Reinforcement Theory

Posted: September 3rd, 2013

Reinforcement Theory






Reinforcement Theory

This theory states that an individual’s behavior is a result of a consequence. The four main methods used to control individuals’ behaviors include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and extinction (Dunn, 2002). When I was working as a correctional officer in a maximum federal prison, this theory was greatly in use. It was mostly used on the inmates although it could also be used on the employees. The theory bore results that were both positive and negative.

There were different types of inmates in the prison. There were those who had accepted that they were guilty and they were ready to change, others were still in denial, others were not ready to change and so we would expect them back once they were released, others were suicidal and others were simply not sure of themselves. All these different types of inmates were handled differently. The reinforcement theory was used in differently ways.

The positive reinforcement was greatly used. This was done by complimenting on an inmate’s behavior when he showed improvement during the evaluation time. This verbal compliment used to encourage them to commit to good behavior. A more tangible reward was awarding certificates to those who successfully completed a course. The negative reinforcement was evident when the inmates were given paroles. The thought of getting a parole would encourage them to be well behaved.

The punishment reinforcement was also greatly used. This would take place if they misbehaved. For example, an inmate would be put in a secluded cell if he engaged in a fight and hurt another inmate. An inmate would also be denied the entertainment and the relaxation facilities (this meant that he stayed in his cell when the others were out) if they were constantly in trouble.

The extinction reinforcement could be used to extinct a bad behavior or encourage a good behavior. Although it was rare, some inmates were constantly in trouble in order to attract attention from the officers or the administration. If these inmates were ignored (fail to give them the attention they needed) they would stop this behavior and take up a positive behavior that would attract the same attention. Similarly, some people did good in order to attract attention. If the officers failed to reward this behavior, they would stop trying or they would retrieve to a bad behavior in order to attract the needed attention. Our work was to find out the inmates’ source of motivation so that we would find ways of encouraging the good behavior or stopping the bad behavior.

This theory would generate the same results in another organization such as learning institutions, especially elementary schools. Teachers can use the reinforcement theory to discourage or encourage particular behaviors. Young students are very excited when the hear such words as ‘Good’, ‘Well done’ or ‘Congratulations’ when they get good points or a good grade (Dunn, 2002). Similarly, the absence of these words may discourage them from working harder in the next exam or assignment.

Getting a punishment due to noise making or failing to finish their assignment also discourages bad behavior. Some teachers prefer the negative reinforcement as a way of encouraging or discouraging a good behavior. For example, a teacher may tell the students that they will all get excess computer time if they finish their assignments. Those who fail to finish their assignments are denied the excess time.

This theory can also be used in business organizations as employees have a react positively to rewards. They also react negatively to the absence of the rewards. Punishments have an effect on an employee. Work suspension may discourage an employee from being rude to customers.























Dunn, L. (2002). Theories of Learning. Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development: Learning and Teaching Briefing Papers Series, June 27: 1-3. Retrieved From…/learning_theories.pdf

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