Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Positive and Negative Reinforcement – Management Essay
I will be discussing the two types of operant conditioning which are positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. I will attempt to list the advantages and disadvantages of using either and briefly
touch on extinction which is the lack of use of either positive or negative reinforcement.
There are four types of operant conditioning namely positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and extinction. According to Skinner’s terminology, any form of incentives such as goals and rewards may be referred to as positive reinforcers and the receiving of the reward or achieving the goal is termed as positive reinforcement (Skinner B.F., 1969). In positive reinforcement, a particular behaviour is strengthened by the consequence of experiencing a positive condition (http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/proj/nru/opcond.html).
Positive reinforcement is effective and largely used for two separate reasons. Firstly, it is one of the most powerful techniques available for the direction or motivation of the actions of other people. The second reason which is more philosophical is the versatility of the concept of reinforcement as an explanation of behaviour (Walker. S, 1975). In other words, the question is why do people behave the way they do? The answer will be that it is because they (people) are reinforced for it (Walker. S, 1975). Many companies employ the use of positive reinforcements to increase productivity, decrease absenteeism and workplace accidents. One company tried holding lottery draws ever month and they noticed a significant consistency in attendance. A construction company offered incentives such as a buffet end of each month if the workers maintained an accident free record. True enough, the accident free record was maintained for a good number of months (Mazur J.E.,1986). When positive reinforcements are used, the desired outcome is that the behaviour is reinforced. Subjects understand that the behaviour is desirable and will tend to repeat it for the rewards. In the negative outcome, subjects may take the rewarding for granted. They may repeat the behaviour with the intention of receiving more of the rewards and not understanding that that behaviour is desirable or they may deem the rewards as part and parcel of things. That is that the education part has failed. Some examples of these negative outcomes may be employees who get verbal praises for everything they do, think that it is all lip service. There is no real intention to compliment them for their good work. Another would be a young child plainly doing things to curry praises (Strain P.S., Joseph G.E.).
In a similar fashion, a negative reinforcer is a stimulus one would desire to avoid. The act of escaping or avoiding a negative reinforcer is termed as negative reinforcement. Disincentives are punishers. There is a natural tendency to put punishments under the wing of negative reinforcement. However under the definitions of operant conditioning, negative reinforcement is the strengthening of a particular behaviour by the consequence of experiencing a negative condition (http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/proj/nru/opcond.html). Punishment in the operant conditioning sense is to weaken a particular behaviour as a consequence of experiencing a negative condition. Negative reinforcement is used commonly for education or reform. The use of fines, imprisonment is one such example of the use of negative reinforcement to warn of the negative consequences of associating with social ills. Skinner (Skinner,1953) and many others prefers the use of positive reinforcement to encourage good behaviours and do away with the social use of punishment altogether. Advantages of the use of negative reinforcement would be of course ideally the cultivation or strengthening of a desired behaviour after receiving the negative reinforcer. An example would be that an employer informs his or her employee that their work requires some polishing up to meet the customer standards. The employer may go on further to explain that the customer is rather demanding and any negative feedback will tarnish the credibility of the employee. The desired response would be that the employee strives to perform better. Disadvantages of using negative reinforcement would be when the desired behaviour is not achieved. For instance a child was punished for strewing his toys on the floor by facing the wall and repeatedly saying he will not throw his things on the floor. He kept repeating the act and undergoing the punishment but he never understood why he should not leave his things on the floor. That is a negative outcome.
Different organisations may choose to employ different styles of reinforcements or non at all. Commercial and non-commercial organisations may also use different approaches. One may use positive reinforcements to encourage repetition of the desired behaviours. Others may use negative reinforcements to discourage behaviours that are not in line with their policies. There are slight differences in how public and private schools educate their students. In general, schools tend to use negative reinforcements on rule breaking students as a method to educate them. The typical examples are verbal reprimands, being sent out of the classrooms, detentions, etc. There is an element of shame within these punishments which is intended to allow the students to discover how to behave well. Critics oppose to the use of negative reinforcements in schools and largely recommend the use of positive reinforcements. Negative reinforcements are used and positive reinforcements are easily ignored due to the strong cultural ethos that encourages the use of punishments. The use of punishments is effective ninety-five percent of the time. The remaining students are those with challenging behaviours who do not respond to traditional forms of punishments. So unless figures show otherwise, Skinner’s hope that positive reinforcement be used totally cannot be easily realized and punishments will still be the tool employed by schools to educate and to deter wayward behaviours. The proverb “spare the rod and spoil the child” explains the continued use of such traditional methods of educating (Maag J.W., 01-01-2001). It is a good point to emphasise that the discussion is on the use of negative reinforcements on students to shape a desired behaviour and not on punishments. Punishments here are merely the reinforcers or the tools of reinforcement. Maag suggests using new approaches to handle challenging students which are effective reinforcers which are ideally negative but without the use of punishments (Maag J.W., 05-01-2001).
Commercial organizations depending on situations, use positive and negative reinforcements. Although there is no premeditated use of scheduled reinforcements on encouraging desired behaviours and discouraging undesired behaviours, some managers do enforce them. As more managers understand the needs for better and efficient management styles, they also understand that subordinates seek job satisfaction. Job satisfaction can be achieved in many ways such as pay rises, day offs, or even simple words of encouragement, praises and recognition (Zielinski D., 05-01-2001). More than often the occasional verbal praises for a job well done does a lot to make an employee feel appreciated. Researches have shown that positive reinforcements increase the attendance of workers, improve their performances and also increase safety awareness. Negative reinforcements are sometimes used on the occasional lackadaisical employees. Romero and Kleiner believes that the use of positive reinforcements is a management concept, and that it should be used in the workplace both domestic and international (Romero J., Kleiner B.H.). Research was done on people in several countries on the relation between personality and motivational traits and work related attitudes. It is found that the use of positive reinforcements greatly motivated workers and the whole economy of the country gained greater growths. In bad management styles, employees are swiftly reprimanded for failing to attain their employers’ standards and are often not complimented for completing their tasks excellently. Many are so accustomed to these practices that they begin to become complacent due to the lack of recognition and rewards. The failure to positively reinforce an employees’ good performance which is a form of extinction may discourage them from giving more than they should since no recognition or rewards will be given for it.
Much research has been done on operant conditioners. More people are aware of the existence of positive and negative reinforcements. More are championing the use of positive reinforcements to increase productivity, attendances, safety awareness, job satisfaction and to reduce absenteeism and accidents. Depending on the situations, positive and negative reinforcements when applied strategically can be effective in strengthening a desired behaviour. Strategic application of reinforcements would mean the use of reinforcements at intermittent schedules such as at fixed ratios or variable ratios combined with the understanding of what motivates their subjects of interest. Doing away with punishments may be the ideal case for Skinner, I believe that it is not possible to do away. However we can reduce the use of punishments when positive reinforcements are adequately and effectively employed. The advantages of the use of positive reinforcements are highly explanatory of itself.
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