Reinforcement theory and why it is important

31st December 2021by Truhap0
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What is Reinforcement Theory?

Reinforcement theory, the moment we read this title – such a scientific term – gosh ab yeh kya hai??

Before I get more technical and share with you about this reinforcement theory – let me present a few examples for you to relate to them.

You all know that dogs love to Play Fetch. While playing fetch, we treat the dog when they bring back the ball. The idea of giving the treat to the dog is an example of reinforcement; when the dog returns the object to us, we reward them, which reinforces their behaviour.

Another situation is – Zoya had to finish reading a book before her next class. Every time she picked up the book, she could only read a few pages due to a lack of motivation. Finally, she decided a deal with herself. She decided to use Instagram every time she finished 20 pages or such. It may sound strange, but it worked wonders for her to finish the book on time.

The treat to the dog, Zoya indulging in Instagram, are all examples of positive reinforcement. Now that the scene and the term are pretty much clearer – let me frame more technically.

Reinforcement theory assumes that one can change their behaviour by changing the consequences. Now, who introduced this concept and the history behind it?  This theory was put forward by American psychologist – B.F. Skinner. He had put forward the Reinforcement Theory of Motivation.

According to him, a person’s desires are irrelevant in this type of motivation. Rather – it entirely depends on what happens after the person acts on it. They are more likely to repeat if the outcome is favourable, whereas they are less likely to repeat if unfavourable. It is known as operant conditioning. In essence, positive behaviours are repeated due to the cause and effect relationship, whereas negative behaviours do not.

Reinforcement Theory of Motivation

B.F. Skinners reinforcement theory of motivation ignores the inner feelings of an individual. The core focus of this theory is to check the consequences of an action. Thus, as per Skinner, the external environment must be designed positively and effectively to motivate an individual. This theory is an effective tool; to analyze the controlling mechanism of the learned behaviour of a person.

The challenge in executing this theory is that it is not always simple to establish what types of behaviour should be rewarded. It is why many businesses devote effort and time to improving their workplace culture. A healthy work environment motivates and boosts employee morale. The Reinforcement Theory of Motivation is a tool used to influence individual behaviour.

Why is it Important?

This reinforcement approach focuses on what happens to a person once he performs a specific activity. The Law of Effect supports this concept. This law states that the repercussions of one’s actions determine what one does. Positive-outcome behaviour is more likely to be repeated. A person’s activity that has negative effects, on the other hand, is unlikely to be repeated.

Reinforcement theory is effective in investigating procedures that influence a person’s behaviour. It does not delve into the underlying causes of individual behaviour.

Types of Reinforcement Theory

There are four distinct approaches to reinforcement theory. It is critical to comprehend them to understand this concept. Scroll down further to have a peek into it.

Positive Reinforcement

Giving a positive response when a person exhibits positive and required conduct is known as Positive reinforcement. In turn, it motivates the person to repeat the desired behaviour. Rewarding someone for completing a task; will not only encourage them to continue but will also encourage them to improve.

This type of reinforcement also works wonders in an organizational setting. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to generate desirable behaviours in their employees. Furthermore, since these reinforcers motivate the employees, they complete the tasks quickly, resulting in a highly productive work environment.

Negative Reinforcement

For enhancing desirable/essential behaviour, implement both positive and negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement entails praising an employee by removing unwanted/ negative consequences. It happens when an unpleasant or unfavourable environment is removed to encourage desired behaviour. In this case, the person is not rewarded when they complete the task. Instead, it is accomplished by removing anything that is impeding their progress.

Again, let me emphasize this point with an example. A company mandates the transfer of its employees every three years to a different location. Applying the negative reinforcement here, to boost the performance of their employees, the company created a new policy stating that the best performers will not be compelled to transfer.

Believe me when I say that your employees will work twice as hard and produce better results to avoid the transfer. Here, they are not getting reinforced directly. The removal of the undesirable situation reinforces the desired behaviour.


Punishment is that type of reinforcement used to avoid the relapse of undesirable behaviour. In simpler terms, it means enforcing an unfavourable negative consequence for repeating an adverse behaviour.

Employees, for example, are penalized for doing something wrong, such as breaking company rules. Positive reinforcement is applied to counterbalance punishment. As a result of this punishment, employees are discouraged from repeating the task.

Punishment is generally used as a last resort when other reinforcers are not working. It is due to the possibility of adverse reactions and stress for both the employee and the employer. Punishment can be negative and positive too. Positive punishment entails introducing something unappealing to reduce the behaviour. On the other hand, a Negative punishment consists of taking away something desirable, which aids in the withdrawal of that behaviour.


Extinction denotes the removal of a motivator to discourage workers from performing a learned action. . In other words, it means removing a specific motivator when you want to stop the behaviour that the motivator supports.

Extinction, unlike punishment, does not impose a negative consequence but removes the reward that encourages Bad behaviour or practices. For example, employees who are denied pay for overtime are a type of extinction. When an employee does not receive admiration and praise for his work, they may be feeling his actions are not yielding any fruitful results. Extinction may inadvertently reduce desirable behaviour.

Schedules of Reinforcement

A reinforcement schedule is necessary for the reinforcement theory to be effective. This schedule specifies when and how positive or negative reinforcement should be applied. It entails planning the timing and frequency of reinforcements to influence behaviour.

The schedule is as follows

Continuous Reinforcement

It occurs whenever an employee exhibits the desired behaviour.

Intermittent Reinforcement

It happens whenever an employee demonstrates the desired behaviour. Intermittent reinforcement is used in many companies when managers cannot reinforce these desired behaviours. There are three options.

Fixed Interval

Reinforcement occurs in this case between predetermined time intervals, such as a biweekly salary.

Variable Interval

Once a certain number of desired behaviours have been met, this form of reinforcement is applied. Giving a bonus as a positive reinforcement when all of the necessary behaviours are performed is an excellent approach to do this.

Variable Ratio Schedule

This is a type of reinforcement that is delivered once a specific number of desirable behaviours have been met. Giving a bonus as a positive reinforcement when all of the necessary behaviours are performed is an excellent approach to do this.



Reinforcement theory may or may not be as effective depending on the situation and its application. As a result, it is critical to get to know and understand the person in question, assess the condition, and then motivate them.

Reinforcement theory is an effective tool to enhance motivation and encourage acceptable behaviour. This theory is an effective tool in organizations for providing positive reinforcement to their best performers while providing negative reinforcement to their worst performers. This approach is effective to motivate employees. It helps to manage a diverse group of people and achieve the desired results. This theory focuses on employee performance and behaviour.

It is a motivating and fruitful approach; know more about it by consulting the best psychologist in Hyderabad at TruHap. Contact us on +91 9491 208 645 or write to us at

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