The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 173–185 | Cite as

“Reinforcement” in Behavior Theory

  • William N. Schoenfeld


In its Pavlovian context, “reinforcement” was actually a descriptive term for the functional relation between an unconditional and a conditional stimulus. When it was adopted into operant conditioning, “reinforcement” became the central concept and the key operation, but with new qualifications, new referents, and new expectations. Some behavior theorists believed that “reinforcers” comprise a special and limited class of stimuli or events, and they speculated about what the essential “nature of reinforcement” might be. It is now known that any stimulus can serve a reinforcing function, with due recognition of such parameters as subject species characteristics, stimulus intensity, sensory modality, and schedule of application. This paper comments on these developments from the standpoint of reflex behavior theory.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • William N. Schoenfeld
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Queens CollegeCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Cornell University Medical CollegeNew YorkUSA

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