How You Choose Your Behavior | Reinforcement Theory Of Motivation

Come to think of it, survival wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for our internal Motivational Force. How so? Basically Motivation is a force which becomes active inside a human, when their need demands to be satisfied. Motivation is activated and it leaps to satisfy the said need. Thus, if it weren’t for motivation, we wouldn’t “feel like” making our food, completing our school, concentrating on our jobs, because due to needs, the human is motivated to complete tasks even when they don’t feel like it, as they know it is necessary. One of the most talked of theories is given by Psychologist B. F. Skinner, known as the Reinforcement Theory of Motivation.

When it comes to motivation in Psychology, many theories have been presented. Among these theories of motivation, there exists a sub-topic: Process Theories of Motivation. Process Theories basically deal with how motivation occurs in an individual. B. F. Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory of Motivation is one of the few famous process theories. Here, in his theory, Skinner suggests that an Individual’s behavior is due to it’s related consequences. In the theory, Skinner talks of two elements which influence an Individual’s behavior: Reinforcement and Punishment. The theory is based on the Law of Effect.

The Law of Effect:

One of the most famous laws of Edward Throndike in Psychology is his Law of Effect. This psychological principle basically states that an individual is likely to repeat actions which are associated with positive consequences and try to not repeat actions which are associated with negative consequences.

“Responses that produce a satisfying effect on a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation.”

What we gather here from the Law of Effect is that human behavior is a function of associated consequences. In essence, if a person produces a behavior – a child completes his homework – and this behavior is followed by a positive consequence – example: the child gets to order pizza – then this said behavior or action of theirs is likely to be repeated. While, if a person produces a behavior – a youngster coming home way past his curfew – and this behavior is followed by a negative consequence – example: he gets grounded – then this said behavior of theirs is less likely to be repeated.

Thorndike presented this law in his theory for leaning (Trial and Error) after experimenting on cats. Basically he kept a hungry cat in a cage, with food outside. The cage consisted of a lever which if pushed, would open the cage gate for the cat. In the first trial, the cat roamed right and left, scratching at the cage, until after a long while, it managed to press the lever and got out. This repeated for a few more trials until in a future trial, the cat only started roaming around the area where the lever was and with time through trials, the cat would straightaway step on the lever. In conclusion, through trial and error, the cat repeated the action (circling around near the lever) which produced a positive effect, and started to eliminate actions (ignoring the area from where the lever was far away) which produced a negative effect.

Two Elements in Skinner’s Theory:

As mentioned above, Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory includes two factors or elements: Reinforcement and Punishment, which create the consequences and produces the conscious behavior.

Reinforcement:

The first factor in Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory is Reinforcement. This is that factor which is used to reinforce, or have the individual repeat their desirable behavior. It’s taken in positive regards like rewards.

An example of Reinforcement: An employee submits an assignment on time and the employer immediately appreciates his efforts. The appreciation and recognition is the reward or reinforcement which will have the employee repeat his behavior of turning his assignments in on time.

This factor motivates the individual to keep on receiving the rewards he first received when he initially performed the behavior.

There are further two types of Reinforcement: Positive and Negative Reinforcement.

a) Positive Reinforcement:

The first type of reinforcement is Positive Reinforcement. This type refers to when on the performance of a desirable behavior, the individual is given something desirable. For example: A young adult washes the dishes and his parents extend his curfew for the night.

b) Negative Reinforcement:

The second type of reinforcement is Negative Reinforcement. This type refers to when on the performance of a desirable behavior, something undesirable is taken away from the individual. For example: A young adult scores good grades on a test, so his parents reward him by exempting him from washing the day’s dishes.

There is a common misunderstanding of Negative Reinforcement being the same as Punishment, however, that is not the case. Negative Reinforcement is simply termed”negative” as its the act of taking away or subtracting something undesirable from the person.

Punishment:

The second factor in Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory is Punishment. This is that factor which is used to eradicate, or have the individual not repeat an undesirable behavior. This is taken in negative regards, the exact opposite of rewards.

An example of Punishment: An employee submits an assignment alarmingly late and the employer gives him a command to work overtime immediately. This command of having to work overtime is punishment which will have the employee less likely to repeat his behavior.

This factor motivates the individual to keep on avoiding the negative consequences as long as possible, and thus, eradicating the undesirable behavior itself.

There are further two types of Punishment: Positive and Negative Punishment.

a) Positive Punishment:

The first type of punishment is Positive Punishment. This type refers to when on the performance of an undesirable behavior, the individual is given something undesirable. For example: A young adult breaks curfew and the parents punish him commanding him to clean our the garage.

b) Negative Punishment:

This second type of punishment is Negative Punishment, where on the performance of an undesirable behavior, something desirable is taken away from the individual. For example: A kid breaks his curfew and as a result he gets grounded.

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