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Positive Reinforcement and Negative

Classical And Operant Conditioning, Reinforcement Schedules, Applications, Current Status/future Developments

Reinforcement is a term used to refer to the procedure of removing or presenting stimuli (reinforcers) to maintain or increase the frequency or likelihood of a response. The term is also applied to refer to an underlying process that leads to reinforcement or to the actual act of reinforcement, but many psychologists discourage such a broad application of the term. Reinforcement is usually divided into two types: positive and negative.

A negative reinforcer is a stimulus that when removed after a response, will increase the frequency or likelihood of that response. Negative reinforcers can range from uncomfortable physical sensations or interpersonal situations to actions causing severe physical distress. The sound of an alarm clock is an example of a negative reinforcer. Assuming that the sound is unpleasant, turning it off, or removing its sound, serves to reinforce getting out of bed. A positive reinforcer is a stimulus which increases the frequency or likelihood of a response when its presentation is made contingent upon that response. Giving a child candy for cleaning his or her room is an example of a positive reinforcer.

Reinforcers can also be further classified as primary and conditional. Primary reinforcers naturally reinforce an organism. Their reinforcing properties are not learned. They are usually biological in nature, and satisfy physiological needs. Examples include air, food, and water. Conditioned reinforcers do not serve to reinforce responses prior to conditioning. They are initially neutral with respect to the response in question, but, when repeatedly paired with a primary reinforcer, they develop the power to increase or maintain a response. Conditioned reinforcers are also called secondary reinforcers.

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