Food is a reinforcement for humans and animals because it removes a condition of deprivation. But how can money, which cannot directly remove a condition of deprivation, be reinforcing? The answer is that money is a conditioned reinforcer. Conditioned reinforcers (sometimes called secondary reinforcers) are those environmental stimuli that are not by nature satisfying but become so because they are associated with such unlearned or primary reinforcers as food water, sex, or physical comfort. Money is a conditioned remforcer because it can be exchanged for a great variety of primary remforcers. In addition, it is a generalized reinforcer because it is associated with more than one primary remforcer.
Skhmer (1953) recognized five important generalized remforcers that sustain much of human behavior: attention, approval, affection, submission of others, and tokens (money). Each can be used as reinforcers in a variety of situations. Attention, for example, is a conditioned generalized reinforcer because it is associated with such primary reinforcers as food and physical contact. When children are bemg fed or held, they are also receiving attention. After food and attention are paired a number of times, attention itself becomes reinforcing through the process of respondent (classical) conditioning. Children, and adults too, will work for attention with no expectation of receiving food or physical contact, hi much the same way, approval, affection, submission of others, and money acquire generalized reinforcement value. Behavior can be shaped and responses learned with generalized conditioned rein-forcers supplying the sole reinforcement.
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