What is a Reinforcer?

This is a positive or a nice outcome usually used to backup, encourage or boost certain behaviors. Operant conditioning is one of the different ways through which individuals can learn. Reinforcement is a term utilized in operant conditioning to mention anything that improves the likelihood of the occurrence of a response. The type of reinforcement utilized can play a vital role in how fast a behavior is learned and the overall power of the resulting response. Reinforcement is defined by the impact it has on the behavior. 

For example, reinforcement may involve giving praise immediately after a kid puts away the toys. By reinforcing the desired action with praise, the kid will be more likely to repeat the same actions in the future. Reinforcement may include anything that increases or strengthens a behavior, including certain tangible rewards, situations, and events. For example, in a classroom setting, types of reinforcement may include token rewards, candy, getting out of unwanted work, extra playtime, praise, and fun activities.

Reinforcers are categorized into positive and negative reinforcing stimuli.

Positive reinforcement: This involves adding a reinforcing stimulus after a behavior that increases the likelihood of the happening of the behavior in the future. When a favorable event or outcome happens after an action, it strengthens that specific behavior or response. Sometimes positive reinforcement happens quite naturally. For instance, when an individual holds the door open for someone, the person may receive a thank you and praise. This affirmation acts as positive reinforcement and might make it more likely that the person will hold the door open for others again in the future. In other cases, a person may use positive reinforcement deliberately to train and maintain a particular behavior. For example, an animal trainer may reward a dog with a treat after it pauses for a count of five and shakes the trainer’s hand.

Negative reinforcement: Negative reinforcement reinforces particular behaviors by eliminating some aversive outcome. However, it’s most useful when reinforcers are applied instantly following a behavior. Aversive stimuli tend to include some form of discomfort, either psychological or physical. Behaviors are negatively reinforced when they allow a person to escape from existing aversive stimuli or allow the person to entirely avoid the aversive stimuli before happening. 

An example of negative reinforcement can be taking an antacid before a person indulges in a spicy meal. The person engages in an action to avoid a negative outcome. One mistake that individuals often make is confusing punishment with negative reinforcement. However, one should remember that punishment includes either taking away or presenting a stimulus to reduce a behavior. On the contrary, negative reinforcement includes removing a negative condition to increase a behavior. If something is being removed to relieve or avoid an unwanted result, it’s an example of negative reinforcement. If an unwanted result is being applied or added as a behavior’s consequence, then it’s an example of punishment.

One can distinguish between positive and negative reinforcement by observing whether something is being added to the situation or taken away.

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