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Want to change behaviour? Use reinforcement…

Posted 13th of June, 2019 at 10:00am by Sharyn Kennedy

What is a reinforcer? It is “anything that, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.”

Remember that the reinforcer needs to be applied when the behaviour is occurring — it’s not effective when the behaviour has finished or you are waiting for it to happen.

You can reinforce behaviour in:


  • Reward yourself when you complete tasks that are difficult or you are not motivated to do.
  • Reward yourself in ways that work for you — use things that you especially enjoy and appreciate; e.g., a glass of wine, a walk in the park, a movie, etc.


  • Be encouraging and respond warmly when you interact with people.
  • Give gifts or invent surprises.

Reinforcers can be positive or negative.

Positive reinforcement

Behaviour is increased by providing something a person wants (e.g., food or praise).

  • You can praise or compliment yourself or others.
  • You can share gifts or rewards with others.
  • You can reward people with your time, attention and affection.

Negative reinforcement

Behaviour can be increased even by using something that is unwanted. People will change their behaviour so that something they don’t like will go away.

  • You might be more social and upbeat around others to avoid looks of boredom.
  • You might clean up your dishes if you get a frown from your partner.
  • You might fasten your seatbelt so that the buzzing noise stops.

What you can do:

  1. Pay close attention to behaviour (what people are doing) so you can use principles of reinforcement.
  2. When you see behaviour that you want, reinforce it immediately (and enthusiastically).
  3. When you see behaviour that you don’t want, respond in a minimal way (pay little attention).

Information adapted from: Pryor, K., (1999). Don’t Shoot the Dog. Bantam Books: New York.

Categorised in: Uncategorized.

About Sharyn Kennedy, PhD.

I help my patients in many of them is to encourage small, positive actions. Investing in yourself (be it time, therapy … or this book) is an excellent first step. There’s no risk (I have a money-back guarantee) to you so you’re assured a positive outcome. I look forward to hearing your story of transformation! Read more about Dr. Sharyn

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