Radical Behaviorism And Reinforcement Schedules Essays Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Behavior, Stimulus, Schedule, Criminal Justice, Workplace, Punishment, Crime, Reaction

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/02/09

During a continuous observation of the animal behavior, Edward L. Thorndike concluded that all behavior has its consequences, what is known in psychology as the law of effect (as cited in Chance, 2014). At the same time, he also noticed that after a certain influence on the subject, the behavior can either strengthen or weaken. Thorndike's follower, B. F. Skinner continued to develop his theory, conducting numerous experiments on animals, and then applying the results of the studies to human behavior (Chance, 2014). He introduced such basic methods of modifying the behavior as reinforcement and punishment that are discussed in the following paragraphs.
1. Reinforcement
Reinforcement of behavior, both positive and negative, serves to strengthen the behavior (Flora, 2012). Thus, the characteristics of "positive" and "negative" identify the presence or absence of the stimulus during the impact on the subject, correspondingly (Chance, 2014). Simply put, positive reinforcement is used as a reward, or negative reinforcement - as the avoidance of the troublesome stimulus. For example, a mother can offer the child to tidy a room, in order to go on a picnic together as a reward. If someone feels sick, he or she turns to the doctor, to avoid sickness, which in this case has a negative incentive. However, the definition of positive and negative reinforcement can be ambiguous sometimes (Baron and Galizio, 2005; Flora, 2012).
2. Punishment
Punishment reduces the likelihood that a particular behavior occurs again and, according to Skinner, can be accomplished in two ways, positive and negative (as cited in Chance, 2014). Positive punishment includes the participation of an aversive stimulus (Pierce and Cheney, 2013). For example, if a driver exceeds the speed limit, he must pay a fine. Negative punishment involves the removal of a positive reinforcer (Pierce and Cheney, 2013). For example, a soccer player is removed from the field for violating the rules of the game. The ability to play is a positive stimulus here. In addition, there are some other classifications of reinforcement.
3. Primary and secondary reinforcement
Natural stimuli such as eating, sleeping, recreation, communication, sex and the like, associate with the primary reinforcement of behavior (Chance, 2014). Stimuli acquired through learning refer to conditioned stimuli. They are usually associated with secondary reinforcement (Chance, 2014). For example, a red light warns pedestrians to stop, as it signals the danger like the possibility to be hit by a car. Primary reinforcement does not necessarily mean more motivational stimulus, because depending on the context of the situation, the secondary reinforcement may enhance the reaction more efficiently (Baron and Galizio, 2005). Consequence of reinforcement is also highly dependent on the reinforcement schedule.
4. Reinforcement schedules
The speed, with which operant behavior is acquired and maintained, depends on the applied reinforcement schedule. The reinforcement schedule is a rule that sets the probability with which the reinforcement will occur (Chance, 2014). There are 2 main types of reinforcement schedules: a) continuous reinforcement means each desired response is reinforced; b) partial or intermittent reinforcement when positive stimulus is given at different intervals, and after a certain number of reactions (Ryckman, 2008). Continuous reinforcement is usually used at the beginning of learning the reaction, and once the reaction has been acquired, to strengthen it the intermittent reinforcement is used. According to fixed-ratio (FR) schedules, a positive stimulus is given after a certain number of reactions, regardless of the time intervals. Reinforcements through a variable ratio (VR) means a positive stimulus is given, on average, after a certain number of reactions, but the actual number varies from case to case. Fixed-interval (FI) schedule gives a positive reinforcer for the expected reaction at certain periods of time. Variable-interval (VI) schedule applies a positive stimulus for the required reaction by unpredictable intervals (Chance, 2014; Ryckman, 2008). All of these reinforcement schedules are widely applicable to everyday human life (Flora, 2012).
5. Real-life Example
Let's imagine some Alice, who works as an average office employee, and analyze her behavior in terms of different reinforcement schedules. She works every day, except weekends from 9 a.m. and has a fixed number of work hours. Every two weeks, she gets a paycheck. The fixed-interval schedule is applied here. However, the salary Alice gets is moderate, so her company has a system of bonuses, according to which every employee receives an allowance to the salary, in compliance with proper performance of the boss' orders. This corresponds to reinforcement through a fixed ratio of responses. In addition, some employees occasionally receive the reward, promotion or dismissal, depending on their productivity rate. Such reinforcements are intermittent, so that indicates the variable-ratio schedule. Over a month ago Alice was implied the boss wanted to transfer her to the office on the floor above. The chance of promotion is very motivating for Alice, as it will give her more respect of the boss and more money, although she will have less time to sleep and rest with the family. The desire to win the approval of her superior is a strong reinforcer, so that Alice continues to work hard and waits for the day she will be promoted, that determines the variable-interval schedule. If to focus on Alice's behavior towards getting the promotion, one can notice that after not receiving a long-awaited recognition of her boss, her labor productivity rate may decrease. Insufficient reinforcement of Alice's efforts led to the gradual extinction of her efficiency. Once, on an impulse of anger, Alice decided to try other forms of behavior in order to attract the attention of the administration. This spontaneous decision to recover the activity has increased the success of Alice's work, and after some time, she has received a long-awaited promotion.
Finally, knowledge of the basics of operant learning helps us to understand why people behave in one way or another, and how they can adjust their behavior. For different people and situations there are different types of appropriate reinforcement or punishment. A professional should know the reinforcement schedules to vary the professional ways of influencing human behavior in order to teach people the necessary skills and reactions the most effectively.


Baron A, Galizio M. (2005). Positive and negative reinforcement: Should the distinction be preserved? The Behavior Analyst, 28(2), 85–98. Retrieved 9 April, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2755378/
Chance, P. (2014). Learning and Behavior (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Inc.
Flora, S. R. (2012). The Power of Reinforcement. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Pierce, W. D., and Cheney C. D. (2013). Behavior Analysis and Learning (5th ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Ryckman, R. M. (2008). Skinner's Operant Analysis. Theories of Personality (9th ed., pp. 505-550). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

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