What is Reinforcement Theory BF Skinner types Booster Programs

It seems obvious to think that if we receive a reward or reward after practicing a certain behavior, we are much more likely to repeat it again. After this principle, which may seem so obvious to us, there is a whole series of hypotheses and theories that have been studied and debated throughout the history of psychology. In this article we will let you know about the Reinforcement Theory of BF Skinner.

One of the main advocates of this approach was Burrhus Frederic Skinner, who through his Theory of Reinforcement tried to explain the functioning of human behavior in response to certain stimuli.

Who was BF Skinner?

Psychologist, philosopher, inventor and author. These are just some of the occupations attributed to the well-known psychologist of American origin Burrhus Frederic Skinner. He is considered one of the leading authors and researchers of the behavioral current in North America .

One of his main objects of study was human behavior. Specifically, I wanted to explain how it worked in response to different stimuli that can influence it.

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

For Skinner, the use of so-called positive and negative reinforcements was vital in modifying human and animal behavior; either to increase or enhance certain behaviors or to inhibit or eliminate them.

Likewise, Skinner was interested in the practical applications of his theories; creating “programmed education”. In this type of educational process, students are explained a series of small pieces of information that they must learn consecutively to move on to the next piece of information.

Finally, Skinner also led a series of tests surrounded by some controversy in proposing the use of psychological techniques of behavior modification with the aim of increasing the quality of society and thus strengthening people’s happiness , as a kind of social engineering for happiness. and the well-being of men and women.

What is reinforcement theory?

Reinforcement theory elaborated by Skinner, also known as operant conditioning or instrumental conditioning, tries to explain human behavior in correspondence with the environment or with the stimuli that surround it.

Through the experimental method, Skinner concludes that the appearance of a stimulus triggers a response in the person. If this response is conditioned using positive or negative reinforcements, an influence can be exerted on said reaction or operant behavior, which can be enhanced or inhibited.

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

Simply stated, Reinforcement Theory emphasizes that a person is more likely to repeat behavior that is reinforced in a positive way, in addition to being more likely to repeat behavior that is associated with negative stimuli or reinforcements.

What types of reinforcement are there?

Conditional or reinforcing stimuli, both positive and negative, can be used with the aim of rectifying or changing the person’s behavior. These are very useful both in psychological therapy and at school , family or even at work.

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

1. Positive reinforcers

Positive reinforcers are all the consequences that arise after a behavior and that the person considers satisfactory or beneficial. Through these positive or satisfying reinforcements, the objective is to increase a person’s response rate, that is, to increase the probability of performing or repeating an action.

This means that acts reinforced in a positive way will be more likely to be repeated, as rewards, rewards, or rewards that are considered positive by the person performing the action are followed.

It is very important to emphasize that, for this association to be effective, it is necessary to ensure that the person considers positive reinforcement as such. That is, you find it really attractive.

What one person may consider a reward need not be another. For example, a child who is barely given sweets may perceive it as a more important prize than one who is used to it. Therefore, it will be necessary to know the particularities and differences of the person in order to be able to specify the ideal stimulus that serves as positive reinforcement.

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

  • Primary or intrinsic reinforcers : are behaviors that by themselves generate satisfaction. For example, eat if you’re hungry.
  • Secondary reinforcers : occur through learning and are external to the person. They can be material, like money, or social, like recognition.

3. Negative boosters

Contrary to popular belief, negative reinforcers do not consist of administering punishments or aversive stimuli to the person; if not quite the opposite. The use of negative reinforcements seeks to increase the response rate of this, eliminating the consequences that it considers negative .

For example, a child who studies for a certain exam and receives a good grade. In this case, parents release him from household chores or unpleasant activities.

As we can see, unlike positive reinforcement, in this case the appearance of a negative or aversive stimulus is eliminated, so that a certain behavior increases. However, what they have in common is that the stimuli will also have to be adapted to the person’s tastes.

Skinner’s Booster Programs

As discussed at the beginning of the article, in addition to theorizing about human behavior, Skinner sought to bring these theories into real practice . To this end, he developed a series of concrete reinforcement programs, the most prominent of which are the continuous reinforcement and intermittent reinforcement programs (interval reinforcement and ratio reinforcement).

1. Continuous reinforcement

In continuous reinforcement, the person is constantly rewarded for an action or behavior . The main advantage is that the association is fast and effective; However, once reinforcement is removed, the behavior also quickly fades.

2. Intermittent reinforcement

In such cases, only the person’s behavior is reinforced on certain occasions . This program, in turn, is subdivided into two categories: interval boost (fixed or variable) or ratio boost (fixed or variable)

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

Criticisms of Skinner’s theory

Like all areas of study and research, Skinner‘s theory is not without criticism. The main detractors of these hypotheses accuse Skinner of not taking into account the circumstances in which the behavior occurs, thus creating a theory that is too reductionist based on the experimental method . However, this criticism is replicated by calling attention to the fact that, in the experimental method, it is about focusing attention precisely not on the individual, but on the context, what happens in the environment.

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