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Reinforcement Theory of Motivation

Reinforcement Theory of Motivation

Reinforcement theory of motivation is based law of effect, where behaviors are selected by their consequences and overlook the individual’s internal state.

Reinforcement theory of motivation was proposed by B.F. Skinner and his associates. It states that individual’s behavior is a function of its consequences.

It is based on “law of effect”-this law of effect is the idea that behaviors are selected by their consequences, i.e., individual’s behavior with positive consequences tends to be repeated, but individual’s behavior with negative consequences tends not to be repeated.

Reinforcement theory of motivation overlooks the internal state of the individual, i.e., the inner feelings and drives of individuals are ignored by Skinner.

This theory focuses totally on what happens to an individual when he takes some action.

Thus, according to Skinner, the external environment of the organization must be designed effectively and positively so as to motivate the employee.

This theory is a strong tool for analyzing controlling mechanism for individual’s behavior. However, it does not focus on the causes of individual’s behavior.

The managers use the following methods for controlling the behavior of the employees;

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement implies giving a positive response when an individual shows positive and required behavior.

For example immediately praising an employee for coming early for the job. This will increase the probability of outstanding behavior occurring again.

The reward is a positive reinforcement, but not necessarily.

If and only if the employees’ behavior improves, the reward can say to be a positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement stimulates occurrence of a behavior. It must be noted that more spontaneous is the giving of reward, the greater reinforcement value it has.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement implies rewarding an employee by removing negative/undesirable consequences. Both positive and negative reinforcement can be used for increasing desirable / required behavior.


Punishment reinforcement implies removing positive consequences so as to lower the probability of repeating the undesirable behavior in future. In other words, punishment means applying undesirable consequence for showing undesirable behavior.

For instance; suspending an employee for breaking the organizational rules, punishment can be equalized by positive reinforcement from an alternative source.


Extinction reinforcement implies the absence of reinforcements. In other words, extinction implies lowering the probability of an undesired behavior by removing reward for that kind of behavior.

For instance if an employee no longer receives praise and admiration for his good work, he may feel that his behavior is generating no fruitful consequence. Extinction may unintentionally lower desirable behavior.

Implications of Reinforcement Theory

  • Reinforcement theory explains in detail how an individual learns behavior.
  • Managers who are making attempt to motivate the employees must ensure that they do not reward all employees simultaneously.
  • They must tell the employees what they are not doing correctly.
  • They must tell the employees how they can achieve positive reinforcement.
  • The reinforcement theory suggests that managers should try to structure the contingencies of rewards and punishments on the job in such a way that the consequences of effective job behavior are positive while the consequences of ineffective work behavior are negative 0: unpleasant.
  • The focus of this approach is upon changing or modifying the behavior of people on the job. That is why it is also regarded as organizational behavior modification.
  • The basic notion underlying reinforcement theory is the concept of reinforcement itself. An event is said to be reinforcing if the event following some behavior makes the behavior more likely to occur again in the future.

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