Do you know what reinforcement means? It’s a process, thereby which any stimulus can strengthen a behavior. This process of strengthening can easily be measured – you just have to increase the duration or frequency of the particular behavior. A primary reinforcer is perhaps the most basic reinforcer.
Primary reinforcers orient a subject’s behavior in any direction, regardless of the impact or the consequences. If you are hungry, then it’s your appetite that motivates you to eat, even if the same is not immediately fitness-boosting or rewarding.
It happens to be the opposite of what we popularly call punishment – punishment eliminates or decreases the duration or frequency of behaviors. Let’s attempt to understand primary reinforcers in the context of behavioral psychology.
So, What Are Primary Reinforcers?
So, what is a primary reinforcer? Or rather, what is primary reinforcement? Primary reinforcement is technically any stimulus that happens to be naturally rewarding for most organisms.
In the context of operant conditioning, primary reinforcers are any kind of stimulus that increases the behavior’s frequency when presented – this is one of the most simple kinds of reinforcement.
Primary reinforcers are also called unconditioned reinforcers – it’s an inherently rewarding stimulus for any individual. These reinforcers share no association with punishment or rewards and, as a result, need no effective conditioning.
This is the kind of reinforcement that is related to primary survival needs like water, food, and even sex. Think about it – all animals have an inherent need for basic reinforcers from their birth, including human beings.
How Do Primary Reinforcers Work?
The primary reinforcer psychology definition will define the terms for you, just like we did above. But have you ever wondered how does primary reinforcement work?
Primary reinforcers are powerful motivators for different behaviors simply because they can satisfy different biological needs directly. For insurance, if any person is feeling hungry, then they have to eat – only eating can satisfy their hunger or their basic need for food, thereby making the person concerned feel better.
In order to find out how primary reinforcers work, it is vital to know how basic operant conditioning functions. As we were just saying, operant conditioning takes place when individuals learn to relate different actions with their consequences – punishments or rewards – that basically follow the same.
The association taking place between any action and its subsequent consequence shapes the future behavior of an individual.
For instance, if any child gets candy after completing their homework regularly for a whole week, then it is possible that the child might start working on their homework right after school gets over.
This is simply because the child is aware that they will receive another candy as soon as their homework is complete.
This is indicative of the fact that the child’s actions are technically being reinforced by a particular reward (the candy, in this case).
But instead, if you stop giving the child candy for homework completion, then the child might just stop completing their homework since they are aware that there will not be any reward for doing so on time anymore.
Why Do Primary Reinforcers Work?
It is only natural the above example of primary reinforcer has made you think more – doesn’t it make you wonder why primary reinforcers work?
The answer is an easy one. Primary reinforcers work out because the same stimulates the reward system of an individual’s brain.
The entire reward system happens to be a holistic collection comprising multiple neural pathways – all responsible for handling pleasure-related stimuli.
When we engage in activities that produce a warm, pleasurable sensation, our reward systems get activated. Thanks to our brains releasing a cool dopamine neurotransmitter which is responsible for activating the rewards systems.
In brief, basic rewards such as food can stimulate the release of dopamine. Primary reinforcers affect the brain’s dopamine levels pretty well – this is exactly why these reinforcers work out so well.
Multiple studies have displayed how high levels of dopamine are often related to various feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and euphoria – all of these things actually influence us to look for more basic rewards such as water, food, or sex.
Primary Reinforcers In Behavioral Psychology: Examples
While understanding the concept of primary reinforcers in the context of behavioral psychology is not an easy affair, a few examples can certainly help you understand the same so much better.
So without wasting time, let’s check out a few primary reinforcer examples – scroll down to read more!
Example 1: Safety
When you accidentally touch a hot iron, you will see your hand automatically recoiling to simply prevent burning. This is a reflex – it’s your body’s protective mechanism. Here, your scalding touch happens to be a basic reinforcer that reinforces the hand withdrawal automatically.
Example 2: Hunger
When an infant gets hungry, it starts crying. It is the duty of the caregiver to feed and subsequently satisfy’s the baby’s hunger. Here, this response happens to be a type of survival reflex that does not require learning. In this case, the basic reinforcer happens to be hunger, and it reinforces the baby’s crying.
Example 3: Serotonin
After an exhausting day outside or a long day at the office, it is natural for an individual to meet their partner – a warm and intimate embrace is rewarding at the end of a tiring day.
Primary Reinforcement Vs. Secondary Reinforcement:
There’s no point looking up the ‘primary reinforcer definition psychology’ on Google if you don’t have any idea about secondary reinforcements.
While primary reinforcers are rewards that increase a certain behavior’s likelihood, secondary reinforcers are rewards that boost any previously-learned behavior.
Primary reinforcers, like water and food, are all inherently rewarding. These don’t need any kind of prior conditioning to receive their reinforcing characteristics.
All animals have the inherent need for these reinforcers since their birth. For instance, food is your basic reinforcer if you get stranded on some deserted island.
On the other hand, secondary reinforcers all happen to be stimuli associated with the basic reinforcers via operant or classical conditioning methods.
For instance, if you are in the habit of eating ice cream every Friday in the company of your friends, then the ice cream will automatically become the secondary reinforcer here simply because it has become conditioned to be a part of your socializing activities.
And It’s A Wrap!
Primary Reinforcers are basically responses that help us with natural movement toward certain goals, like relieving hunger or even eating food. However, secondary reinforcers happen to be responses that people learn can be rewarding via experience, such as seeing a killer A+ on any scoresheet. So, what do you think about the impact of these reinforcers? Feel free to share your experiences related to the same in the comments below.
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