Conditioned Reinforcer

What is a conditioned reinforcer?

A conditioned reinforcer is a neutral stimulus, e.g., money, that acquires reinforcing properties if paired with a primary reinforcer, such as food, entertainment, shelter, or sex. This concept comes from classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian conditioning).

Image of conditioned reinforcer.
Simplified image of a conditioned reinforcer being made.

Successful conditioning requires good timing. The optimum CS–US interval also varies according to the type of conditioning procedure used, with short intervals generally being less important in delay conditioning than in trace conditioning. 1

Which of the following is the best example of a conditioned reinforcer?

The best example of a conditioned reinforcer is determined by the timing of the reinforcement and the modality of the response (e.g., the blink of an eye or a dog salivating). If you get praised for something that you did a year ago or less than a fraction of second ago, then the reinforcement might not have the desired effect.

Conditioned reinforcer example:

  • Cheers for a touchdown.
  • A slap on the back for making a good joke.
  • Money that gets you a cold lemonade.


  1. Chance, P. (2013). Learning and behavior. Cengage Learning.

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