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Positive Reinforcement: Definition & Examples Video

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  • 0:01 Definition of Positive…
  • 1:22 Characteristics of…
  • 2:20 Types of Positive…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Positive reinforcement is the addition of a reward following a desired behavior. In this lesson, you will examine examples of positive reinforcement and be able to test your knowledge with a quiz at the end.

Definition of Positive Reinforcement

Imagine you are having a picnic at the park, and you witness a man with his dog. He is trying to teach the dog to sit, but the dog is so excited that the man is having a very difficult time. You laugh as the dog jumps up and tries to play with the man. Finally, the dog sits down. Immediately the man gives him a treat. It appears to you that the dog only sat down on accident, so you wonder why the man rewarded the dog.

You have another laugh and take a walk around the park. A few minutes later, you see the man and dog again. The dog seems to be sitting a bit more often. At first, you think that the dog must just be getting tired, but as you watch, you realize that the dog is looking for the treat he is being given each time he sits.

You just witnessed positive reinforcement in action! Positive reinforcement is the addition of a reward following a desired behavior with the purpose of increasing the likelihood the behavior will occur again. When a positive outcome or reward occurs after an action, that particular response will be reinforced.

You now understand the purpose of the treat the man was giving to the dog. The treat was positive reinforcement for the behavior the man wanted from the dog. Because the dog wanted the treat, it was learning the desired behavior.

Characteristics of Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement was first described by B.F. Skinner in his theory of operant conditioning. He noticed that you can increase the occurrence of a particular behavior by adding a reward for the behavior. He performed a number of experiments that proved you would see an increase of the rewarded behavior over time.

Positive reinforcement is the most effective when it takes place immediately after a behavior. This means that the shorter the amount of time between a behavior and a reward, the stronger the connection between the two will be.

Despite its name, positive reinforcement is not always a good thing. For example, a child misbehaves in a store, and the parent agrees to buy the child a toy. The child will quickly learn that by acting out they can acquire the object they want. In this instance, the parents are actually reinforcing the misbehavior. A better solution would be to use positive reinforcement when the child is actually displaying good behavior.

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