Positive reinforcement: being paid to do chores rather than nagged.
Whether you deal with young children at home or in the classroom, or you want to be a better manager of adults in the workplace, educational psychologists have studied ways to influence people to get the results you want. One effective way to motivate learners and coworkers is through positive reinforcement: encouraging a certain behavior through a system of praise and rewards.
One important type of learning is called operant conditioning, and it relies on a system of rewards and punishments to influence behavior.
The most basic example of operant conditioning is training a dog, whether to do tricks or to stop an unwanted behavior like chewing on furniture. Reinforcement of the behavior means that the goal is to get your subject — whether pet or person — to do more of a desired behavior.
Positive reinforcement means giving something to the subject when they perform the desired action so they associate the action with the reward and do it more often. The reward is a reinforcing stimulus.
Positive reinforcement works because the brain connects the action to the reward, and the subject will repeat the target action in hopes of being rewarded in the future. Positive reinforcement is especially effective at establishing new behaviors, but it may not work as well in the long term if the subject becomes bored with the reward over time.
Changes in behavior can be encouraged by using praise and positive reinforcement techniques at home. Here are some examples for inspiration:
- Give an allowance or treats to encourage children to complete their chores instead of nagging.
- Praise your child for undertaking a task without being asked, which will make the child want to do it again to win more approval.
- Kisses and cuddles from a child after their bedtime story will make the parent to want to read again in the future.
- Promise a back rub when your spouse washes up if he or she always leaves dishes piling up.
Teachers and other school personnel often use positive reinforcement in the classroom. It's a way to get students to learn the rules and maintain motivation at school. Here are some examples of positive reinforcement in action:
- Students get to move their peg up the chart whenever assignments are completed on time.
- Students who volunteer to clean up the playground on a winter afternoon get hot cocoa and cookies afterward.
- Students who stay quiet in the library get praise from the librarian.
- The class is rewarded with extra recess when all students pass a test.
Adults can also benefit from positive reinforcement to build morale and encourage them to do their best at work. Here are a few instances of positive reinforcement in the workplace:
- A bonus is given to workers who don't use any sick days in a pay period.
- Lunch is brought in for colleagues who help to clean the office kitchen.
- Raises are awarded to employees who make their sales goals for the year.
- Prime parking spots are given to employees who drive electric cars to encourage eco-friendly transportation.
As you can see, positive reinforcement can be used in a range of settings and situations to teach new skills and encourage people to do their best, and it can be as simple as telling someone “Good job!”.
Positive reinforcement is a practical way to put psychological principles to work in everyday life for great results. It can improve confidence and self-esteem and encourage self-reliance. The benefits are clear.