Learning and Reinforcement

    In the process of learning, a crucial role is played by reinforcement and punishment, and they offer principles for the management of behavioural performance.

    As per the views of a majority of learning professionals, reinforcement is more significant in comparison to punishment and is the only significant notion and application principle. These are explained below:


    Anything which strengthens reaction and is likely to stimulate the recurrences of a particular behaviour is known as reinforcement.

    Because of the fact that an essential role is played by reinforcement in motivation, reinforcement is often associated with motivation. But, both concepts are dissimilar.

    As the behavioural response is shaped and influenced by reinforcement, it is extremely essential for learning. However, it is regarded by a few learning philosophers that learning does not take into account reinforcement.

    For Example, According to Mendick, “all that is necessary for an association to develop between a stimulus and a response is that they occur together frequently.

    The reward does not seem to be necessary. When the reward is used, however, conditioning proceeds far more rapidly and with greater vigour.”

    This advocates that although reinforcement is not mandatory for learning, the promptness of learning is escalated due to the existence of reinforcement.

    This is because when a particular behaviour is reinforced, its repetition is stimulated. The possibility of such a reaction being displayed on receiving a reward rises.

    An individual may learn to relate the behaviour with the reward over a timeframe. The Figure given below represents the relationship between behaviour and reinforcement.

    Effect of Behavioural Consequences on Learning

    Types of Reinforcement

    Positive and Negative Reinforcement

    Using rewards, which motivate the preferred behaviour and build up the possibility of repetition of such behaviour, comes under this strategy.

    Primary and secondary reinforcers are the two types of positive reinforcers. The reinforcers with direct advantageous outcomes are known as primary reinforcers (clothing, shelter, and food), and the reinforcers that give joy and content but are perceived differently by different individuals, like promotion, praise, and money, are known as secondary reinforcers.

    Due to the fact that money is used to buy primary reinforcers (clothing) or represents status or position (primary reinforcer), it is considered a secondary reinforcer.

    Negative reinforcement occurs when people learn to get away or evade unfavourable outcomes. Avoidance learning is the basis for the majority of legal behaviour in our society.

    For example, in order to avoid various road accidents, individuals learn to drive cautiously. Generally, avoidance learning takes place in the work area when colleagues or supervisors condemn the actions of a worker.

    Extrinsic and Intrinsic Reinforcement

    Extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement is the further categorization of positive reinforcement. There is no direct association of extrinsic reinforcers with behaviour.

    It is not natural and sometimes random, e.g., employees are paid money for innovative ideas, whereas the natural outcome of behaviour is the intrinsic reward.

    The intrinsic rewards make a psychologically expected association with the behaviour.

    For example, performance to the capability, accepting additional responsibility, new skill acquisition, etc. Intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcers are linked closely with the process of motivation.

    These reinforcers are more relevant to the fields of learning like training and more sophisticated fields like employee attitude.

    Primary and Secondary Reinforcement

    Primary (unconditioned) and secondary (conditioned) may also be the categories of positive reinforcement.

    A reinforcer that pleases an individual directly and decreases his primary needs for motivation is a primary reinforcer.

    These reinforcers do not depend on the experiences of past events. By its very nature, primary reinforcers are unlearned rewards for an individual.

    For example, the needs which satisfy the person physically are the primary reinforcers like sex, food, shelter, clothing, etc.

    In simple learning situations, such rewards are utilized, while the reinforcement, which is dependent on the person and his reinforcement history, is secondary reinforcement.

    The secondary reinforcers are mainly the ones that are learned.

    For example, recognition, promotion, praise, etc. As soon as it is ascertained that the outcome has a reward value to the workers, it can be utilized for improving the workers’ performance irrespective of the reinforcer being primary or secondary.


    Punishment is used rapidly as a managerial strategy, which means offering an undesirable or unfavourable result for specific behaviour.

    Demoting an employee or being condemned by a superior are a few organizational tactics that are regarded as punishment.

    However, in organizations, punishment is a debatable behaviour modification technique despite the fact that it can modify behaviour when used efficiently.

    Only after a detailed inspection of each and every suitable aspect of the condition the technique of punishment should be applied. At times, the consequences of punishment are momentary.

    The behaviour may be terminated either in a particular atmosphere or when the punisher is present. But, when the punisher is not present or in the absence of a punishing atmosphere, the behaviour can be repeated.

    Punishment instructs a person about the things that should not be done, but only a small amount of information is provided regarding the ideal behaviour. This holds a lot of significance in modifying behaviour.

    An activity that aims to punish may be reinforcing in nature. The actions the punisher considers unfavourable can be supporting in reality, for example, a teacher who pays attention to his students.

    Moreover, if the punishment takes into account exclusion from a circumstance, it may also be reinforcing as the person wishes to evade the situation.

    It is difficult to punish the majority of undesired behaviour instantaneously. Also, the punishment may not prove productive if there is a delay in punishment.

    An individual who is receiving the punishment may react with anger, anxiety, or fear. The process of learning may be obstructed by the emotional response to punishment.

    Types of Punishments

    Positive punishment

    It implies the representation of an unpleasant happening or consequence so as to lessen the strength of the behaviour followed by it.

    This type of punishment is at times mentioned as punishment by the application.

    Negative punishment

    It takes place when the positive occurrence or consequence is eliminated after the behaviour takes place. It is also called punishment by removal.

    There is a reduction in the behaviour in both types of punishment.

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