• Overview of Learning Theories
• Learning Through Rewards and Punishments
• Contingencies of Reinforcement
• Schedules of Reinforcement
Nature of Learning
• Learning is a relatively permanent change in knowledge or
observable behavior that results from practice or experience.
• Importance of Learning to OB
Most organizational behavior is learned (remember that only 2-12% of
behavior is directly linked to personality)
By controlling the situation, a manager can influence behavior/performance.
The manager is held accountable for the performance of his/her subordinates.
• Classical Conditioning: The learning of
“involuntary,” reflexive behavior, such as emotional
• Operant Conditioning: The learning of
voluntary, goal-directed behavior through the direct
experience of consequences
• Social Learning: The learning of voluntary, goal-
directed behavior through observation and imitation of
Examples of Operant Behaviors and their
Examples of the Three Types of Learning:
Which Example Illustrates Each Type?
• After a tightening in policy regarding lateness, a worker sees a
coworker fired for excessive tardiness, resulting in increased attention
to arriving on time
• After a tightening in policy regarding lateness, a worker receives a
written reprimand for being late twice in one month, resulting in
increased attention to arriving on time
• After witnessing a coworker’s accidental loss of several fingers in a
machinery accident, a worker experiences anxiety when operating the
same piece of machinery
Contingency of Reinforcement
• Definition: The relationship between a behavior and the preceding and
following environmental events that influence that behaviour.
• Basic Components:
• Antecedent -- the stimulus that precedes the behaviour.
• Behavior -- the behavior emitted in response to the stimulus.
• Consequence -- the positive or negative consequence of the behaviour.
• Important Note: Managers can often control the contingencies of
reinforcement influencing their subordinate’s behavior, and thereby, the
Example of Contingent Reinforcement
Manager is silent or
(result of the
Categories of Reinforcers
• All reinforcers fall into one of two categories:
• Primary Reinforcers -- Based upon the satisfaction of
physiological needs, such as food, water, air, sex, escape from
pain, etc. (Note that the text defines this as: “an event for
which the individual already knows the value.”)
• Secondary Reinforcers -- Learned reinforcers; the text
defines this as “an event that once had neutral value but has
taken on some positive or negative value for an individual
because of past experience
Types of Contingencies of
Event is Added
Event is Removed
(best to use)
(worst to use)
Rewards Used by Organizations
Smiles, pats on the back,
other nonverbal signals
Requests for suggestions
Invitations to coffee or lunch
Health insurance plans
Vacation and sick leave
Child care support
Sense of achievement
Jobs with more responsibility
Performing important tasks
Offices with windows
Greater sense of self-worth
• Definition: An unpleasant event is occurring which can be removed
by emitting the desired behaviour.
• Differs from punishment, but may result from the fear of punishment.
• Two types are identified:
• Escape Learning: An unpleasant event occurs until the employee
emits an “escape response” to terminate it
• Avoidance Learning: An employee prevents an unpleasant event
from occurring by emitting the proper behaviour.
Potential Negative Effects of
Punishment and Interpersonal
• The inappropriate use of punishment increases with:
• Anger and/or frustration on the part of the manager
• Inadequate interpersonal communication
• In such cases, this inappropriate punishment creates long term
interpersonal problems, by:
• Reducing trust
• Stifling motivation
• Undermining and/or destroying relationships.
How to Make Punishment Effective
• Use the principles of contingent punishment, immediate
punishment, and punishment size.
• Praise in public, punish in private.
• Develop alternative desired behaviour.
• Balance the use of pleasant and unpleasant events.
• Use “positive discipline” (i.e., change behaviour through reasoning,
with an emphasis on personal responsibility or “self control,” rather
than by imposing increasingly severe punishments)
Guidelines for Using
Contingencies of Reinforcement
• Not reward all employees the same (i.e., take individual differences into
account to reward employees with consequences that they personally value,
within the constraints of perceived equity)
• Consider consequences of both actions and non-actions
• Make employees aware of what behavior will be reinforced (and then be sure
to reinforce it uniformly)
• Let employees know what they are doing wrong
• Not punish in front of others
• Make their response equal to workers’ behaviour
Schedules of Reinforcement
• Definition: The determination of when reinforcers are applied; after every response
or only after some responses
• Two general categories of schedule are:
• Continuous Reinforcement: Every behavior is reinforced; the simplest schedule
• Intermittent Reinforcement: Only some behaviors are reinforced; four types
are identified in the text:
• Fixed Interval: based on a fixed time interval
• Fixed Ratio: based on a fixed number of responses
• Variable Interval: based on a variable time interval
• Variable Ratio: based on a variable number of responses
Comparisons of Schedules of Reinforcement
Reward on fixed
Reward tied to
Variable interval Reward given
periods of time
Leads to average
Fast extinction of
Leads quickly to
very high and
Reward given for Leads to very