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Continuous reinforcement is a method of learning that compels an individual or an animal to repeat a certain behavior. Read this lesson to learn more about continuous reinforcement and see some examples.

Continuous Reinforcement

Have you ever tried to teach your dog a new trick? How did you let him know you wanted him to continue doing a certain behavior? If you reinforced the behavior every time your dog rolled over, you were probably using continuous reinforcement to teach him the new trick. This is merely a technique of reinforcing a behavior every time it happens in order to create an association with the behavior and a certain outcome.

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The goal of continuous reinforcement is to increase the occurrence of a certain behavior, whereas punishment is intended to decrease the occurrence of a certain behavior.Reinforcement can be positive or negative. The treat for your dog is an example of positive reinforcement. Now, let’s say you catch him every time he begs for food at the dinner table and sternly tell him ‘NO!’ This is also continuous reinforcement – it’s continuously reinforcing the idea that this behavior is not acceptable.

Operant Conditioning

Reinforcing behavior is part of a method of learning known as operant conditioning, which is a system of learning that uses either rewards or punishments to elicit behavior.

This theory of operant conditioning was developed by the psychologist B.F. Skinner.

When operant conditioning is used, a person (or your dog) comes to learn to associate a behavior with something good or something bad.For example, let’s take an experiment with rats. If a scientist begins an experiment so that a rat gets a food pellet every time he hits a green button and a mild shock every time he hits a blue button, the rat will learn to avoid the blue button. The rat is learning the association between a behavior and a consequence.Operant behaviors are behaviors that we control, or that we’re conscious of.

These are different from respondent behaviors, which are reflexive. For example, pulling your hand away from a hot stove is a respondent behavior.

Continuous Reinforcement Examples

Continuous reinforcement is particularly useful when you’re trying to teach someone (including a person, dog or rat) a brand new behavior. It helps establish a connection to something someone does not normally do. Let’s go back to your dog. If you’re using continuous reinforcement, every time he rolls over you’ll want to reinforce that behavior by, say, giving him a treat. This will effectively establish a relationship between rolling over and getting a treat.

But this type of conditioning can be difficult to do out in the real world, with people. Let’s say you’re trying to teach a child to, say, brush his teeth after every meal. You might be able to reinforce this behavior whenever your child is at home, but what about at school, or over at a friend’s house? In these scenarios, it’s going to be very difficult to use continuous reinforcement, because you’re not there to reinforce the behavior.Continuous reinforcement is part of a reinforcement schedule.

This simply refers to the number of times that you reinforce a particular behavior. Continuous reinforcement requires that you do it each time, but partial reinforcement means you only reinforce part of the time. So, if you only give your dog a treat every third time he rolls over, you’re partially reinforcing that behavior. Sometimes, this can lead to what is known as extinction, which means that the trained behavior is not reinforced enough, and your dog might forget the association between rolling over when you tell him to and getting that treat he loves.

Lesson Summary

Continuous reinforcement is a method of reinforcing behavior in an effort to increase or decrease a particular behavior’s frequency. It is part of a method of learning known as operant conditioning, which is a system of learning that employs various techniques to either reinforce or prevent certain behaviors.Continuous reinforcement is best used when a person or an animal is learning a behavior for the first time. It can be difficult to practice this in the real world, though, because it might not be possible to observe the behavior you want to reinforce every time it happens.


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