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Reinformcement Essay, Research Paper

What is the role of the reinforcement?

Reinforcement refers to a procedure or consequence, which increases the frequency of the behavior immediately preceding it. If the behavior is already occurring at a high frequency level, then the reinforcement maintains the behavior s frequency. If the consequence of the behavior makes the behavior occur more often or maintains it at its current rate, then the consequences are considered reinforcing. These reinforcers strengthen the behavior and make it more likely that the behavior will occur at some future point.

There are two different types of reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to consequences, which follow a behavior and act to strengthen that behavior. For example, reinforcement for completing all of a student s assignments may be that they get a free period at the end of the week to work on a project they would like to do, such as art. Negative reinforcement refers to the removal of a consequence, which serves to increase the frequency of the particular behavior. An example of a negative reinforcement might be that a student gets detention for getting caught cheating on a test. The detention serves as a negative reinforcement to keep the student form doing the same thing in the future. Punishment and negative reinforcement are often confused. They differ, however, in that punishment is the presentation of an aversive event or removal of a positive reinforcement that results in the decrease in the frequency of a particular behavior.

Extinction involves the cessation of reinforcement of a response. An example of extinction would be that you are having trouble in your biology class. You don t understand what the professor is saying during lectures and you are not sure what he wants from you on exams. You already have 2 D s on the exams. Three times you try to see him during office hours and every time he is not there. Eventually you stop trying to see him because of the repeated attempts failing.

As children become socialized, they learn and assimilate various behaviors. The behaviors they learn are sometimes not what the parents would prefer. When the child responds in an appropriate or inappropriate way, the use of the reinforcement can either increase the positive behaviors or reduce/remove the negative behaviors.

Many prefer the use of positive reinforcement because these help the individual reduce the risk that they begin associating with the negative effects of punishment, for example. Kaminer (2000) states the reinforcement must be desirable by the individual working towards the reward. And that a reinforcement schedule may provide the best means for tracking this reinforcement. Positive reinforcement also provides the advantage of teaching an individual exactly how to improve his or her behavior or learning. Snyder (1999) states that behavioral rating scales were often used to track and reinforce the positive changes the adolescent were making in dealing with anger.

Reinecke (1998) states that cognitive therapy can be effective in developing behavioral competencies. These include interventions directed towards enhancing self-control and perceptions of personal efficacy, rational problem-solving abilities, and social skills, and towards increasing participation in activities that provide a sense of pleasure or mastery.

Positive primary reinforcement are rewarding in of themselves. Food is the best example of this type of reinforcement. Secondary reinforcement, however, must be learned. The key is that they must be learned. Money is the best example of a secondary reinforcement. Activities are a secondary reinforcement also. An example of this type of reinforcement would be as follows: Tommy hates doing his homework at night. However, he loves going to the movies on Friday. He is positively reinforced by his parents for doing one hour of homework per night by giving him money so that he can go to the movies on Friday. He learns that by doing his homework, he will get a reward (Money) which can help him go to an activity (movie).

The Premack Principle states that more preferred activities could be used to reinforce less preferred activities. For example, if a child has a chore to take out the garbage and if done so can participate in a baseball game, the reinforcement of the baseball game offsets the necessity for him to complete his chore of taking u the garbage. The Premack Principle implies that activities needn t be special or valuable, but simply preferred in order to act as a secondary reinforcement. Social reinforcement can also be used to accomplish learned behavior. This may include simple things such as verbal praise or physical praise. In a study done to investigate the efficiency at reducing anger in an adolescent psychiatric unit, Snyder (1999) states that the cognitive view was indicated by the interpretation and verbal labeling of internal arousal levels, angry feeling states, self-statements, attending to social cues and other cognitive strategies for regulating subsequent behaviors.

Four suggestions for enhancing reinforcement involve the quality of the reinforcement, the immediacy, the frequency of positive reinforcement, and the use of small steps for shaping behavior.


Harrington, Richard. British Medical Journal. Systematic review of efficacy of cognitive behavior therapies in childhood and adolescent depressive disorder (May 23, 1998).

Kaminer, Yifrah. Journal of the American Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Contingency management reinforcement procedures for adolescent substance abuse (October, 2000).

Reinecke, Mark A. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Cognitive-behavioral therapy of depression and depressive symptoms during adolescence: a review and Meta analysis (January, 1998).

Snyder, Karen V. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Anger management for adolescents: efficacy of brief group therapy (November, 1999).

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