Positive Reinforcement

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POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT -" SKINNER
The best way to understand the full importance of the applications of B. F. Skinner's (1953, 1971) thinking and his research results is to read his novel, Walden Two (1948). The book is about a utopian community designed and maintained according to Skinnerian principles of operant behaviour and schedules of reinforcement. A similar application was made in an industrial situation in the Emery Air Freight case ("At Emery," 1973). By applying Skinnerian principles, which are based on numerous research findings, Emery quickly realised an annual savings of $65O,OOO.

Skinner is neither an OD practitioner nor a management consultant, but his theory and research are indeed applicable to management practices and to organisational change. For Skinner, control is key. If one can control the environment, one can then control behaviour. In Skinner's approach, the more the environment is controlled the better but the necessary element of control. is the reward, both positive and negative. This necessity is based on a fundamental of behaviour that Skinner derived from his many years of research, a concept so basic that it may be a law of behaviour: that people (and animals) do what they are rewarded for doing. Let us consider the principles that underlie this fundamental of behaviour. The first phase of learned behaviour is called shaping, the process of successive approximations to the desired behaviour. When children are le_arnin2 to walk, they are reinforced by their parents' encouraging comments or physical stroking but this reinforcement typically follows only the behaviours that lead to effective walking. Programmed learning, invented by Skinner, is based on this principle. To maintain the behaviour, a schedule of reinforcement is applied and, generally, the more variable the schedule is, the longer the behaviour will last. Skinner therefore advocates positive reinforcement for shaping and controlling behaviour. Often, however,...
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