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In operant conditioning, the Premack principle, developed by David Premack states that a commonly occurring action (one more desirable for the actor) can be used effectively as a reinforcer for a less commonly occurring one (that is, one less desirable for the actor). A common example used to illustrate this principle is a parent requiring a child to clean his or her room before he or she can watch television. In this case, television, an activity that probably does not require reinforcement, is used as a reinforcer for cleaning the room, which in the context of this example the child would not do without reinforcement.
A reinforcement hierarchy can be used to determine the relative frequency and desirability of different actions, and is employed when applying the Premack principle in operant conditioning. This would be a list of actions, starting with the most desirable and ending with the least desirable. In the example, watching television would be close to the top of the list whereas cleaning the room would be closer to the bottom.
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