Reinforcement and Punishment: B.F. Skinner

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

Reinforcement and Punishment: B.F. Skinner

It is evident that people make countless mistakes, knowingly or unknowingly, which mainly harm the condition of the individuals and the surrounding and adjacent people to the particular individual. Thus, there remains a state of harmfulness among all. So, in order to strengthen or reinforce the action that is being done by an individual, B.F. Skinner introduced his reinforcement theory.

Reinforcement Theory

Through his reinforcement theory, Skinner suggests how an individual’s behavior can be shaped by using reinforcement and punishment technique. For example, employees in a workplace often commit mistakes, and then mitigative processes are mainly used by the organization to march forward for the development. The rate of mistakes at once or twice is acceptable, but if there remains a possible chance of an error in every scenario, then the employee or the staff needs to be punished so that the person will not repeat same mistake in his/her future. This is how punishment theory works in the case of reinforcement theory. The level and nature of punishment mainly fall under the consequences or actions of the individual. Based on this, the reinforcement theory works on the division and sub-division of positive and negative reinforcement.

Positive Reinforcement

The Reinforcement theory mainly provides two interventions that are mainly used to change, modify, and state the behavior of each and every individual. It mainly helps in the development and upliftment of the behavior of a single individual. As stated by Skinner, there are two types of reinforcements. These are −

  • Positive Reinforcement &
  • Negative Reinforcement

Let’s discuss each one of them separately

Positive reinforcement is a term that Skinner described in his Reinforcement Theory. In the case of positive reinforcement, it can be stated that a response or behavior of a single individual gets boosted or strengthened if there is a system of rewards. Rewards make the individual more enthusiastic about his/her line of work. This is how the person gets more interest in doing or completing his desired task or job. This is how the individual is less prone to making and repeating mistakes, and the desired behavior of the person is also reached simultaneously. The reward provided in this case is referred to as the reinforcing stimulus. It is mainly used to reinforce a person's behavior and helps predict an individual's behavior that will occur shortly. This is how the reward system and positive reinforcement work here.

Negative Reinforcement

In the case of negative reinforcement, it has been stated by B.F. Skinner that it is mainly the elimination or the removal of an unpleasant state that is mainly followed by a response. Here, the adverse stimulus or the rewarding process does not take place. Rather, it can be said that the reward stimulus's elimination and removal process occurs here, in negative reinforcement. In some ways, it strengthens an individual's behavior as it helps remove an unpleasant experience. Like the positive state of reinforcement, it sometimes depends on the results or consequences of the actions of human beings and also on the future results or consequences of the actions. The undesirable stimulus is removed in order to help in the development and upliftment of the behavior.

  • Understanding or evaluating the results or the future results of the actions of an individual.
  • Removing or eliminating the negative effects and the unpleasant state.
  • Not providing adverse stimuli or the rewarding process will act as negative reinforcement.
  • With this help, the individual will introspect and aim for the desired behavior he/she was trying to achieve.


According to the theory proposed by B.F. Skinner, punishment should be allocated to individuals who are committing mistakes in their behavior or work. The punishments stated by Skinner do not have a long-term effect on the individual. Punishment can be done by suspending the person for a short period of time. The main point of punishment is self-realization or understanding of the correct thing to do. Following the methods of negative reinforcement is also very suitable in this regard, mainly by not giving rewards or positive reviews to eliminate the stimulus. This was the main theory suggested for punishment by B.F. Skinner. Understand the negativity or the harmful essence of the actions of individuals.

  • Allocating short-time punishments in order to help them realize their mistakes.
  • Not giving rewards as a punishment.


From this theory of B.F. Skinner, it can be stated that this theory applies to the benefits and advantages of developing the behavioral traits of a human with the help of reinforcement and punishment. With positive reinforcement and a rewards-giving system, the individuals are encouraged to perform accordingly, but in the case of punishment, there could be a sense of conflict between the individuals and those who are directly or indirectly punishing them. This disadvantage of the theory can be stated with the other types of advantages.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47