Calling for Reinforcements

The habitual mind learns through feedback such as in stimulus-response (classical conditioning) or in modification of voluntary behavior (operant conditioning). Reinforcement is feedback that occurs close to a behavior that makes that behavior more likely to occur in the future. But moving beyond Psych 101, this obvious concept is devilishly tricky to work with.

By definition, anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur in the future is a reinforcer. Although we understand this as common sense, we screw up all the time. Most parents are familiar with inadvertently reinforcing an unwanted behavior, such as giving a whining child candy or a toy to be quiet. Oops, we just trained our child to whine. ...

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