Self-reinforcement: Appealing misnomer or effective mechanism?*

Rosemery O. Nelson, Steven C. Hayes, Richard T. Spong, Robin B. Jarrett, Dennis L. McKnight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The purpose of these two experiments was to test the motivational explanation for the effectiveness of self-reinforcement techniques. In each experiment, the classic self-reinforcement procedure (a desirable consequence following a target behavior) was compared with variations. In Experiment 1, undergraduate females (n = 61) showed no more self-recorded exercise when they performed a classic self-reinforcement procedure (high-probability activities following exercising) than when they only self-monitored exercise or engaged in one of three related procedures (high-probability activities preceding exercise, or low-probability activities following or preceding exercise). Indeed, only this last group produced significantly more self-recorded exercise. In Experiment 2, undergraduates (n = 62) attempted more workbook questions following a reading session in which they read a page and then ate a chosen food (classic self-reinforcement procedure) or ate a chosen food and then read a page, than when they read and ate in no particular order. More importantly, more workbook questions were answered correctly by the group who ate a chosen food and then read a page than by the other two groups. No differential results were produced by subjects' level of food deprivation. The classic self-reinforcement procedure showed no advantage over the variations in either experiment. These results call into question the motivational explanation for the effectiveness of self-reinforcement techniques. An alternative stimulus or cuing explanation is offered: that self-reinforcement is effective because it cues the long-term environmental consequences that actually control the frequency of the target behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-566
Number of pages10
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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