Principles of Reinforcement

19/09/2022 0 By indiafreenotes

Cooperating conditioning follows a specific process. An athlete performs a behavior and the coach chooses how to respond to that behavior. If the goal is to increase the frequency of that behavior, the coach should provide reinforcement. Reinforcement can be positive or negative (more about the difference later). If the goal is to decrease that behavior, the response should be punishment. However, extensive research has shown the limitations and problems of using punishment (it creates a short-term fix but creates long-term distress). The goal for a coach should be to use reinforcement to increase desirable behaviors and to drastically limit the amount of punishment, ideally never using it at all.

Positive reinforcement:

It should come soon after the behavior is performed. It is usually in the form of a quick vocal praise (“nice pass”), a clap, or a supportive gesture (like a head nod or fist-pump).

Negative reinforcement:

Follows a correct performance, but involves removing something undesirable to reinforce the desired behavior. A simple example is taking away a difficult conditioning workout if players perform well on some behavior, like paying attention during a tactical drill, or vocally encouraging their teammates).


(with holding reinforcers): We have seen that responses followed by reinforcers tend to be repeated and that responses no longer followed by reinforcers will occur less and less frequently and eventually die out. In humans, extinction can lead to frustration or even rage. Consider a child having a temper tantrum. If whining and loud demands do not bring the reinforcer, the child may progress to kicking and screaming. It is what we expect and don’t get that makes us angry.

An alternative to punishing undesirable behaviour is extension – the attempt to weaken behaviour by attaching no consequences (either positive or negative) to it. It is equivalent to ignoring the behaviour. The rationale for using extinction is that a behaviour not followed by any consequence is weakened. However, some patience and time may be needed for it to be effective.

This type of reinforcement is applied to reduce undesirable behaviour, especially when such behaviours were previously rewarded. This means that if rewards were removed from behaviours that were previously reinforced, then such behaviours would become less frequent and eventually die out. For example, if a student in the class is highly mischievous and disturbs the class, he is probably asking for attention. If the attention is given to him, he will continue to exhibit that behaviour. However, if he is continuously ignored and not recognised, then such undesirable behaviour will vanish over a period of time.


Happens in response to an incorrect or undesirable behavior, and involves the presentation of something unpleasant (like making the player run or do push-ups). Punishment is usually psychological, like ridicule or embarrassment, and it often trends towards abuse.

Negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment. Punishment is usually wielded in an unpredictable and irrational manner when the coach loses control of a situation. Negative reinforcement gives players a chance to perform in a desirable way, with the consequence clearly defined. One of my favourite examples is the “get-out swim,” where a swimmer can end a grueling workout for the team if they can perform near a personal-best time standard. The goals and consequences are clear, and athletes often relish the opportunity to perform under pressure; in fact, players need to learn to perform under pressure in practice to help them when they experience pressure in game situations.

Schedules of Reinforcement

Any analysis of reinforcement shows that it is not provided in a consistent manner. The various ways by which the reinforcement can be administered can be categorized into two groups. These are continuous and partial reinforcement schedules.

  • Continuous reinforcement Schedule: A continuous schedule is that one in which the desirable behaviour is reinforced every time it occurs and the reinforcement is immediate.

    This results in fast acquisition of the desired response and the learning is rapid. Continuous reinforcement strategy is not always feasible in the organizational environment where continuous observation of behaviour is not possible due to time constraints imposed upon management. Reinforcing every correct response is known as continuous reinforcement. It is the most efficient way to condition a new response. However, after a response has been conditioned, partial or intermittent reinforcement is more effective in maintaining or increasing the rate of response.

  • Partial Reinforcement Schedule: A partial reinforcement schedule rewards desirable behaviour at specific intervals. It is believed that “behaviour tends to be persistent when it is learned under conditions of partial and delayed reinforcement.

There are four kinds of partial reinforcement schedule. These are:

  • Fixed Interval Schedule: In this type of schedule, a response is reinforced at fixed intervals of time. Fixed-interval schedules produce an uneven pattern of responses. The highest rate of response occurs fairly close to the time when reinforcement occurs. For example, if there are two tests announced at fixed intervals in a semester, you will see that the students will study harder as the time of the test approaches because the test itself is a reinforce and the studying behaviour is reinforced by the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and earn a good grade.
  • Variable Interval Schedule: In this type of schedule, the reinforcement is administered at random times that cannot be predicted by the employee. For example: “Surprise Quizzes” in the classroom is one of the examples of variable interval schedules.
  • Fixed Ratio Schedules: In a fixed ratio schedule, the reinforcement is administered only upon the completion of a given number of desirable responses. Reward is consistently tied to the output. The individual soon determines that reinforcement is based upon the number of responses and performs the responses as quickly as possible in order to receive the reward. For example, a professor may receive a promotion after a certain number of research articles have been published.
  • Variable Ratio Schedules: It is similar to fixed ratio schedule except that the number of responses required before reinforcement is determined, are not fixed but vary from situation to situation. The variable ratio schedule elicits a rapid rate of response. The value of the reward and its unpredictability keeps the behaviour at high-level desirability.