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Reinforcement Theory

Reinforcement theory is formulated by a behavioral psychologist. B.F. Skinner. According to him, past actions and their outcomes influence a person’s present and future action. Past behaviors associated with positive outcomes are repeated in future and behaviors associated with negative outcomes are not repeated. People tend to avoid behaviors with unpleasant memories.

The behavior of a person, therefore, is not motivated by his inner needs and desired but by the external environment. People perform tasks that have earlier led to desirable outcomes and avoid performing tasks that have led to undesirable outcomes. The future behavior is, thus, reinforcement of the past outcomes.

Managers motivate their employees by creating an effective work environment. They praise good performance so the performance is repeated in future also. Even in case of poor performance, managers do not straightaway condemn them; rather, they explain the reasons for poor performance and motivate them to perform better in future. An action of condemnation by managers may result in employee frustration and they may not repeat their behavior in future. Managers must, therefore, solve the problems of workers at their work environment through effective communication and feedback of performance. This will reinforce employee behavior in future. Four kinds of reinforcement can result fro employee’s behavior.

1. Positive reinforcement:

If managers want employees’ behavior to be repeated, they use positive reinforces like rewards and praise. When they praise or give pat rise for desired behavior, it positively reinforces that behavior in future. A positive reinforcement is, therefore, a method of strengthening behavior by offering rewards for good performance.

2. Negative reinforcement:

Managers reinforce the specific behavior by avoiding or eliminating the outcomes that employees feel are undesirable. If employees do not want to be scolded in front of others for performing negate e behavior , managers should explain to them the reasons for their failure when they are alone and not in front of their co-workers.

3. Extinct behavior:

If managers do not want a behavior to be repeated in future, they will either inure it or condemn it. Employees normally do not repeat behaviors followed by negative outcomes or no outcomes. Extinction is, thus, used to weaken the behavior.

4. Punishment:

This also aims to weaken the strength of a behavioral employee who takes up a fight with his co-workers or comes to office late everyday will be punished by  his managers, say by deducting one day’s salary. This action of managers indicated to the employed that he should not fight with anyone or come late to the office. He, therefore, restrains his negative behavior in future.

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