Reinforcement is a highly recommended strategy in applied behavior analysis. However, it is important to consider the possible unwanted effects of reinforcement.
Let’s look over a few examples of some of the potential unwanted effects of reinforcement.
Examples of Unwanted Effects of Reinforcement
Examples of the potential unwanted effects of using reinforcement include but is not limited to the following:
Reinforcement in one setting could lead to a decrease in the target behavior in another setting (behavioral contrast)
Reinforcement of a specific behavior could lead to an increase in undesirable behaviors in that same functional response class
Similarly, reinforcement of a specific behavior could lead to a decrease in desirable behaviors in the same functional response class
When reinforcement contingencies are strong, maladaptive behaviors could develop, especially if the reinforcer begins to be available less often (ex: aggression)
Sometimes reinforcement contingencies can lead to low levels of energy or fatigue in an individual leading to less effort being applied to other behaviors that could in fact be more reinforcing or more beneficial for the person’s quality of life
Reinforcement contingencies for some behaviors can have a negative impact on a person’s health and wellbeing, such as gambling or addiction.
Some reinforcement contingencies are so powerful that they prevent people from acting with avoidance or escape when this response would be more beneficial to them (again, such as in the instance of gambling or addiction or even overeating, etc.)
Positive reinforcement can lead to problems with health, relationships, disease and cancer, and other negative outcomes for one’s life. Since immediate reinforcement contingencies are often more powerful than long-term, rule-governed contingencies, reinforcement can lead to these poor outcomes (Perone, 2003).