Reinforcement and Punishment


Principles of behavior modification and operant conditioning (discussed in chapters 10 and 11) state that a person will be motivated to seek reinforcement and to avoid punishment. Teachers who incorporate principles of behavior modification into their lesson plans and instructional style have gone a long way toward motivating their students. The following principles of behavior modification are particularly relevant to motivating students to learn:

  1. It is far better to use intrinsic (natural) rather than extrinsic (artificial) reinforcement and punishment. This is because intrinsic, natural reinforcers will always be available to learners, whereas extrinsic, artificial consequences may disappear once the learner leaves the instructional setting. In addition, artificial reinforcers often have the effect of reducing the learner's feeling of self-determination; and this is likely to reduce motivation to engage in similar activities in the future. Many of the motivational principles discussed throughout the this chapter will help you determine what is likely to be perceived as naturally reinforcing by the learners you deal with.

  2. When natural reinforcers are not available, it is often necessary to use artificial consequences to motivate learners. But when artificial, extrinsic motivation is employed, it should always be backed up by natural, intrinsic motivation. Otherwise, the motivation is likely to be only temporary, and the long-range impact may be an actual loss of motivation.

  3. Only consequences that the learner himself or herself perceives to be reinforcing will motivate that learner. In addition, as this chapter and chapter 10 will later show, some reinforcing events that strengthen short-range, extrinsic motivation may actually reduce long-term, intrinsic motivation. Motivation springs from the thoughts and emotions of the person being motivated - teachers or other motivators can be successful only to the extent that they align their efforts with the inner thoughts and feelings of the learners. The same teacher activity may motivate one learner and decrease the motivation of another, depending on the perceptions of the learners.

  4. There are numerous incentives and consequences competing for a learner's attention at any given time. The factors that the learner perceives to have the strongest combined influence {See analysis in chapter 10.} will usually determine the learner's course of action.

  5. Many of the factors that motivate students lie largely beyond the direct control of the teacher and others in the educational system.


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Intrinsic Motivation
Interpersonal Motivation
Summary of Intrinsic Motivation
Motivating Through Curriculum
Reinforcement and Punishment <<You are here>>
Affective Aspects of Motivation
Physiological Aspects of Motivation
Cognitive Aspects of Motivation
Needs and Motivation
Attribution Theory
Development and Motivation
Motivation as a Personality Characteristic
Teacher Expectancy
Social Aspects of Motivation: Classroom Structure
What Teachers Can Do About Motivation
What Parents Can Do About Motivation
What Students Can Do About Motivation
Chapter Summary
Annotated Bibliography
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