The importance of Herrnstein’s mathematical statement of the law of effect for behavior therapy

Author: McDowell, J.J.

Description: Suggests that R. Herrnstein’s (1970) mathematical statement of the law of effect improves on Skinner’s view of reinforcement by asserting (a) that response rate varies hyperbolically with reinforcement rate and (b) that responding is governed not only by reinforcement obtained for responding but also by reinforcement obtained from all other concurrent sources. Data from pigeons and rats and from normal and mentally retarded humans in laboratory and clinical situations support this new view of reinforcement. Clinically, Herrnstein’s equation requires a broader environmental approach to conceptualizing cases and to applying reinforcement principles in therapy. The equation can help clinicians design treatment regimens more efficiently, and it suggests 4 new intervention strategies that may be especially useful in difficult cases (e.g., when standard procedures are contraindicated or in environments that already supply large amounts of reinforcement).

Subject headings: Adult; Behavior Therapy; Female; Humans; Male; Mathematics; Mental Disorders/therapy; Reinforcement (Psychology); Reinforcement Schedule

Publication year: 1982

Journal or book title: The American Psychologist

Volume: 37

Issue: 7

Pages: 771-779

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 296