Reinforcement is simply something that increases the occurrence of desired behavior while punishment decreases it. Reinforcers in the form of praise, material things and other source of enjoyment are given to increase the occurrence and repetition of desirable behaviors. Punishers in the form of reprimand, criticism or “sermon” are given to modify or eliminate undesirable behaviors. Reinforcement and punishment are two important concepts of B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory.
I have experienced the introduction of reinforcement or reward and punishment in my life to enhance, modify and eliminate my behavior. Growing up, I was given money or anything of value whenever I did “good” things like running an errand, being well-behaved or getting high grades. For misbehaving, my father gave two kinds of punishment. One is spanking whenever my younger brother and I quarreled. The other was giving the object of our fight but in excess. For example, if I did not share my brother a food, let say banana, and he hit me and I hit him back, as a punishment my father will buy a bunch of bananas and let me eat them all. At first glance, it might be perceived as a reward but since the object of the action is to stop my selfishness, it was really a punishment since you could not stop eating until you choked and in front of your other siblings. What if the object of your fight is a watermelon?
Like my father, I also gave my only son reward and punishment, although my wife gave them more than I did because I was always working overseas. My wife would give my small son a mild hit on his palm immediately if he misbehaved. Sometimes, she would tell him to sleep as a punishment. To prevent him from asking my wife buy a toy and crying when not granted whenever they went to the market, my wife would go alternative passage so that they would not pass the toy stores.
The incident that struck me was when my son’s grade one teacher gave him a certificate for best in writing. My wife and I gave him praise and even framed the certificate and hung it on the wall. However, instead of pride, my son did not like the idea of giving him much attention. As a result, his penmanship becomes worst up to this day. I remembered also when we praised him for getting all the academic certificates during his Year 8. In the years that follow, not a single certificate until he graduated from Year 12 was presented to us. This illustrates that not all reinforcements are good to everyone, that we should also consider how the recipient views the attention. As a lesson, my wife and I refrain from giving much positive response to his desirable behaviors and attitudes because it might backfire in the future.
In my present job, reinforcement in the form of salary increase and bonuses, and punishment in the form of reprimand and warning letter are parts of our organization. Lately, however, I do not know if what my boss has given me is a reward or punishment.
This happens whenever the work of co-workers do not correspond or satisfy to his liking. Instead of reprimanding the staff for poor performance, he gave the job to me. In total, I have three duties that originally do not form part of my responsibilities. It can be conceived as a reward because my boss recognized my capabilities to handle these jobs. It can be both a reward and a punishment to my co-workers: reinforcement because their job is lessened and they feel happy about it and punishment because my boss treated them as incapable of handling simple jobs and therefore poor performers.
How about on my part, is it a reward or a punishment? Initially, I did not mind it at all when my boss gave me the first additional task. But at this point, I view it as a punishment because he is punishing me for being a good performer while my colleagues are enjoying their fewer responsibilities. In addition, these so called additional jobs give me stress. Moreover, the removal of their works does not elicit a favorable attitudes and work ethics on the part of my co-workers. They still receive salary increases and bonuses as before.
I have talked about my concern to my boss lately. However, he insisted that I continue to perform such jobs because it is only me that he trusts to do them well. What a positive reinforcement? Should I get my reward? How about a salary increase and a bonus in the next talk? I definitely deserve those, don’t you think so?
Cherry, K. In About.com