Positive & Negative Reinforcement

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Skinner identified two types of reinforcing events; those in which a reward is given and those in which something aversive is removed. In either case, the point of reinforcement is to increase the frequency or probability of a response occurring again. (Slavin, 2006). It is extremely important to remember that both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement are processes that strengthen a behaviour; that is, they both increase the probability that the behaviour will occur in the future. Positive and negative reinforcement are distinguished only by the nature of the consequence that follows the behaviour. Positive reinforcement occurs when the occurrence of a behaviour is then followed by the addition of a pleasurable stimulus (reinforcer) or an increase in the intensity of a pleasurable stimulus which results in the strengthening of the behaviour. Negative reinforcement, by contrast, occurs when the occurrence of a behaviour is then followed by the removal of an aversive stimulus or a decrease in the intensity of an aversive stimulus which results in the strengthening of the behaviour. In positive reinforcement, the stimulus that is presented or that appears after the behaviour is called a positive reinforcer and can include things such as praise, good grades and stars. This is illustrated in the early childhood experiences of Serena and Venus where they are reinforced for playing good tennis by the praise their father whenever they hit the ball well. In negative reinforcement however, the stimulus that is removed or avoided is called an aversive stimulus. The essential difference therefore, is that in positive reinforcement, a response produces a stimulus (a positive reinforcer), whereas in negative reinforcement, a response removes or prevents the occurrence of a stimulus (an aversive stimulus). In both cases, the behaviour is more likely to occur in the future. As Skinner discussed, positive reinforcement is superior to punishment in altering...
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