Reinforcement Meaning, Schedules, Use

Reinforcement Meaning

Reinforcement is vital for the learning process as it helps in sharpening behavioural reactions. However, few learning theorists believe that reinforcement is not a part of learning. 

For example, Mendick stated that for developing a relationship between stimulus and response, it is essential that they happen in quick succession. Rewards need not be compulsory. Although, if the reward is applied, conditioning becomes faster i.e., it happens in quick succession and proceeds dynamically. 

This recommends that although reinforcement is not an obligatory tool for learning, its mere existence can enhance learning. This is true because when there is a reinforcement of behaviour, a person tends to repeat the same reaction that was released when the reward was given. 

This, in turn, enhances the possibility of the occurrence of a favourable reaction when the reward is given again. Gradually, with time, the person will assume to align the behavioural reaction with the reward. The relationship between reinforcement and behaviour is presented in the figure.

Reinforcement - Meaning, Schedules & Use of Reinforcement Theory in organisational behaviour

Schedules of Reinforcement

A response requirement that must be fulfilled to achieve reinforcement is known as a schedule of reinforcement. A schedule exactly clarifies what has to be done for the achievement of the reinforcement. 

For example, does each lever pushed by the rat help it to obtain a piece of bread, or there are several pushes required for the same action? Does your mother give you a biscuit each time you persuade her to do so, or only sometimes does the mother acknowledge you with a biscuit? So, there may be diverse response requirements that may have a powerful influence on the behaviour of a particular person. Two types of reinforcement schedules are as follows:

1) Continuous Reinforcement Schedule

In this schedule, there is a reinforcement of every stated response. For example, whenever a lever is pushed by the rat, it is obliged with a piece of bread, a dog is obliged with a treat when asked to perform rollover and a car starts after the ignition is turned on. Continuous Reinforcement (CRF) is of great importance when behaviour is moulded or strengthened for the first time. 

For example, when a rat is trained to press the lever, there should be the deliverance of reinforcement to the market behaviour. In the same way, if a child is asked to brush his teeth after dinner, the act should be appreciated.

2) Intermittent Reinforcement Schedule

In this schedule, reinforcement takes place in only some responses. For example, possibly some rats obtain a piece of bread by pushing the lever and is quite possible that the mother acknowledges the son with a biscuit on a rare occasion only. Routine affairs of life are generally characterised by intermittent reinforcement. 

For example, every concert might not be gratifying or pleasurable. Similarly, not every person needs to accept our invitation for a date, and not every date turns out to be a memorable affair. A child gets initial encouragement on the completion of tasks, such as homes assignment. However, in the later stage, the frequency of appreciation declines with the hope that such behaviour will become a routine affair. There are four types of possible occasional reinforcements:

i) Fixed Ratio: When a definite number of responses are needed to be released to obtain the reinforcement, it is termed a fixed ratio. It is given as a piece-rate payment system. 

ii) Variable Ratio: When using a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement, the performance of reinforcement will differ. This is implemented in the form of ‘incentives’ or ‘commission’ which is given to the employees according to their output.

iii) Fixed Interval: A fixed-interval schedule means that reinforcement becomes available after a definite period. A monthly or weekly payment system for the employees comes under this kind of reinforcement.

iv) Variable Interval: Variable interval schedule means when the reinforcements are scattered in time i.e., they are uncertain. 

In summation, it should be kept in mind that it is irrational and hard to rely upon a particular schedule for all types of incentives. On the other hand, the manager should take the initiative in applying the best available reinforcement schedule to tie up results with attitudes that go in line with the needs of the employee and organisation.

Use of Reinforcement Theory in Behaviour Modification 

Modern behaviourism is the foundation of Organisational Behaviour Modification (OB Mod). It is based primarily on the work of B.F. Skinner. It follows the operant conditioning approach to learning that strongly reinforces the reinforcement of favourable behaviour. Simply, OB Mod denotes the application of reinforcement theory to people in the workplace. Behaviour modification uses reinforcement theory to alter human behaviour.

Hence, a manager who wants to change employee attitude must change the results of that attitude. Reinforcement theory stresses that the behaviour of an individual is determined by its results. It follows the “law of effect”, i.e., there is a higher probability of repetition of an individual’s behaviour with affirmative results than adverse results.

Behaviour modification is also known as operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. It is primarily based on the theory of learning and emphasizes bringing about change in an individual’s behaviour rather than bringing change to the whole organisation. The person’s behaviour is reinforced through encouragement in the form of money, public appreciation and bestowing some important position.

Therefore, the behaviour of employees can be efficiently used to bring about the desired outcomes and therefore helps in the enhancement of productivity. Many business firms take the initiative in applying them. A large number of trainers prefer the application of positive reinforcement rather than negative ones. Skinner also views positive reinforcement as better than negative reinforcement.

The reinforcement theory also helps in handling the employees who create problems. Mentoring programmes should be designed for new employees and there should be employee training programmes as well, based on social learning, to assist behavioural modification.