Positive reinforcement is defined as a strategy that is applied to fortify future behaviour. It results in longer duration, higher magnitude and advanced frequency of the deeds. In the case of positive reinforcement, the reward is offered as part of an expression of the desired behaviour whenever that behaviour is achieved.
The brain connects the action with the award, and this is why the subject repeats the action as he hopes of being rewarded in the future for his behaviour.
Meaning of positive reinforcement
The purpose of positive reinforcement is to increase the likelihood of the change so that the desired behaviour occurs repeatedly. When a reward prompts a favorable outcome, and the response is strengthened, then it is seen as a sign of positive reinforcement. The purpose of this fundamental concept is to boost the rate of behaviour.
How can you understand positive reinforcement? The simplest way is to think that something has been added to the event to encourage an appropriate response. Positive reinforcement is useful when it happens immediately after a specific behaviour. If the amount of time between action and reward is shorter, then it will result in a stronger and powerful bond between the two involved parties.
It is essential that the reinforcement should occur frequently and must be presented enthusiastically to be most effective. The longer the duration, the weaker the connection becomes between behaviour and reinforcement.
Examples of positive reinforcement
We come across examples of positive reinforcement at every turn in our daily lives.
For example, you see an old lady at the crossing, unable to cross the road, and you help her in doing so. She thanks you profusely and it touches a chord in your heart. Although the first help on your part was automatic and not consciously done for praise next time if you see someone needs help at the crossing you will deliberately and consciously try helping that person.
The earlier recognition was a part of positive reinforcement that encouraged you to offer the support once again. If the second time you are once again praised then this will set the tone, and you will become habituated in providing help to the needy ones. Positive reinforcement brings about a positive change, and this continues in the future.
In some cases, positive reinforcement is chosen deliberately to maintain or train a particular behaviour. A child learns a few lines of poetry and is rewarded by his parents. This encourages him to learn some more and is rewarded again. This sets up a precedent, and the child now associates learning poetry with rewards and will repeatedly try to achieve the feat again and again.
Animal trainers encourage good behaviour in animals through the process of positive reinforcement. Suppose the trainer is trying to teach a puppy some manners. What he will do is give a command, suppose, sit and will wait patiently until the dog sits. He will then offer a reward and will continue to do so whenever the dog sits when asked. After some days, you will notice that the dog is sitting every time someone gives him the command to do so. The particular response is reinforced in the dog because of the reward after the action.
A teenager is learning to play cricket in a cricket academy. Whenever he hits the ball with the middle of the bat, his coach automatically praises him with the words “great job”. These two simple words are all the encouragement the boy needs to take a step further in his career because the praise acts as positive reinforcement.
In a business setting, whenever a deadline is met, the management appreciates the team by offering each team member 200 dollars. The positive reinforcement is an incentive that boosts their morale and encourages them to do much better the next time.
Steps of positive reinforcement
Follow these simple steps to use positive reinforcement theory
1. Specify the desired behaviour
It is essential to make it clear to someone else what the desired behaviour is. Be apparent and precise and explain what you consider good behaviour which you want to encourage so that it can be measured. Put a deadline so that the individual knows the time frame he has to adapt to the new behaviour
2. Measure the current desired behavior
Determine the baseline of the behavior in question and how frequently it occurs. Until and unless you measure the beginning or the starting point, it is impossible to assess whether the behaviour has improved or has changed any bit or not.
3. Reinforce the desired behaviour
Before using positive reinforcement, select the type of positive reinforcement and the schedules of positive reinforcement you want to utilize. Now determine when and how you will reinforce the new behaviour
4. Assess change
The final step in measuring positive reinforcement is measuring the new behaviour. Determine whether the frequency has increased as per your expectations or is it somehow lacking. If it is lacking, then reassesses your approach and once again go through the process to make suitable choices.
Process of Positive reinforcers
The process of changing behaviour using the positive reinforcement strategy relies on some viable tools like consistency as well as repetition. It includes the following steps-
The best way to deal with behaviour is to know what someone is doing and why is he doing it. Identify by investigating because you cannot take any related step on dealing with specific behaviour until and unless you know the root cause for that type of behaviour.
After identifying the root cause of the behaviour, it is the time to understand the behaviour. This will help you in knowing the positive reinforcers that will be a help to you and the schedules you can choose to solve the issue and encourage positive and favorable outcomes
Effective communication is the key to every dialogue. You must give clear-cut instructions and can make the other involved party understand what you want from him.
Communication is a two-way street where both of you must be able to express, understand and portray your thoughts and ideas explicitly. Figure out the best possible way to communicate in precise times to strengthen your bonds
You must find out what motivates the subject before you choose your positive reinforcement. Rewards generally work wonders, and the idea of a treat looks kind to others. The rewards can include various things, a food item, if you are a kid then watching a game or playing the outdoor game with your friends, if you are a teenager then a late-night movie with friends and if you are a theatre lover then watching your favorite play.
As you have a specific target try to find out what motivates him because every person or animal or whoever your subject is very different from others. When you know what motivates your subject you can determine easily the type and schedule of positive reinforcement that you should adopt.
5. Be kind
Kindness is a desirable emotion that helps you to recognize genuine concerns. It encourages a person to understand and then take viable steps so that you can choose the best positive reinforcer for your subject.
Never use negative actions like hitting, screaming or abusing someone as they will take you away from your actual goal. What does the teacher or the parents or management in the workplace want? It was looking to help others in gaining maximum efficiency and changed behaviour that will help the subject.
Recognise the concerns of the subject because only then you can choose the best possible positive reinforcement so that the desired outcome is achieved.
6. Slow down
Once you have identified the behaviour and found the positive reinforcer you want to implement, make sure you are consistent. The schedule must be followed diligently but do not try to overwhelm your subject.
Slow down a bit but make sure that the rhythm or the schedule is not broken. If you are dealing with a subject with anxiety-related behaviour, you must slow down and assess at regular intervals to know about the actual change that is taking place.
7. Be consistent
Be consistent in your efforts otherwise, it is all in vain
8. Be patient
Rome was not built in a day, nor will you be able to achieve your goal in a short time. The mantra is to give yourself as well as your subject enough time to show a definite change in the behavioural pattern.
Types of positive reinforcers
A reinforcer is a stimulus that is used to strengthen the rate of behaviour. It can be water if you are deprived of a liquid or a food item if you have not tasted it for a considerable period. Any limitations do not bind a reinforcer. Reinforcers are divided into two types’ positive reinforcer and negative reinforcer.
Different types of positive reinforcers are used as a means for boosting behaviours, but the important thing to note down at this point is that the type of reinforcer depends entirely on the situation and the involved individual. Some of the positive reinforcers are as follows-
1. Token reinforcers
This type of positive reinforcer has been given the name token as these are points that are offered as tokens because of performing some acts satisfactorily. The best thing about these points or tokens is that they can be exchanged for something of value like material items, services or money.
It is often used to help autistic children as part of their behaviour modification theory.
2. Natural reinforcers
This type of reinforcer are a direct result of the behaviour; for instance, player practices every day and takes part in verbal coaching as well as practical coaching. Continuous diligence and practice sessions result in his excellent performances.
The result is because of the ongoing behaviour of the player and is considered a natural reinforcer.
3. Tangible reinforcers
This type of positive reinforcer involves offering physical rewards like money, treats, toys, etc. for motivating others to do well. It is important to use tangible reinforcers sparingly so that it is not misused in any way.
4. Social reinforcers
This type of positive reinforcer is used to approve specific behaviour. The work of employer, teacher or parent is often included as part of social reinforcers as they generally offer written or verbal approval of behavior by offering praise for a job well done.
Schedules of reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is considered as a learning tool that is very effective if used correctly. In some cases, the learning is natural because of the surroundings and normal interactions of the individual, whereas in other cases the behavioural technique is used in teaching a new behaviour.
How and when one should reinforce behavior is very important because it has a direct impact on the rate and strength of the response. The schedule of reinforcement is a rule that makes it clear which instances will help in reinforcing the behaviour and takes place in both natural and structured training situations.
It is important to consider the various aspects of the situation, the type of behaviour taught and the desired type of response, to determine which schedule is preferable. The different types of reinforcement schedules to choose from are-
1. Continuous reinforcement schedule
In a continuous reinforcement schedule, it is imperative to reinforce the desired behaviour every time it occurs, without a single miss. It is most effective at the beginning stages where you need to create a strong bond between the behaviour and the actual response.
It encourages the following of a pattern where every response, even narrowly defined, is followed by a consequence, however narrowly defined it might be.
2. Partial reinforcement schedule
Once you have established a continuous reinforcement schedule, then it is time to switch to a partial reinforcement schedule. In this case, the response the learned behaviour is slow, and it is scheduled part of the time.
In Fixed-Ratio Schedule, the response is reinforced a specific number of times, for instance, after every five occurrences. This schedule helps in steady and high rate, or response with a brief pause after the reinforcer is delivered.
4. Fixed-Interval Schedules
In this type of schedule, the first response is rewarded after the passing of a particular amount of time, for instance, after two weeks of good behavior. It results in a slow response immediately after the reinforcer is delivered but a high response near the end of the interval.
5. Variable-Ratio Schedules
This type of schedule takes place when the response is reinforced after an innumerable number of times, for instance, after one occurrence, then after five, then after three occurrences. The Variable-Ration Schedule helps in creating a steady and high rate of response.
6. Variable-Interval Schedules
This type of positive reinforcement schedule occurs when you reward the response after an unpredictable passing of time, for instance, after five minutes, then three and then two. It produces a steady and slow rate of response.
Positive reinforcement at the workplace
One of the most common practices in the workplace is the use of positive reinforcement in the form of higher status, more power and monetary reward to motivate the desired behaviour amongst the employees. It is a fact that rewards have a direct impact on encouraging satisfaction, engagement, and enthusiasm and on improving the efficiency and productivity of the employee.
When the management is delivering a reinforcer, it is important to
- Inform the employees about specific goals and the desired behavior so that they understand the importance of keeping their focus on objectives and goals
- Keep track of the quality of work and productivity of the employee. It s imperative to identify and record the baseline behaviour so that the management can begin the process of reinforcement.
- It is vital that the management reinforces individuals for the desired outcomes and making sure that there are consequences for undesired results
- Observe the effectiveness of the reinforcer that is applied to determine its effectiveness.
- Determine the desired performance levels and state them specifically
- Rewards for the desired performances should be appropriate to encourage the employees
Examples of positive reinforcement in the workplace
- An employee receiving a raise after completing his target of fifty clients
- Offering a monetary reward to an employee who has not taken a single leave of absence in the first quarter of the fiscal year
- Employees who drive eco-friendly vehicles are given free parking slot
- Lunch coupons for those employees who have worked overtime the previous day
Positive reinforcement at the classroom
Teachers often take the help of positive reinforcement in the classroom to motivate the children to do better.
When a teacher is choosing a reinforcer, it is essential to
- Observe the student and determine what activities are they seeking out and what is reinforcing their behaviour.
- Give a list of choices to the student and ask their preference of reward for good behaviour
- Observe monitor and discuss progress with the student at periodic intervals to know whether the reinforcer is still the right choice or you require a new one to work better
- Conduct a preference assessment formally to evaluate the effectiveness of the reinforcer
When a teacher is delivering a reinforcer, it is essential to
- Make sure that the positive reinforcement is provided consistently as per the planned schedule if you are looking to make a strong connection between the behaviour and the reward
- The reinforcer must be delivered immediately to make the most reliable connection. If due to any reason immediate delivery can’t offer verbal reinforcement and clarify the time or the moment when the promised reward will be delivered
- Improvement is as necessary as perfection hence reward the former so that he can achieve the latter with time
- Rewards must be dependent upon behaviour and not on any other criteria like bias, pity, etc. Teach the student that the reward is dependent only upon behaviour and ensure that it happens this way only
- The teacher can combine reinforcement with social reinforcement and make sure that she is also offering verbal reinforcement to make a more significant impact.
- Ask the student to choose another student beside himself to share the reward activity
- There must be no confusion over the specific behaviour that is rewarded
- Pick an appropriate reinforcer as per the age of the students
When the reinforcer no longer seems effective
- Use different reinforcers for every desired behaviour
- Try to avoid edible reinforcers as they lose their charm after sometime
- If you have opted for the constant or fixed schedule, then change it to the variable or any other schedule
- Change from primary to secondary reinforcers as soon as possible
Examples of positive reinforcement in the classroom
- Students are offered stars on their assignments
- When a student clears an exam with 90% and above marks his/her name is added to the unique chart in the classroom
- Students who are active in social work in a school or instance cleaning playground on alternative Saturdays or helping the teacher in some projects are awarded extra points that are added to their report card
- Students who do three good deeds at school are offered a gift from their class teacher
Parenting with positive reinforcement
It is easy to encourage change in behaviour at home by using positive reinforcement and praise as tools because it is a fact that parents often take the help of positive reinforcement during parenting.
Some tips they use with their children to reinforce positive behaviour include
- Encourage children to complete their chores by offering them desired treats after desired outcomes.
- Avoid nagging as it will make the child stubborn
- If the child tries to do chores without being asked to do so, then praise him for his behaviour. This will act as positive reinforcement and encourage him to make further changes in his behaviour so that he can win the approval of his parents
- Cuddles during difficult moments encourage the child to take a step forward
- Offering verbal praise is the best way to encourage him
- Giving a thumbs-up sign
- Giving a high-five as soon as he achieves the desired outcome
- Hugging the child
- Patting the child on the back
- Cheering the child at an event
- Clapping for the child
- Offering special privileges as part o the reward
- Offering a tangible reward
- Praising your child for his behaviour to someone else especially when the child is listening to the conversation
The parents are interested in wanting to reinforce the following behaviors
- Completing chores
- Waiting patiently
- Playing quietly so as not to disturb others
- Playing nicely with other children in the house especially brothers, sisters, and cousins
- Putting the effort in a difficult task
- Agreeing to a request at once
- Behaving in a well-mannered and proper way
Using activities and games to encourage good behaviour
- Take help of a punch card so that the child can use it for points for their good deeds and behaviour
- Make sure the child is aware that every good deed and behaviour will be rewarded
- Create some reward coupons that say no chores for half a day, watch a special episode, choose a favorite treat, watch a game, etc. Offer them to the child when he displays the desired behaviour
- Use behaviour chart so that the child can track his progress and know about his ultimate reward and the worth of good behaviour
- Use an immediate reward system to make it more effective
- Make a reward chart to track the progress of the child and also because it is easy or the child to follow and observe his progress
- Compliment the child on his positive behaviour. Remember the praising effort is more effective hence use the tool to offer praise for hard work