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The Power of Positive Reinforcement


B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist and behaviouralist responsible for pioneering research in operant conditioning, and other aspect of human behaviour, such as motivation and the encouragement of positive behaviour, founded the ‘Positive Reinforcement Theory’ during the 1930’s and 1940’s. As part of his work, Skinner considered ways in which behaviour could be manipulated and used to alter the performance and motivation by using the introduction of desirable or pleasant stimuli, such as a reward. The desirable stimulus is intended to reinforce the behaviour, making it more likely that the behaviour will occur in the future; he found that this could be used to teach new behaviours or strengthen existing ones. Operant conditioning is the theory that underlies Skinners positive reinforcement technique. In essence the idea is that one can modify behaviour by controlling the consequences that follow it.


Skinner was dedicated to arguing that learning is an active process; when humans and animals act on and in their environment, consequences follow these behaviours. The theory is relatively simple; if the consequences are pleasant, humans and animals are likely to repeat the behaviour, however, if the consequences are unpleasant, they are likely to not repeat the behaviour.


There are a number of forms of positive reinforcement that educators use within schools to enhance the repetition of positive behaviours; in fact, many educators will selectively attend to positive behaviours to allow for explicit modelling of expectations and rules within classrooms. Depending on the behaviour, will reflect which form of reinforcement is used. Positive reinforcement may seem like a simple strategy, but when used effectively students will be more likely to adhere to the appropriate behaviour and meet expectations more readily; this in turn improves intrinsic motivation and engagement in the learning process.


Sammy Cobon

Deputy Principal - Students

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