Positive Reinforcements and Learning

Aug 6, 2020

There are hundreds of day-to-day life situations where positive reinforcements are used. A boy gets a candy after helping someone, a baby takes his first steps and everybody claps, a student gets a star on his hand after nicely doing his worksheet, a girl gets a hug from her grandpa after picking up his cane, an employee gets a bonus for extra work hours, a customer gets a soap-free when he buys two, a soldier receives feedback by his sergeant upon successfully completing the task, a child with special needs receives a cookie and a high-5 with a big smile from his teacher when he successfully completes stacking a tower, etc. There so many more such examples where either we use them, not even knowingly; and we are also being used these techniques upon (e.g. in the example of the customer).

In all the above examples, one link is common. Something happens or something is done and after that (or as a result of that) a positive, enjoyable entity is added. This “added item or activity” is definitely pleasurable for the person who receives it. And hence, the tendency to repeat the original task or activity increases in order to experience that pleasurable item or activity again and again.

This is what positive reinforcement means. It’s the addition of a positive, enjoyable object or activity to the person or environment after a correct response is given or expected behavior is shown. It is very often used in teaching various positive skills and behaviors to children with special needs. But it has a wide scope in our day-to-day lives also as mentioned in the examples above. Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA is one such approach that is popular as an intervention used for Autism Spectrum Disorders, that promotes the use of positive reinforcements highly.

A school of psychology called behaviorism has the origins of this concept called positive reinforcement. Behavioral psychologists like J.B. Watson, E. Thorndike, B.F. Skinner conducted various series of experiments on animals and derived valid inferences about how organisms behave and learn. This later gave birth to its application into psychology, child development, and learning theories. The principles state that when a behavior is followed by a reward (reinforcement), it is likely to be repeated in the future and hence gets strengthened. Using this as philosophy, special needs experts teach multiple essential life skills to children with autism and related disorders.

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Tejashree-Mujumdar Gambhir

For over a decade now, Tejashree has been extensively working with individuals with ASD and their parents through promoting ABA and other evidence-based therapy approaches.