The terms ‘rewards’ and ‘reinforcers’ are often used interchangeably and loosely, but behavioural performance management has precise definitions and usage.
An often-cited circular definition of reinforcement says it is anything the person finds rewarding.
This definition is of little value because the words reinforcing and rewarding are interchangeable, but neither is operationally defined.
A more operational definition can be arrived at by reverting to the laws of behaviour. Specifically, reinforcement in behavioural management is defined as anything that increases the strength and tends to induce repetitions of the behaviour that preceded the reinforcement.
On the other hand, a reward is simply something that the person who presents it deems desirable.
Reinforcement is functionally defined. Something is only reinforcing if it strengthens the preceding behaviour and induces repetitions.
For example, a manager may ostensibly reward an employee who found an error in a report by publicly praising the employee.
Yet on examination, it is found that the employee is embarrassed and chided by co-workers, and the error-finding behaviour of this employee decreases in the future. In this example, the “reward” of public praise is not reinforcing.