In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.
One of the easiest ways to remember positive reinforcement is to think of it as something being added.
By thinking of it in these terms, you may find it easier to identify real-world examples of positive reinforcement.
Sometimes positive reinforcement occurs quite naturally. For example, when you hold the door open for someone you might receive praise and a thank you. That affirmation serves as positive reinforcement and may make it more likely that you will hold the door open for people again in the future.
In other cases, someone might choose to use positive reinforcement very deliberately in order to train and maintain a specific behavior. An animal trainer, for example, might reward a dog with a treat every time the animal shakes the trainer's hand.
Examples of Positive Reinforcement
There are many examples of positive reinforcement in action. Consider the following examples:
- After you execute a turn during a skiing lesson, your instructor shouts out, "Great job!"
- At work, you exceed this month's sales quota, so your boss gives you a bonus.
- For your psychology class, you watch a video about the human brain and write a paper about what you learned. Your instructor gives you 20 extra credit points for your work.
Can you identify the positive reinforcement in each of these examples? The ski instructor offering praise, the employer giving a bonus, and the teacher providing bonus points are all positive reinforcers.
In each of these situations, the reinforcement is an additional stimulus occurring after the behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again in the future.
An important thing to note is that positive reinforcement is not always a good thing. For example, when a child misbehaves in a store, some parents might give them extra attention or even buy the child a toy. Children quickly learn that by acting out, they can gain attention from the parent or even acquire objects that they want. Essentially, parents are reinforcing the misbehavior.
In this case, the better solution would be to use positive reinforcement when the child is displaying good behavior. Instead of rewarding the misbehavior, the parents would want to wait until the child is behaving well and then reward that good behavior with praise, treats, or even a toy.
Different Types of Positive Reinforcers
There are many different types of reinforcers that can be used to increase behaviors, but it is important to note that the type of reinforcer used depends on upon the individual and the situation. While gold stars and tokens might be very effective reinforcement for a second-grader, they are not going to have the same effect on a high school or college student.
- Natural reinforcers are those that occur directly as a result of the behavior. For example, a girl studies hard, she pays attention in class, and she does her homework. As a result, she gets excellent grades.
- Token reinforcers are points or tokens that are awarded for performing certain actions. These tokens can then be exchanged for something of value.
- Social reinforcersinvolve expressing approval of a behavior, such as a teacher, parent, or employer saying or writing "Good job" or "Excellent work."
- Tangible reinforcers involve presenting actual, physical rewards such as candy, treats, toys, money, and other desired objects. While these types of rewards can be powerfully motivating, they should be used sparingly and with caution.
When Is Positive Reinforcement Most Effective?
When used correctly, positive reinforcement can be very effective. According to a behavioral guidelines checklist published by Utah State University, positive reinforcement is most effective when it occurs immediately after the behavior. The guidelines also recommend the reinforcement should be presented enthusiastically and should occur frequently.
- The shorter the amount of time between a behavior and presenting positive reinforcement, the stronger the connection will be.
- If a long period elapses between the behavior and the reinforcement, the weaker the connection will be.
- The longer the time, the more likely it becomes that an intervening behavior might accidentally be reinforced.
In addition to the type of reinforcement used, the presentation schedule can also play a role in the strength of the response. These schedules of reinforcement can have a powerful influence on how strongly a response is and how often it occurs.
A Word From Verywell
Positive reinforcement can be an effective learning tool when used appropriately. Sometimes this type of learning occurs naturally through normal interactions with the environment. In other cases, people are able to use this behavioral technique to help teach new behaviors. Some important things to consider when using positive reinforcement include the type of reinforcers that will be used and the schedule that will be employed to train the new behavior.
Coon, D & Mitterer, JO. Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2010.
Salkind, NJ & Rasmussen, K. Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications; 2008.
Reinforcement is a fundamental concept of Operant conditioning, whose main purpose is to strengthen or increase the rate of behavior. Contrary to Punishment, which makes use of various stimuli to decrease the rate of behavior, reinforcement helps increase certain behavior. Stimulus that is involved in the process of reinforcement is also called reinforcer.
There are no limitations to what a reinforcer can be. A reinforcer can be food when an organism has been deprived of food, water when it has been deprived of liquid, the opportunity to mate, money, praise, and so on.
Reinforcement can be further classified into Positive Reinforcementand Negative Reinforcement, based on the kind of stimuli used to increase the rate of operant. We are going to discuss Positive Reinforcement in this article.
Definition of Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement increases the probability that an operant will occur when reinforcers (positive) are applied. To put it in simpler terms, certain consequences of action results with the increase in probability that the action will repeat again in future. These consequences are called positive reinforcers.
There are no limitations to what positive reinforcers can and cannot be. Both primary and secondary reinforcers can serve as positive reinforcers. Food, water, sex and other similar reinforcers, which are biologically important, are primary reinforcers, whereas things like money, praise and grades fall under the category of secondary reinforcers; all of which can serve as positive reinforcers.
Skinner’s experiment on Operant conditioning can also be taken as a reference to further understand the concept of reinforcements. B.F. Skinner used Skinner box to conduct various experiments on a rat and used various reinforcers to support his theory on operant conditioning.
On one of the experiment conducted by Skinner, he placed a hungry rat inside the box. The rat was provided with food after it pressed the lever. The response of pressing the lever was seen to be done in a shorter interval for the second, third time and the interval kept on growing shorter. After a while, the rat had gained enough conscience to press the lever immediately every time it grew hungry. The conditioning was then deemed to be complete.
Here, food is the positive reinforcer, which led the rat to press the lever again and again.
Examples of Positive Reinforcement
- An employee works hard on the job and exceeds his monthly quota, upon which, he is rewarded with a bonus by his company.
- A student works hard in class and receives A+ grading, upon which, she is praised in front of the whole class.
The examples mentioned above can be easily understood. Here, the bonus offered to the employee, and the A+ grading and the praise received by the student are the positive reinforcers.
Is Positive Reinforcer Effective?
Positive reinforcer has been found to be remarkably effective in most cases. Children are seen to be learning quickly if they receive proper attention or certain reinforcements. Likewise, the procedure can also be applied for teenagers, adults, or old people, of all genders.
But, there are certain factors that come into play when it comes to complete success of the method. Researchers have found out that positive reinforcement is most effective when it occurs immediately after the behavior. Also, the procedure tends to have better results when the reinforcer is applied frequently with enthusiasm.
The strength of the connection between the reinforcement and the behavior is another major factor that influences success rate of positive reinforcement. And the connection grows strong when the interval of time between a behavior and the presentation of positive reinforcement is short. Additionally, positive reinforcement tends to have best results when it is applied consistently.
Filed Under: Reinforcement Punishment