response. An example of this could be a child owing their parents money. If the parents ask the child to pay 90% of the money back by a specific date and the child complies, the parents may waive the remaining 10% of the balance.
Positive and negative in this context don't necessarily pertain to "good and bad." As in mathematics, positive means adding something, and negative means taking something away.
Factors That May Influence Response Strength
How and when someone reinforces a behavior are factors that may affect the overall strength of the response. The following items can measure the strength of a reinforcement response:
Accuracy of response after reinforcement stops
There are two other terms in reinforcement psychology: continuous reinforcement and partial reinforcement.
Continuous reinforcement means you reinforce a certain behavior every time it happens. For example, if your dog always sits when you ask, you may choose to offer a treat every time.
Partial reinforcement means that once the subject has acquired the behavior, the trainer may offer reinforcement part of the time and still get the same positive effect.
Skinner identified four main types of partial reinforcement, including:
Fixed-ratio schedules: Reinforcing a behavior after a specific number of responses have occurred.
Fixed-interval schedules: Reinforcing a behavior after a specific period has elapsed.
Variable-ratio schedules: Reinforcing the behavior after an unpredictable number of responses.
Variable-interval schedules: Reinforcing the behavior after an unpredictable period has elapsed.
In the same example above, partial reinforcement might mean that after 15 times of your dog sitting, you only provide a treat for every five occurrences instead of every time.
Applications For Reinforcement
The basic principles in reinforcement psychology are often used in many facets of life, including education, clinical, and community settings.
Application In The Educational Setting
One effect of the development of reinforcement psychology was the development of positive behavioral supports and interventions (PBIS) to modify student behavior at school and in the classrooms.
PBIS is a program that uses universal behavioral interventions recognized worldwide to prevent disruptive behaviors. PBIS may be used at the schoolwide, classroom, and individual student levels. PBIS may be most successful when schools employ the interventions at all three levels.
At the schoolwide level, a team of researchers did a three-year study of over 438,500 students in the Chicago Public School system between 2001-2004.
The study involved promoting four schoolwide expectations, which were:
Be academically engaged
The study showed vast reductions in office discipline referrals and suspensions and increases in math test scores. In other studies, schools report that their students showed drastically improved social skills.
Schools were able to decrease the amount of time and resources they needed to address behavioral issues. Many studies showed that PBIS resulted in higher test scores and academic achievement.
Application In The Clinical Setting
Reinforcement psychology has proven helpful in a variety of clinical settings. One of the first applications of reinforcement techniques pertains to children who live with severe social anxiety. A 2008 study conducted by a team of researchers involved a 12-year-old boy by the name of Luke. Luke was selectively mute at school.
Researchers believe that selective mutism is often a symptom of social anxiety. The clinicians studied the boy as teachers used reinforcement techniques to increase Luke's verbalization.
They used either a few prompts or no prompts in the regular classroom setting to achieve the goal of helping him lessen his anxiety enough that he could speak. The experiment found that contingent positive reinforcement is the most functional therapy design for students who live with selective mutism.
Application In Treating Substance Use Concerns
Reinforcement techniques are also commonly used to treat substance abuse. Substance use can reinforce behavior because it creates pleasant sensations while reducing anxiety, increasing someone's ability to be social, feel energized, or sleep more.
However, the reinforcement of substance use can be an unhealthy reinforcer that may cause dependence or addiction. Substance abuse counselors may use positive and negative reinforcements to encourage healthy behavior and help clients substitute new habits for unhealthy ones.
Positive Reinforcement In Substance Abuse Therapy
Positive reinforcements are often used in substance abuse treatment to relieve the client of the stressful situations causing them to seek an escape. Positive reinforcements may include involving one's family in treatment to have social connections during treatment.
Other positive reinforcements may be allowing the client to move up to higher levels in the program that offer more fun and engaging activities such as yoga, rock climbing, outdoor meditation, ropes courses, and more.
Negative Reinforcement In Substance Abuse Therapy
Negative reinforcement may also be successful in substance abuse therapy. A therapist may allow the client to feel their stressors and encounter their fears, but instead of letting them succumb to urges, the counselor may teach other coping skills.
By changing thought patterns, meditating, or substituting healthy thought patterns instead of using substances, clients may learn that they can experience joy and happiness and live stress-free lives in new ways.
Application In Community Settings
The concept of positive reinforcement has been tested in community settings with very positive results. In a 21-week experiment that involved paying volunteers to pick up trash at the Cache National Forest, located primarily in Utah, volunteers picked up over 187 bags of trash. Volunteers consistently performed well, whether supervised or not, and the practice has been effective over the long term.
Norway uses the concept of positive reinforcement in its prison system. Prisoners receive the same services as non-incarcerated individuals. Their only consequence is the lack of freedom. The average sentence is only eight months long. Inmates have all the same rights as citizens outside the prison, including the right to study and vote.
In this prison, inmates are encouraged to go to school or work and are offered step-down services, including social and professional training and transitional housing to help prevent recidivism. About 40% of the prisons are open, where inmates go to their cells only at night.
Many who struggle with substance use disorders and other mental health conditions see no way out of their symptoms. Recently, online therapy has become a popular and widely used method of treating these concerns.
A study by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health showed that online therapy reduced patient substance use. Getting help online is proving to be just as effective as other forms of care as technology improves and people find new ways to create relationships with therapists online. Thus, online therapy may be beneficial when it comes to managing the symptoms of substance use, anxiety, OCD, or other mental illness symptoms with reinforcement therapy.
If you are struggling with mental health issues, it might be beneficial to seek a consultation from an online therapist. Counselors on online platforms such as BetterHelp can give you guidance and treatment from the comfort of your home.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Are The 4 Types Of Reinforcement?
The four types of reinforcement are:
- Positive reinforcement: This is a stimulus or event in operant conditioning that involves the use of praise and reward to increase the possible occurrence of a specific response.
- Negative reinforcement: This is a stimulus or event in operant conditioning that can be stopped or withheld to increase the possible occurrence of a specific response.
- Positive punishment: This is a stimulus or event in operant conditioning that involves the use of an unpleasant incentive to increase the possible occurrence of a specific response.
- Negative punishment: This is a stimulus or event in operant conditioning that involves the removal or withholding of an unpleasant incentive to increase the possible occurrence of a specific response.
What Is Reinforcement?
Reinforcement is a fundamental aspect of operant conditioning that is used to describe the strengthening of a situation or element. In behavioral psychology, the term refers to the application of any stimulus which facilitates and increases the likelihood of a specific response occurring. In some instances, reinforcement is also used to describe an enhanced behavioral effect or element, especially when this enhancement improves the depth and durability of memory.
What Is An Example Of Positive Reinforcement?
A positive reinforcement is essentially a reward for a correct response. One example of a positive reinforcement is when you give your child a treat every time they complete their homework. Your child will eventually come to understand that doing their homework comes with the added benefit of a treat, which gives them more interest in studying. Offering your child compliments is also another form of positive reinforcement because it not only expresses your satisfaction but gives them the impression that you recognize their efforts.
What Is Reinforcement Behavior?
Reinforcement behavior is any action that constantly reoccurs in response to a stimulus. Reinforcement is an aspect of behavioral psychology that aims to influence the actions or reaction (behavior) of an individual or organism in relation to an activity or object (bait). For example, if your dog barks at the sound of a whistle after years of training, this is a reinforced behavior.
What Is Punishment Reinforcement?
Punishment is often regarded as the opposite of reinforcement. In the same way that reinforcement can be positive and negative, punishment can also be positive and negative. Punishment is an operant conditioning technique that decreases the likelihood of an event or response reoccurring often through the use of an unpleasant or unfavorable consequence. The aim of punishment is to penalize a behavior as a means to dissuade its repetition.
What Is The Best Type Of Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is generally regarded as the most effective form of reinforcement behavior, especially when it occurs immediately after the behavior. A positive enforcement not only encourages the desired response, but also enables both the operant and respondent to focus on the most pleasant aspect of the situation.
What Are Reinforcement Techniques?
Reinforcement techniques are operant conditioning methods designed to increase the likelihood of a desired response. There are three types of reinforcement techniques: positive, negative, and extinguishing. Each technique represents reward, punishment, and ignorance.
The first type of reinforcement is focused on reward. This is regarded as a positive reinforcement because it helps to encourage desirable behavior.
The second type of reinforcement is punishment, which is regarded as a negative reinforcement because it is an action taken to discourage undesirable behavior.
The third type of reinforcement technique is extinguishing, which neither rewards nor punishes a behavior. The purpose of extinction is to disregard the behavior, thereby decreasing its significance, until it becomes extinct.
What Is Natural Reinforcement?
A natural reinforcement is a classical conditioning method that aims to achieve a response on the premise of an innate behavior. For example, if an individual enjoys listening to music, you can base your conversation with them around their favorite genre, artist, or song to help them build or improve their social skills. A natural reinforcer doesn’t require a contrived mode of conditioning to stimulate the desired response.
What Are The Elements Of Reinforcement?
The four primary elements of reinforcement are reward, policy, value function, and environment. These elements are considered most integral in reinforcement learning.
What Are Examples Of Reinforcement?
Here are a few examples of positive and negative reinforcements:
At a social media management firm, your boss gives you a bonus as part of your salary for doubling the total followers for an account you manage. The bonus payment (treat) acts as an enforcer that motivates you to surpass the minimum number of followers (response) you are expected to gain every month. This is an example of a positive reinforcement.
Another theoretical scenario: you owe your parents some money, you are expected to find work to pay them back or face the consequences of giving up your car keys. In this case, you are engaging in a behavior (getting a job) to avoid an unfavorable stimulus (being unable to use your car). This is an example of a negative reinforcement.
Is Positive Reinforcement Classical Conditioning?
Positive reinforcement is a form operant conditioning. Classical conditioning focuses on instinctive responses that occur as a result of experience, unlike operant conditioning, which focuses on strengthening and weakening involuntary behavior. Classical conditioning is a concept often associated with the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov.
What Are Five Types Of Reinforcers?
The five types of reinforcers are:
- Positive reinforcer
- Negative reinforcer
- Primary reinforcer
- Secondary reinforcer
Is Reinforcement Better Than Punishment?
Research has shown that it is easier to encourage a good behavior than it is to discourage a bad behavior. It is for this reason that reinforcement is regarded as being more effective than punishment. Punishment can trigger negative emotions such as anger and resentment, which, in comparison to the positive emotions that reinforcement can generate, make it a less sustainable and potentially less healthy option.
What Is An Example Of Reinforcement?
A dog owner gives their dog a carrot (reinforcing stimulus) every time the animal fetches a ball. The dog receives (reinforcing stimulus) two carrots every time the ball is fetched under a stipulated amount of time. But when the dog fails to fetch the ball, the owner withholds the treat, or stops the game (punishment).
What Is Operant Conditioning?
Operant conditioning, sometimes called instrumental conditioning, is a learning procedure that employs the use of reward and punishment to strengthen a particular behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual is able to associate an action with a consequence. Here, the predetermined nature of the consequence applied is meant to instill the desired response to an action. The term “operant conditioning” was coined by American psychologist B. F. Skinner in 1937, and he is generally regarded as the father of operant conditioning.