Reinforcement Theory of Motivation – B. F. Skinner

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

Reinforcement Theory of Motivation – B. F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner and his colleagues put forth the Reinforcement Theory. The "Law of Effect" states that people are more likely to repeat actions that result in positive outcomes, while they are less likely to repeat actions that result in undesirable outcomes. Reinforced behavior is more likely to occur again, while not reinforced behavior or behaviors for which punishment is given, are more likely to disappear. In psychology, the connection between a behavior and its consequences, known as "operant behavior," is the focus of the theory of reassurance. Operant refers to this process, in which a response is followed by a reinforcement that alters the behavior. The outcomes that follow an individual's actions are the primary focus of this motivational theory. There is zero correlation to the person's internal state, meaning the person's emotions and motivations are disregarded. Therefore, the organization's outer atmosphere should be constructively created to motivate the staff. This theory is an excellent resource for examining the mechanisms that regulate human behavior.

Positive Reinforcement

According to positive reinforcement theory, when an employee demonstrates the desire and appropriate behavior, the proper response is to be positive reinforcement. This stimulates the incidence of a behavior. An employee's drive to improve their performance as a result of being rewarded for doing so is strengthened when those results are positive. This is delivering a favorable reaction to appropriate and desirable actions. One example is the act of immediately complimenting an employee for say, arriving to work early.

Consequently, this will raise the bar for future exceptional performance. Although rewards are often positive reinforcers, this is not always the case. The reward is considered a positive reinforcer only if it leads to desirable behavior changes in the workforce. When a behavior is reinforced, it becomes more likely to occur. One important thing to remember is that a reward's reinforcement value increases the more naturally it is given.

Negative Reinforcement

When a barrier or impediment to a desirable activity is removed, and the worker subsequently takes action, the worker has experienced negative reinforcement. For instance, a long-distance commuter may finish a few projects sooner than expected, but when instructed at home for a couple of days, he or she is motivated to do the work in the allotted time. With the unfavorable conditions gone, the desired behavior is reinforced.


In the workplace, punishment is using negative consequences or removing positive ones to deter employees from engaging in inappropriate or harmful behavior again. Because of this, it might have opposite meanings depending on the context. Extinction is the process of eliminating a learned behavior by cutting off the associated reward or reinforcement, and it entails doing away with a pleasant outcome to decrease future occurrences of negative behavior. Put another way, punishment is the imposition of an unfavorable condition on someone due to that person's unwanted behavior. Suspending a worker for disobeying company policy is one example. Positive reinforcement from another source can be used to balance out negative reinforcement.


Extinction means decreasing the likelihood of undesirable behavior by eliminating the reinforcement for it. For instance, if a worker is no longer applauded for his efforts, he may conclude that his actions are pointless. The threat of extinction may have the unintended consequence of decreasing moral conduct. For instance, if an employee is no longer recognized for his achievements, he may conclude that his actions are pointless. Negative effects on desirable behavior may occur unintentionally as a result of extinction.


Learning is described in great depth by reinforcement theory. Managers who are attempting to motivate their staff should avoid rewarding everyone at once. Workers need to be told exactly what they are doing wrong. Workers need to be informed of the steps to take to earn praise. How a person picks up new habits can be broken down into specific steps by following the guidelines laid out in reinforcement theory. Managers who are attempting to motivate their staff should avoid rewarding everyone at once. They are responsible for correcting the workers when they see them making mistakes. Workers need to be informed of the steps to take to earn praise. According to reinforcement theory, managers should design incentives and punishments at work such that productive actions are rewarded, and inefficient ones are penalized. As the name suggests, this strategy influences employees' actions while they are on the clock. This is why we also talk about it in terms of changing how organizations function.


One important tenet of reinforcement theory is that actions are influenced by their outcomes. A reward-inducing consequence will increase the frequency with which that behavior occurs, while a punishment-inducing consequence will decrease its occurrence. Consequences that are neither positive nor negative are the ones that ultimately cease a behavior. Managers can use the theory to determine the most effective strategy for inspiring their staff in any given circumstance. According to Skinner, the external environment of an organization should be well-designed to boost employee motivation because the reinforcement theory focuses on environmental elements that impact actions. The outcomes of an individual's actions are thus the primary emphasis of the reinforced theory of motivation. It has been shown that people are more likely to engage in behaviors that provide them pleasure and shun those that have unfavorable outcomes.

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