Positive reinforcement, i.e. the increase in frequency of behaviors that are associated with a desired outcome, and negative reinforcement, i.e. the increase in frequency of behaviors to avoid undesired outcomes, are the fundamental forces that shape daily behavior. However, in its extremes both processes result in rigid and potentially self-damaging behaviors. For example, excessive engagement in behaviors driven by positive reinforcement is thought to underlie the development of addiction, whereas extensive use of negatively reinforced behaviors is closely related to excessive avoidance associated with many anxiety disorders. Therefore, one needs to develop an awareness of the degree to which one’s behavior is shaped by excessive positive or negative reinforcement, which enables one to engage cognitive control processes that can be useful to extend one’s behavioral repertoire. In this breakout session, we will discuss signs of excessive positive and negative reinforcement driven behavior and tools to shape awareness in monitoring these behaviors.

Martin Paulus

University of California San Diego