Reinforcement tames unwanted behavior or encourages acceptable behavior.
In behavioral psychology, reinforcement is a technique that is responsible for learned behavior. Reinforce means to strengthen or to encourage.
The four types of reinforcement include:
- Positive reinforcement: This involves adding something to increase response, such as praising a child when they complete a designated task. This would motivate the child to get involved in the task.
- Negative reinforcement: This involves removing something to increase response, such as withholding payment until the person completes the job. The person would remain motivated till the end of the job to acquire the payment.
- Punishment: This involves adding something aversive to modify behavior. For example, yelling at a child for misbehaving. In this example, the child would associate every negative behavior with punishments. This would prevent the child from repeating such behavior.
- Extinction: This involves removing or taking away something to modify a certain response. This is called negative punishment or extinction. For instance, a teenager comes home late, and the parents curb their phone usage. Next time, the teenager would think before breaking the curfew.
What is reinforcement?
Reinforcement tames unwanted behavior or encourages acceptable behavior. The goal of reinforcement is to eliminate non-adapting behavior in a person’s life. Reinforcement has two aspects:
- Impact on the person’s behavior
There are various schedules of reinforcement that can influence behavior. Initially, a continuous method is used to establish and strengthen the behavior. Once the behavior has been recognized, continuous reinforcement can change to intermittent reinforcement (thinning). There are four types of intermittent reinforcement. They are:
- Fixed interval: Reinforcing a person’s behavior after a fixed number of responses. For example, rewarding a person at the end of each day.
- Variable interval: Reinforcing a person’s behavior after a specific number of responses has occurred. For example, paying a person sometimes at the end of the day, sometimes at the end of the week, and sometimes every few days.
- Fixed ratio: Reinforcing a person’s behavior after an unpredictable period has elapsed. For example, rewarding a person after completing the desired behavior four times.
- Variable ratio: Variable ratio intermittent reinforcement is the most effective schedule to reinforce a behavior. Reinforcing a person’s behavior after an unpredictable number of responses. It involves rewarding a person after completing the desired behavior after three times, then after six times, then after two times.
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What are the indications of reinforcement?
Reinforcement as a behavior modification plan is indicated:
- In an unwanted, non-adaptive, or abnormal behavior.
- To reinforce or teach the desired behavior.
- For children, who are having the following issues:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A mental health disorder that causes above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behavior.
- Oppositional defiant disorder: A mental health disorder characterized by frequent anger, irritability, and arguing behavior.
- Intermittent explosive disorder: Repeated, sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior or angry verbal outbursts.
- Externalizing disorders: This involves uncontrolled, impulsive, or aggressive behavior.
- In parent-child interaction therapy (this teaches a specific skill to parents to improve physical and verbal exchanges with their kids)
Reinforcement should be avoided in cases where the parents are not ready to invest time and maintain consistency.
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Medically Reviewed on 2/11/2021
Scott HK, Jain A, Cogburn M. Behavior Modification. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459285/#article-18185.s1
AllPsych. Chapter 4.2: Reinforcement & Reinforcement Schedules. In: Psychology 101. AllPsych Blog. https://allpsych.com/psychology101/learning/reinforcement/