BF Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory

It seems obvious to think that if after performing a certain behavior we have received an award or reward, it is much more likely that we will repeat it. Following this principle, which may seem so obvious to us, is a whole series of hypotheses and theories studied and debated throughout the history of psychology.

One of the main proponents of this approach was Burrhus Frederic Skinner, who through his theory of reinforcement tried to give an explanation the functioning of human behavior in response to certain stimuli.

    Who was BF Skinner?

    Psychologist, philosopher, inventor and author. These are just a few of the professions attributed to the well-known American psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner. He is considered to be one of the leading authors and researchers in the behaviorist current of North America.

    One of his main objects of study was human behavior. Specifically, he sought to explain how it worked in response to different stimuli that could influence him.

    Through experimental manipulation and observation of animal behavior, Skinner outlined his early theories of the role reinforcement plays in behavior, building on these principles the theory of operant conditioning.

    For Skinner, the use of so-called positive and negative reinforcements it is essential to modify human and animal behavior; either to increase or improve certain behaviors, or to inhibit or eliminate them.

    Skinner was also interested in the practical applications of his theories; create “programmed education”. In this type of educational process, students are given a series of small pieces of information that they will have to learn consecutively to move on to the next information.

    Finally, Skinner also gave rise to a controversial series of essays in which he proposed the use of psychological behavior modification techniques for the purpose of increase the quality of society and thus improve people’s happiness, As a kind of social engineering for the happiness and well-being of men and women.

    What is the theory of reinforcement?

    The reinforcement theory developed by Skinner, also known as operant conditioning or instrumental conditioning, attempts to explain human behavior in correspondence with the environment or stimuli that surround it.

    Using the experimental method, Skinner concludes that the appearance of a stimulus triggers a response in the person. If this response is conditioned with the help of positive or negative reinforcers, an influence can be exerted on this reaction or this operational behavior, which can be potentiated or inhibited.

    Skinner has established that behavior is maintained from one context or situation to another as long as the consequences, i.e. the reinforcers, do not change or do not do so by following certain logics, ” rules ”that must be discovered. Consequently, human and animal behavior can be conditioned or modified using a series of stimuli that the subject may or may not find satisfactory.

    Explained in a simpler way, reinforcement theory emphasizes that a person is more likely to repeat behavior that is positively reinforced, and will be more likely to repeat those associated with negative stimuli or reinforcements.

      What types of back-up do you have?

      Conditional or reinforcing stimuli, positive and negative, can be used to correct or modify a person’s behavior. these they are very useful both in psychotherapy and in schools, With family or even at work.

      Skinner differentiated between two types of reinforcers: positive reinforcers and negative reinforcers.

      1. Positive reinforcers

      Positive reinforcers are all those consequences that appear after a behavior that the person considers satisfactory or beneficial. By means of these positive or satisfying reinforcers, one seeks to increase the response rate of a person, that is to say to increase the probability of performing or repeating an action.

      This means that acts that are positively reinforced will be more likely to be repeated because gratuities, prizes or rewards perceived as positive followed by the person performing the action.

      It is very important to stress that for this partnership to be effective, it is necessary to make sure that the person sees the positive reinforcement as such. In other words, it is really attractive to you.

      What one person may think of as a prize does not necessarily have to be for another. For example, a child who barely receives candy may perceive it as a greater reward than one who is used to it. Therefore, it will be necessary to know the peculiarities and the differences of the person thus, to be able to specify which will be the ideal stimulus that serves as a positive reinforcer.

      In turn, these positive reinforcers can be classified into the following categories:

      • Primary or intrinsic reinforcements: These are behaviors that in themselves generate satisfaction. For example, eat if you are hungry.
      • secondary reinforcements: They are given by learning and are external to the person. They can be material, like money, or social, like recognition.

      3. Negative reinforcers

      Contrary to popular belief, negative reinforcers are not about administering punishments or aversive stimuli to the person; but quite the contrary. The use of negative reinforcers aims to increase the response rate of this the elimination of these consequences that he considers negative.

      For example, a child who studies for a certain exam and obtains a good mark. In this case, the parents exempt him from any housework or any activity that he finds unpleasant.

      As can be seen, unlike positive reinforcement, in this case the appearance of a negative or aversive stimulus is eliminated so that a certain behavior increases. What they have in common, however, is that the stimuli should also be tailored to the tastes of the person.

        Skinner strengthening programs

        As discussed at the beginning of the article, in addition to theorizing on human behavior, Skinner sought to put these theories into practice. To do this, she has developed a series of specific strengthening programs, the most important of which are the continuous strengthening and intermittent strengthening programs (interval strengthening and reason strengthening).

        1. Continuous reinforcement

        In continuous reinforcement the person is constantly being rewarded for an action or behavior. The main advantage is that the association is formed quickly and efficiently; however, once the rebar is removed, the behavior will also turn off quickly.

        2. Intermittent reinforcement

        In such cases they only reinforce the person’s behavior on certain occasions. This program is in turn subdivided into two categories: interval reinforcement (fixed or variable) or report reinforcement (fixed or variable)

        In interval reinforcement, behavior is reinforced after a predetermined period of time (fixed) or a random period of time (variable). While in strengthening reason, the person must perform a number of behaviors before being strengthened. As with interval reinforcement, this number of responses can be agreed beforehand (fixed) or not (random).

        Criticisms of Skinner’s Theory

        Like all fields of study and research, Skinner’s theory is not without its critics. Major critics of these assumptions accuse Skinner of ignoring the circumstances around which the behavior occurs, thus creating a theory. too reductionist to rely on the experimental method. However, this criticism is replied by drawing attention to the fact that in the experimental method it is a question of focusing attention precisely not on the individual, but on the context, what is happening in the environment.

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