Addiction A-Z

Reinforcement

Psychologist B.F. Skinner coined the term reinforcement to partially explain why people repeat a behavior. In his system called “behavioral psychology,” a behavior can be positively or negatively reinforced or strengthened by certain factors.

Negative reinforcements are factors that make you repeat a behavior because if you don’t, there will be unpleasant consequences. For example, being cold is a negative reinforcement for not wearing a coat. It is something that makes you wear a coat. Feeling comfortable by wearing a coat is a positive reinforcement.

While negative and positive punishments also strengthen behaviors, they are not the same as reinforcements. Your mother yelling at you for not wearing a coat is a negative punishment. A positive punishment for wearing a coat would be if your mother didn’t allow you outside without one.

The concept of reinforcement is sometimes used in substance abuse treatment. A therapist may try to discover what positive and negative reinforcements in a patient’s life are perpetuating the use of drugs or alcohol.

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