The concept of reinforcement is one of the most important and utilized principles in applied behavior analysis. The most basic definition of reinforcement is that a type of behavior (R) is followed by a reinforcement (S^R) there will be an increase in the future frequency of that behavior. Reinforcement can be categorized as types or classes of reinforcement and they are identified through a process called preference assessment. Reinforcement occurs when a behavior increases because of a consequence of either adding or subtracting something from the environment.
Some important attributes of reinforcement:
- The time between the behavior and the consequence. Immediacy of reinforcement is critical to create the relationship between the behavior and the consequence.
- The conditions present when the behavior occurs
- The motivation present for the desire of the consequence
If a response does not closely follow a behavior, it is not acting as reinforcement. If a behavior increases because of a long delayed response, then the behavior has increased behavior of a rule governed behavior or instructional control. An example of rule governed behavior is when a child receives a reward for a semester of straight As. If this increases the child’s studying behavior, it is not due to reinforcement but the rule governed behavior that “if I study more, I will receive future awards.” Instead, if a child received immediate social praise by a parent or teacher after a study session and this increased the child’s studying behavior, this would be an example of positive reinforcement at work.
2 Term Contingency
Reinforcement is a function of the relation of a consequence immediately following a behavior, which increases the odds that the behavior will occur again in the future.
3 Term Contingency
When a consequence is paired with a behavior, that relationship in combination with the antecedent stimulus, creates a 3 term contingency. When there is the antecedent, followed by the behavior, which is followed by the consequence, there is a contingency relationship between these.
A discriminative stimulus (S^D) is an antecedent stimulus (thing that happens before the behavior) that is correlated with the availability of reinforcement for that behavior. Stimulus delta (S^ delta) is the absence of the stimulus, and this does not produce the reinforcement when the behavior is emitted. For example, given the S^D, “Cell phone ringing” the behavior of “answering the phone and saying ‘hi'” results in the consequence (reinforcement) of having a conversation. If the phone does not ring (stimulus delta), if you pick up the phone and say “hi”, you will not receive the reinforcement or consequence of having a conversation.
It’s all about motivation
Motivating operations (MOs) are environmental variables that change the value of a consequence, making it a reinforcer or not. For example, when you have mowed the lawn on a hot day, a cold glass lemonade is much more motivating and rewarding than it is on a cold, snowy day sitting in your pajamas near a fire.