Reinforcement Psychology Explained
Reinforcement psychology studies the impact of reinforcement techniques on human behaviour. The concept of reinforcement proposes that when human beings experience behaviour with a pleasant outcome, that behaviour is likely to be repeated, and behaviour that has unpleasant results is unlikely to be repeated. This theory was advanced by psychologist B.F. Skinner, who noted that reinforcement depends on the effect it has on behaviour.
Reinforcements are stimuli that can strengthen or weaken specific behaviours. They include specific tangible rewards, events and situations. For instance, telling a child that he is a good boy after a particular action is likely to encourage that behaviour.
What Is Reinforcement?
The term reinforcement is used to refer to anything that raises the chances that a response will happen. In psychology, reinforcement refers to the effect that a certain activity has on behaviour. Reinforcement may either decrease or strengthen a response.
Reinforcement may either be primary or secondary. Primary reinforcement happens naturally, and the subject does not need to learn anything new. It is sometimes referred to as unconditional reinforcement and is what helps people, plants and animals to survive.
Secondary or conditioned reinforcement requires the pairing of two reinforcers. For instance, a trainer uses a clicker in combination with a treat in dog training. The dog treat, in this case, is the primary reinforcer. When the treat is used alongside praise and the clicker, the clicker will eventually become the secondary reinforcer and at some point, the treat can be taken away completely.
Positive and Negative Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus after behaviour to encourage future repetition. When an action is accompanied by a pleasant reward, event or outcome, that particular behaviour will be strengthened.
Positive reinforcement may occur naturally or deliberately. Natural reinforcers are those that occur directly as a result of a specific behaviour. A good example is opening a door for someone. When the individual receives praise, it serves as a positive reinforcement, making it more likely for the person to hold the door open for others in the future.
Positive reinforcement may be used deliberately to inculcate or maintain a specific behaviour. For example, an animal trainer may reward a dog with a treat after the animal actually sits down after hearing the word ‘Sit’.
In negative reinforcement, a behaviour or response is strengthened by avoiding, stopping or removing a negative outcome or aversive stimulus.
Negative outcomes or aversive stimuli use some type of discomfort that can either be physical or psychological. Negatively reinforced habits allow a person to escape from a negative outcome that may already be present or avoid it altogether.
A good example of negative reinforcement is when a person decides to consume an antacid before eating a spicy meal. The individual engages such an action to avoid a negative outcome.
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Negative Reinforcement in Drug Addiction
Negative reinforcement is also seen when a recuperating addict starts associating with friends who once led him to abuse drugs. The unbearable loneliness the addict undergoes on their own is the negative outcome, and when this feeling disappears after re-joining the group, it is less likely that the person will break from his companions.
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