Reinforcement Theory of Motivation – Punishment, Extinction

Reinforcement is defined as anything that increases the strength of the response and also induces repetitions of the behaviour that preceded the reinforcement. B.F. Skinner (1974) proposed the reinforcement theory of motivation. It proposed that you can change someone’s behaviour by using reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. Rewards are used to reinforce the behaviour you want and punishments are used to prevent the behaviour you do not want. Extinction is a means to stop someone from performing a learned behavior.

reinforcement theory of motivation

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is anything that strengthens and increases behaviour by the presentation of desirable consequences. In other words, following a behaviour by something pleasant is positive reinforcement. For example, giving a bonus for high productivity is positive reinforcement.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is anything that strengthens and increases behaviour by the withdrawal or removal of unpleasant consequences. For example consider an organisation that puts a ban on recreational activities of employees during working hours (such as not allowing them to read or check emails) due to low productivity. When productivity improves, the organisation may lift the ban and allow recreational activities in a limited form. The lifting of the ban is negative reinforcement

Schedules in Reinforcement Theory of Motivation

There are two main types of schedules of reinforcement:

  1. Continuous Reinforcement: In continuous reinforcement, the desired behavior is reinforced each time it is demonstrated.
  2. Intermittent Reinforcement: In intermittent reinforcement, the desired behaviour is reinforced often enough to make the behaviour worth repeating, but not each time it is repeated


Punishment is the act of causing an unpleasant consequence to a response to prevent the person from repeating that behaviour. Placing an employee on suspension for excessive absenteeism is an example of punishment. Punishment is not the same as negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement strengthens and increases behavior while punishment seeks to weaken and decrease behavior


Eliminating any reinforcement that is maintaining a behaviour is called extinction. For instance an organisation may announce that it wants to adopt an open door policy to encourage employees to express their opinions to the management. However the managers may not be responsive to employees who approach them to discuss problems. This lack of responsiveness causes employees to stop coming up to the managers over time.

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