The 22 Types Of Reinforcement Programs In Psychology

Types of reinforcement programs

Throughout our lives we are continually learning. At home, at school, at work… and we are not only talking about learning derived from education itself, but also about learning derived from direct experience. We learn to walk, to smile socially, to talk, to do or not to do certain actions, that water comes out of the tap if we turn it on or that if we work hard we can obtain benefit, whether internal (satisfaction from the fact of doing it) or external (a salary). , social approval, displays of affection…).

Although learning depends on a large number of variables, some of this learning is obtained through the association between a behavior and its consequences. For example, it is possible to increase the probability of a behavior if it has positive consequences. And in this sense it is possible to create what is considered a reinforcement program, so that said behavior is much more likely and incorporated into our repertoire.

What exactly is a reinforcement program? What types of reinforcement programs exist? Let’s see it throughout this article.

Reinforcement programs: what are they?

A reinforcement program is nothing more than a regulated procedure through which it is possible to achieve learning and increase the probability of performing a certain behavior based on the association of carrying out said behavior with a consequence experienced as positive.

This consequence, which is some type of stimulation that we find appealing (and that may or may not be a physical reward), is called a reinforcer, as its presence allows it to encourage and increase the performance of the behavior: it reinforces it.

The consideration of the existence of this type of programs is based on one of the main and best-known branches of psychology, behavioral psychology, which focused on observable behavior as the object of study and that it was intended to be an objective study based on evidentiary evidence of what is considered the only directly observable correlate of the psyche: behavior.

Specifically part of Skinner’s operant conditioningwhich considered that behavior is explained as a consequence of the association between the emission of a behavior and the perception of consequences of said behavior, in such a way that if doing something we have negative or aversive consequences we will stop doing it or we will reduce the probability of repeating said action and if by emitting a behavior we obtain appetitive consequences we will increase the probability of doing so in order to continue obtaining said gratification.

More common than it seems

Although at first glance the term reinforcement program may seem complex and strange, the truth is that on a daily basis and unconsciously we usually find ourselves immersed in them in one way or another. In fact, even unconsciously, each and every one of us has been in some situation that we could consider to be part of a reinforcement program.

This is what happens, for example, when we teach a pet where to urinate and defecate or when we give them treats by teaching them a trick.

On a human level it is also easy to find: learning to walk, talk, use a sink or even the simple fact of learning that opening a tap water comes out can involve the application of reinforcement programs, although we are not faced with a program consciously prepared for this. . Also when we reward effort in academics or work We are carrying out a reinforcement, which if carried out continuously could lead to a program of these characteristics.

Types of reinforcement programs according to their temporality

One of the main elements or criteria by which we can be guided to classify the different types of reinforcement program can be found in the degree of contingency between the performance of the behavior and the possible arrival of the reinforcer. In this sense we can find two basic types of programs.

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1. Continuous reinforcement programs

We consider a program to be continuous reinforcement whenever each and every emission of the target behavior receives reinforcement. That is, in an experimental condition, Every time the desired or studied behavior is carried out, it will result in the arrival of the reinforcer..

For example, we may find that every time we open the refrigerator door the light turns on, or that every time we press a switch food or water falls on us.

2. Intermittent reinforcement programs

In the case of intermittent or partial reinforcement programs, we find that only some of the times that the behavior is carried out is a reinforcer received, so that Not every time we do the behavior we will get a reward.

The programs in which this type of reinforcement occurs are generally the most successful in maintaining a behavior over time, since it is already known that the reinforcer does not always have to appear.

Within intermittent reinforcement programs we can find two subtypes: fixed reinforcement programs and variable reinforcement, which are associated with the condition that is experimentally chosen for the presentation of reinforcement.

2.1 Fixed reinforcement programs

Fixed reinforcement programs are those in which, although the subject does not obtain a reinforcer every time he or she does the behavior, there is a pattern as to when it will be obtained: The arrival of the reinforcer always occurs when X requirement is met.

2.2 Variable reinforcement programs

Variable reinforcement programs are those in which the subject does not obtain reinforcement every time he or she does the behavior, but rather it occurs on some occasions, and there is no pre-established pattern for the reinforcer to occur: although it is subject to the occurrence of the behavior, it can appear in very different and random ways.

Types of reinforcement program according to their complexity

Along with the degree of contingency with which the reinforcer is presented in relation to the behavior, we can also find different types of reinforcement programs depending on their complexity or, rather, of the number of conditions that must be met so that the reinforcer can be obtained or even the type of condition that must be met. In this sense we can find three large groups.

1. Simple reinforcement programs

Simple reinforcement programs are all those in which, in order to obtain a reinforcer only one condition must be meton which it will depend whether the subject achieves or does not achieve the reward and sees his behavior reinforced.

Within this type of reinforcement programs, which are generally the most basic and best known, we can find the following subtypes.

1.1. Reason programs

We understand by reason programs all those reinforcement programs in which the condition that must be met to obtain the reinforcer is that of perform the behavior or response a certain number of times.

In this sense and in relation to the contingency that we have seen previously, we can find programs with a fixed reason (every time the subject does the behavior randomly).

1.2. Interval programs

Interval programs are all those in which the condition for the subject to obtain the reinforcer is not the number of times the behavior is done, but to carry it out after a certain amount of time has passed since the last reinforcer.

As in the previous case, we can find programs with a fixed interval (the subject will receive a reinforcer if he performs the behavior once a specific time has passed since the last one) or a variable interval (the time that must pass so that he can get a reinforcer). will vary randomly).

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2. Complex reinforcement programs

Complex reinforcement programs are those in which there is a combination of several basic or simple programs, in such a way that achieving the reinforcer or not will depend on several conditions being met, which may vary and appear at the same time.

Within the complex reinforcement programs we can find the following.

2.1. Composite programs

Composite programs are understood to be those types of reinforcement programs in which various programs are presented at the same time and in relation to a single behavior. This implies that the different conditions will be applied based on a single type of action and not on several.

Within these programs there are also several subtypes, namely:

2.1.1. Alternating programs

Within this type of compound program the subject obtains reinforcer when it meets one of the criteria of any of the two or more reinforcement programs that are being applied at once. That is, if a variable interval reinforcement program and one with a fixed ratio are applied, the condition that is met first will be the one that delivers the reinforcer.

2.1.2. Conjunctive programs

This type of program is somewhat more demanding: the subject must comply with two or more conditions from the various programs to obtain the reinforcement. Thus, even if you meet the condition of one of them (for example, a certain amount of time has passed), you will not receive a reinforcer until you have also met the condition of the other programs (for example, you perform the behavior 5 times).

2.1.3. Intertwined programs

In this case, the conditions necessary to obtain the reinforcer change: the condition of a program will vary depending on the progress made in the others.

2.1.4. Adjustment programs

In this case, as in the previous one, the subject obtains the reinforcer depending on conditions that vary, but instead of depending on how one’s condition progresses to change that of the other, in this case it only depends on the preceding performance. That is to say, conditions are adjusted based on previous behavior.

2.2. Sequential programs

Sequential programs are types of reinforcement programs that are characterized because in them the conditions necessary to obtain the reinforcer vary but not because two programs are applied at the same time but because first one of the programs is followed and then another, in a sequence. . Within this type of reinforcement program you can find:

2.2.1. Mixed programs

Two or more programs alternate at random regardless of what the subject does, although under the same situation and discriminative stimulus. That is, if the subject gets food every time he presses a lever, he can first get it when he presses it a fixed number of times and then only when a certain time has passed.

2.2.2. Multiple programs

In this case, two or more programs alternate, without the need for the subject to have done or not done the behavior to change the program. However, on this occasion, each of them has a different type of discriminative stimulus from each other.

2.2.3. Tandem programs

Is about two or more programs that always alternate with the same pattern and in which to move from one to the other the subject must first have met the condition proposed in the previous one.

2.2.4. Chained programs

Two programs alternate with a fixed pattern and based on the subject having met the previous condition to be able to change programs, but on this occasion with a different discriminative stimulus for each of the programs.

23. Sequential programs

Sequential programs are types of reinforcement programs that are characterized because in them the conditions necessary to obtain the reinforcer vary, but not because two programs are applied at the same time but because first one of the programs is followed and then anotherin a sequence.

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Within this type of reinforcement program the following can be found.

2.3.1. Mixed programs

Two or more programs alternate at random regardless of what the subject does, although under the same situation and discriminative stimulus. That is, if the subject gets food every time he presses a lever, he can first get it when he presses it a fixed number of times and then only when a certain time has passed.

2.3.2. Multiple programs

In this case, two or more programs alternate, without the need for the subject to have done or not done the behavior to change the program. However, on this occasion but each of them has a type of discriminative stimulus different from each other.

2.3.3. Tandem programs

These are two or more programs that always alternate with the same pattern and in which to go from one to the other the subject must first have met the condition proposed in the previous one.

2.3.4. Chained programs

Two programs alternate with a fixed pattern and based on the subject having fulfilled the previous condition to be able to change programs, but this time with a different discriminative stimulus for each of the programs.

2.4. Concurrent programs

This type of reinforcement program is characterized by the fact that the subject is subjected to several programs at the same time, so that he can obtain reinforcers depending on whether he performs different behaviors. These reinforcers could be of a different nature between programs, although this could mean the preferential performance of a behavior to achieve a reinforcer that the subject considers more palatable.

3. Differential reinforcement programs

Another of the main types of reinforcement program is the differential, in which the presence or absence of reinforcement depends not so much on a condition or two referring to whether the action is carried out or done in x time, but what is valued is that the subject does not carry it out or that the time to carry it out is before or after a certain period.

The objective of this type of reinforcement, in reality, is reinforce and increase the behavior of not doing the behavior or doing something else instead of the one studied. In this sense we can find three subtypes.

3.1. Differential omission reinforcement programs

In this type of reinforcement programs, the subject will receive a reinforcer if (and only if) he or she has not performed the behavior within the analyzed period.

3.2. Low rate differential reinforcement programs

Low-rate differential reinforcement programs are those in which the subject receives a reinforcer as long as the performance of the behavior is carried out. only after a certain time interval has passed. What is usually sought is to reduce the frequency of emission of a behavior by reinforcing that it takes time to do so.

3.3. High Rate Differential Reinforcement Programs

In this case, the subject obtains a reinforcer only if he carries out the target behavior before a certain time has elapsed. What is sought in this case is to increase the frequency of emission of the target behavior.

3.4. Reinforcement programs for incompatible responses

A very useful type of program, in this case the subject obtains a reinforcer as long as within the time interval he does not carry out the target behavior but rather others that are incompatible with it. What is sought is to reduce the emission of the behavior by rewarding the performance of others that prevent it from appearing.

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