Reinforcers lose their effectiveness when they are presented repeatedly. Traditionally, this loss of effectiveness has been labeled satiation. However, recent evidence suggests that habituation provides a more accurate and useful description. The characteristics of behavior undergoing satiation differ for different stimuli (e.g., food, water), and these characteristics have not been identified for the noningestive reinforcers often used by applied behavior analysts (e.g., praise, attention). As a result, the term satiation provides little guidance for either maintaining or reducing the effectiveness of reinforcers. In contrast, the characteristics of behavior undergoing habituation are well known and are relatively general across species and stimuli. These characteristics provide specific and novel guidance about how to maintain or reduce the effectiveness of a reinforcer. In addition, habituation may lead to a better understanding of several puzzling phenomena in the conditioning literature (e.g., extinction, behavioral contrast), and it may provide a more precise and accurate description of the dynamics of many different types of behavior.
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