The concept of reinforcement is one of the most important and utilized principles in applied behavior analysis. The basic definition of reinforcement goes as follows: When a type of behavior (R) is followed by reinforcement (S^R) then an increased frequency of the behavior will follow.

There are three qualifications for understanding if the effects of reinforcement will occur.

  1. The timing between the end of a given response and the onset of the stimulus change.
  2. The relationship between the stimulus conditions present when the response was emitted.
  3. The role of motivation.

Types of Reinforcement

Reinforcement means that a behavior will happen more often in the future when something is added or taken away immediately after a behavior.

Positive reinforcement occurs when a response is followed immediately by the presentation of a stimulus change (reinforcement) that leads to an increase of the future occurrences of that response.

  • Something is added (or given) to the individual after a behavior occurs and that behavior occurs more often in the future
  • Ex. A child receives candy (reinforcing stimulus) from his parents after cleaning up his room (behavior). The child then cleans his room more often in the future.

Negative reinforcement is a contingency in which the occurrence of a response produces the reduction which then leads to an increase of future occurrences of that response.

  • Something is removed (or taken away) from the individual after a behavior occurs. Making that behavior more likely to occur in the future.
  • Ex. An individual presses a button (behavior) that turns off a loud alarm (aversive stimulus). That individual presses that button each time the loud alarm goes off.

Ultimately, the main purpose of reinforcement is to increase a target behavior. Positive reinforcement is adding something positive to increase a behavior/response.  While negative reinforcement is the taking away of something negative in order to also increase the behavior/response.

Reference: Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2019). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.

Written by Morgan Valentine, Student Analyst

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