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Reinforcement

Reinforcement

In either classical or operant conditioning, a stimulus that increases the probability that a particular behavior will occur.

In classical (Pavlovian) conditioning , where the response has no effect on whether the stimulus will occur, reinforcement produces an immediate response without any training or conditioning. When meat is offered to a hungry dog, it does not learn to salivate, the behavior occurs spontaneously. Similarly, a negative reinforcer, such as an electric shock, produces an immediate, unconditioned escape response. To produce a classically-conditioned response, the positive or negative reinforcer is paired with a neutral stimulus until the two become associated with each other. Thus, if the sound of a bell accompanies a negative stimulus such as an electric shock, the experimental subject will eventually be conditioned to produce an escape or avoidance response to the sound of the bell alone. Once conditioning has created an association between a certain behavior and a neutral stimulus, such as the bell, this stimulus itself may serve as a reinforcer to condition future behavior. When this happens, the formerly neutral stimulus is called a conditioned reinforcer, as opposed to a naturally positive or negative reinforcer, such as food or an electric shock.

In operant conditioning (as developed by B. F. Skinner ), positive reinforcers are rewards that strengthen a conditioned response after it has occurred, such as feeding a hungry pigeon after it has pecked a key. Negative reinforcers are unpleasant stimuli that are removed when the desired response has been obtained. The application of negative reinforcement may be divided into two types: escape and avoidance conditioning. In escape conditioning, the subject learns to escape an unpleasant or aversive stimulus (a dog jumps over a barrier to escape electric shock). In avoidance conditioning, the subject is presented with a warning stimulus, such as a buzzer, just before the aversive stimulus occurs and learns to act on it in order to avoid the unpleasant stimulus altogether.

Reinforcement may be administered according to various schedules. A particular behavior may be reinforced every time it occurs, which is referred to as continuous reinforcement. In many cases, however, behaviors are reinforced only some of the time, which is termed partial or intermittent reinforcement. Reinforcement may also be based on the number of responses or scheduled at particular time intervals. In addition, it may be delivered in regularly or irregularly. These variables combine to produce four basic types of partial reinforcement. In fixed-ratio (FR) schedules, reinforcement is provided following a set number of responses (a factory worker is paid for every garment he assembles). With variable-ratio (VR) schedules, reinforcement is provided after a variable number of responses (a slot machine pays off after varying numbers of attempts). Fixed-interval (FI) schedules provide for reinforcement of the first response made within a given interval since the previous one (contest entrants are not eligible for a prize if they have won one within the past 30 days). Finally, with variable-interval (VI) schedules, first responses are rewarded at varying intervals from the previous one.

See also Avoidance learning; Behavior modification; Classical conditioning; Pavlov, Ivan

Further Reading

Craighead, W. Edward. Behavior Modification: Principles, Issues, and Applications. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

Skinner, B.F. About Behaviorism. New York: Knopf, 1974.

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Reinforcement

Reinforcement

Definition

A reinforcer is a stimulus that follows some behavior and increases the probability that the behavior will occur. For example, when a dog's owner is trying to teach the dog to sit on command, the owner may give the dog a treat every time the dog sits when commanded to do so. The treat reinforces the desired behavior.

Description

In operant conditioning (as developed by B. F. Skinner), positive reinforcers are rewards that strengthen a conditioned response after it has occurred, such as feeding a hungry pigeon after it has pecked a key. Negative reinforcers are stimuli that are removed when the desired response has been obtained. For example, when a rat is receiving an electric shock and presses a bar that stops the shock, the shock is a negative reinforcer it is an aversive stimulus that reinforces the bar-pressing behavior. The application of negative reinforcement may be divided into two types: escape and avoidance conditioning. In escape conditioning, the subject learns to escape an unpleasant or aversive stimulus (a dog jumps over a barrier to escape electric shock). In avoidance conditioning, the subject is presented with a warning stimulus, such as a buzzer, just before the aversive stimulus occurs and learns to act on it in order to avoid the stimulus altogether.

Punishment can be used to decrease unwanted behaviors. Punishment is the application of an aversive stimulus in reaction to a particular behavior. For children, a punishment could be the removal of television privileges when they disobey their parents or teacher. The removal of the privileges follows the undesired behavior and decreases its likelihood of occurring again.

Reinforcement may be administered according to various schedules. A particular behavior may be reinforced every time it occurs, which is referred to as continuous reinforcement. In many cases, however, behaviors are reinforced only some of the time, which is termed partial or intermittent reinforcement. Reinforcement may also be based on the number of responses or scheduled at particular time intervals. In addition, it may be delivered in regularly or irregularly. These variables combine to produce four basic types of partial reinforcement. In fixed-ratio (FR) schedules, reinforcement is provided following a set number of responses (a factory worker is paid for every garment he assembles). With variable-ratio (VR) schedules, reinforcement is provided after a variable number of responses (a slot machine pays off after varying numbers of attempts). Fixed-interval (FI) schedules provide for reinforcement of the first response made within a given interval since the previous one (contest entrants are not eligible for a prize if they have won one within the past 30 days). Finally, with variable-interval (VI) schedules, first responses are rewarded at varying intervals from the previous one.

See also Behavior modification

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Reinforcement

REINFORCEMENT

Although the term reinforcement has many common uses and associated meanings, its meaning is precise when used by behavior analysts and behavior therapists. The act or process of making a reinforcer contingent on behavior is termed positive reinforcement, and a reinforcer is any object or event that, when delivered following some behavior, increases the probability that the behavior will occur again. A typical example might evolve from a laboratory experiment with rats. A rat is placed in a small plastic chamber. The rat can press a lever located on one wall of the chamber. When the rat presses the lever, a small food pellet drops into a dish. If the rat returns to the lever and continues to press it would be said that the food pellet functions as a reinforcer that the behavior is maintained by positive reinforcement.

There is often confusion between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement occurs when a behavior results in terminating an aversive stimulus. In the case of the rat, the negative stimulus might be a loud noise. A lever press turns off the stimulus. If the rat continues to press the lever, it would be said that loud noise functions as a negative reinforcer and the behavior is maintained by negative reinforcement. Thus, both positive and negative reinforcement refer to increases in behavior, but differ in whether a pleasant stimulus is presented as the result of some behavior (positive reinforcement). Negative reinforcement is also referred to as escape (if the response turns off the stimulus each time it appears) or avoidance (if the response can postpone presentation of the stimulus).

It is important to note that reinforcement is a concept that refers to the relationship between behavior and its consequences. Stimuli or events are not assumed to have inherent reinforcing effects. For example, although most people like money and will continue to exhibit behavior that results in obtaining money, it cannot be assumed that money functions as a reinforcer for everyone. For example, money might not serve as a reinforcer for a monk devoted to an ascetic lifestyle. The defining characteristic of reinforcement depends on how a behavior is changed and not on the types of things that serve as reinforcing events (Morse & Kelleher, 1977). Factors that help determine whether a given object or event is reinforcing or punishing for a given individual include that individual's previous experiences and other features of the environment that coexist and are associated with the object or event. The upshot is that different things may function as reinforcers for different people.

Drugs can serve as reinforcers that maintain drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors. This can be observed in the prevalence of drug use among humans and has also been shown in laboratory research with animals. In a typical laboratory experiment, the animal such as a rat or monkey has a catheter placed in a vein and connected to a pump-driven syringe. The animal can press a lever to activate the pump, and this results in a dose of a drug such as Cocaine, Heroin, Nicotine, or Alcohol being infused into the vein. If the animal continues to press the lever to obtain the drug, then the drug is said to serve as a reinforcer. Interestingly, those drugs which lead to Addiction in humans also serve as reinforcers in animals. The only exception is Marijuana (THC), which is used fairly extensively by humans but does not function as a reinforcer in animals. It should be noted that drugs that serve as reinforcers under one condition may not serve as reinforcers under other conditions. For example, nicotine serves as a reinforcer only at low doses and when doses are properly spaced. Nevertheless, the observation that drugs of abuse generally function as reinforcers in experimental animals has brought the study of drug-seeking behavior and drug abuse into a framework that allows carefully controlled behavioral analyses and the application of well-established and objective behavioral principles (Schuster & Johanson, 1981).

The acquisition of drug use in humans predominantly involves positive reinforcement, whereas the maintenance of drug use can involve both positive and negative reinforcement. The ability of a drug to serve as a positive reinforcer is usually associated with its pleasurable subjective effects (e.g. a "rush", a "high", or other feelings of intoxication). But again, given the definition of reinforcement, it is not necessary for a drug to be subjectively reinforcing or pleasurable in order for it to maintain behavior. Many drugs are also associated with symptoms of Withdrawal when abstinence is initiated following a period of regular use. In this case, taking the drug again may terminate the aversive state of withdrawal; in this way, drug use is maintained by negative reinforcement. Drug use can also be influenced by sources of reinforcement other than the direct effects of the drug. For example, social encouragement and praise from a peer group can play an important role in the development of drug use by teenagers. Biological factors may also come into play. For example, some individuals may be more or less susceptible than others to feeling and recognizing the pleasurable effects of drugs. When drug use is viewed as a behavior maintained by the reinforcing effects of drugs, it suggests that this behavior is not amoral or uncontrolled but rather that it is the result of normal behavioral processes.

(See also: Addiction: Concepts and Definitions: Causes of Substance Abuse: Learning ; Research, Animal Model: Intercranial Self-Stimulation ; Wikler's Pharmacologic Theory of Drug Addiction )

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Morse, W. H., & Kelleher, R. T. (1977). Determinants of reinforcement and punishment. In W. K. Honig & J. E. R. Staddon (Eds.), Handbook of operant behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Schuster, S. R., & Johanson, C. E. (1981). An analysis of drug-seeking behavior in animals. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 5, 315-323.

Maxine Stitzer

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reinforcement

re·in·force·ment / ˌrē-inˈfôrsmənt/ • n. the action or process of reinforcing or strengthening. ∎  the process of encouraging or establishing a belief or pattern of behavior, esp. by encouragement or reward. ∎  (reinforcements) extra personnel sent to increase the strength of an army or similar force: a small force would hold the position until reinforcements could be sent. ∎  the strengthening structure or material employed in reinforced concrete or plastic.

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reinforcement

reinforcement (in animal behaviour) Increasing (or decreasing) the frequency of a particular behaviour through conditioning, by arranging for some biologically important event (the reinforcer) always to follow another event. In instrumental conditioning an appetitive reinforcer, or reward (e.g. food), given after a response made by the animal, increases that response; an aversive reinforcer, or punishment (e.g. an electric shock) decreases the response.

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reinforcement

reinforcement The strengthening of a response to a stimulus by reward or punishment.

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reinforcement

reinforcement The strengthening of a response to a stimulus by reward or punishment.

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reinforcement

reinforcement See CONDITIONING.

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