Lesson 3 – Reinforcement Categories.


Different categories of reinforcement.

In the last lesson we learnt about reinforcement. Just to recap, reinforcement is something that occurs immediately after behaviour. Reinforcement serves to maintain or increase the frequency of behaviour in the future. We also talked about positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to when something is added to the environment. Negative reinforcement refers to when something is removed from the environment. Moving forward however, we’re just going to be focusing on positive reinforcement. What this means is, when your animal does something you want, you’re going to give it something it wants.

Hopefully, you now have a clear idea of what reinforcement is. If not then go back and spend some more time going over the last lecture to wrap your mind around it. If you understand it, great. We will move on and start discussing the “different categories of reinforcement.”

There are two main categories of reinforcement that we want to focus on here. The first one is what we call primary reinforcers. A primary reinforcer is something that is innately reinforcing for your animal. These are things like food, water, warmth, shelter, reproduction opportunities and play. For the rest of this course we are going to be mainly focusing on the primary reinforcer food.

The other type of reinforcer we’re going to be talking about is secondary reinforcers. Secondary reinforcers are previously novel stimuli that have been continuously paired with another already established reinforcer (when training this is normally a primary reinforcer, and is normally food). What I mean by pairing is that the novel stimuli (i.e. a clicker) is added to the environment and then closely (within a second or two) followed by the other reinforcer (in this course we are going to be using food). Through continual pairing, the once neutral stimuli takes on the reinforcing value of the other reinforcer. This is how the clicker will become reinforcing in your training and for your animal.

In the next lecture I’m going to recommend a technique for you to start your clicker training off. Hopefully you already have an idea in your mind as to how we might do this.