top of page

What Is Reinforcement?

Updated: 5 days ago



Reinforcement is the most commonly applied principle of behavior analysis. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a science devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior. The functional meaning of the word 'reinforcement' has eluded many, but simply refers to a behavior consequence relationship that leads to a future increase in behavior.


Examples of reinforcement at work:

  • Positive reinforcement: Jimmy's holds a cup under the faucet and water falls into the cup. In the future, Jimmy will be more likely to lift the faucet handle to retrieve drinking water.

Behavior Analytic Definition: a behavior that is immediately followed by the presentation of a stimulus and as a result similar responses increase in the future.

  • Negative reinforcement: Jimmy's weather app reads 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so he takes off his wool sweater. In the future, Jimmy will be more likely to check the weather on his phone before going outside.

Behavior Analytic Definition: a response that is immediately followed by the removal of a stimulus and similar responses occur more frequently in the future.

  • Automatic reinforcement: Jimmy scratches an itch on his left leg. In the future, Jimmy will be more likely to use his fingernails to relieve any itching sensation(s) on his body.

Behavior Analytic Definition: a behavior reinforcement relationship that does not require the mediation of consequences by other people.

 

The 'stimulus' presented immediately following the response is also known as a reinforcer. Types of reinforcers are:

  • Unconditioned reinforcer (also known as a primary reinforcer or a reinforcer that requires no prior learning history to evoke a response); ex. food, sex, and water


  • Conditioned reinforcer (also known as a secondary reinforcer or a reinforcer that requires a prior learning history to evoke a response); ex. clothing, cars, and money


  • Generalized conditioned reinforcer (a conditioned reinforcer that is effective across a wide range of conditions); social attention and money...we love to use money as an example, because of it's powerful ability to drive human behaviors.


It is important to remember that reinforcement functionally occurs when the presentation of a stimulus immediately follows a behavior and results in an increase in future occurrences of that behavior. The stimulus or reinforcer must be delivered in close temporal relation (within 30 seconds) to the behavior in order for the direct effects of reinforcement to occur (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).


At Swarthy Lion Behavioral Health & Wellness LLC we create individualized behavior plans filled with positive reinforcement strategies. No change is achieved without rewards! If you, your child, or loved one has an autism diagnosis and would like to verify your eligibility for ABA Therapy services please click here to schedule your initial consultation today!


References: Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (Pearson Education, Inc.) (2nd edition).


bottom of page