Education aims at full development of an individual’s potentialities, abilities, skills as well
attitudes, values and personality. But due to lack of motivation and other factors the expected
level of objectives are not achieved. In such a situation, reinforcement principles may prove to be
1. The act or process of reinforcing.
2. Something that reinforces.
3. The occurrence or experimental introduction of an unconditioned stimulus along with a
4. The strengthening of a conditioned response by such means.
5. An event, a circumstance, or a condition that increases the likelihood that a given response will
recur in a situation like that in which the reinforcing condition originally occurred.
Concept of reinforcement
Reinforcement is an event that increases behavior OR Reinforcement refers to any environmental
event that increases the probability of a response. The environmental event acts as a stimulus or
reinforce which is presented to a particular person before or after she makes a response. The
responses produced in connection with a particular stimulus show the change in behavior of the
student nurse so as to prepare her for the practice of nursing in the clinical field.
In the reinforcement procedure, a stimulus is either added or withdrawn from the environment.
The resultant effect is evident in the future behavior.
Nature of reinforcement
Unlike primary reinforcement (as reinforcing the value of food for hunger), most reinforcement
used in education is secondary or learned. Money, affection, approval and attention are
appropriate examples. Another major secondary reinforce within the educator’s control is
confirmation or knowledge of results. Knowing that you have behaved correctly or adequately is
highly reinforcing. Self instructional programmed material is sequenced by such small steps as to
virtually ensure correct responses and subsequent reinforcement the learner derives from
knowledge of his correctness.
Types of reinforcement
Reinforcement comes in two types—positive and negative.
Positive reinforcement occurs when desired behavior is strengthened by the presentation of a
contingent stimulus. The attractive, behavior-increasing, contingent stimulus used during
positive reinforcement is referred to as a positive reinforcer. A positive reinforcer is defined as
any environmental event that, when given in response to the behavior, increases the strength and
frequency of that behavior. Some commonly used positive reinforcers in the classroom are
praise, attention, tokens, and stickers.
e.g:- A first year student nurse would feed a patient through ryles tube more efficiently if her
clinical instructor approves and appreciates her nursing activity. Here the correct
response/desired behavior has been rewarded, hence, there is modification of behavior.
Negative reinforcement strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is stopped or
avoided as a consequence of the behavior/ the taking away of an aversive stimulus to increase
certain behavior or response.
e.g :- Driving in heavy traffic is a negative condition for most of us. You leave home earlier than
usual one morning, and don't run into heavy traffic. You leave home earlier again the next
morning and again you avoid heavy traffic. Your behavior of leaving home earlier is strengthened
by the consequence of the avoidance of heavy traffic.
Turning off distracting music when trying to work. If the work increases when the music is
turned off, turning off the music is a negative reinforcer.
Types of reinforcers
A primary reinforcer, sometimes called an unconditioned reinforcer, is a stimulus that does not
require pairing to function as a reinforcer and most likely has obtained this function through the
evolution and its role in species' survival. Examples of primary reinforcers include sleep, food,
air, water, and sex. Some primary reinforcers, such as certain drugs, may mimic the effects of
other primary reinforcers. While these primary reinforcers are fairly stable through life and
across individuals, the reinforcing value of different primary reinforcers varies due to multiple
factors (e.g., genetics, experience). Thus, one person may prefer one type of food while another
abhors it. Or one person may eat lots of food while another eats very little. So even though food is
a primary reinforcer for both individuals, the value of food as a reinforcer differs between them.
A secondary reinforcer, sometimes called a conditioned reinforcer, is a stimulus or situation that
has acquired its function as a reinforcer after pairing with a stimulus that functions as a
reinforcer. This stimulus may be a primary reinforcer or another conditioned reinforcer (such as
money). An example of a secondary reinforcer would be the sound from a clicker, as used
in clicker training. The sound of the clicker has been associated with praise or treats, and
subsequently, the sound of the clicker may function as a reinforcer. As with primary reinforcers,
an organism can experience satiation and deprivation with secondary reinforcers.
The effectiveness of reinforcement programs is determined not only by establishing close
temporal relation between reinforcement and behavior and by type of reinforcement selected,
but also by scheduling or frequency of reinforcement. In skinner’s opinion, reinforcement should
be continuous as possible, occurring after every response. Research on reinforcement schedules
shows that continuous reinforcement contributes to the most rapid acquisition of behavior but
does not engender the most retention strength
Fixed ration schedule (FR)Response occur at certain number of times before reinforcement
Variable Ratio Schedule
Subjects are reinforced after a variable number of responses.
Fixed Interval schedule
No reinforcement is given until certain interval of time has elapsed. The first response after the
time interval results in the reinforcement and then no more reinforcement is given again until
the first response after the interval has elapsed again.
Variable interval Schedule
Based on time, Individual are reinforced for the first response they make after various time
intervals have passed.
Influence of “B.F Skinner” on education
Skinner influenced education as well as psychology. He was quoted as saying "Teachers must
learn how to teach ... they need only to be taught more effective ways of teaching." Skinner
asserted that positive reinforcement is more effective at changing and establishing behavior than
punishment, with obvious implications for the then widespread practice of rote
learning and punitive discipline in education. This is where Skinner's teaching machine came into
play since it reinforced learning, but there was question as to whether it truly benefited learning
or hindered it by making students act like robots. Skinner also suggests that the main thing
people learn from being punished is how to avoid punishment.
In The Technology of Teaching, Skinner has a chapter on why teachers fail (pages 93–113):
Essentially he says that teachers have not been given an in-depth understanding
of teaching and learning. Without knowing the science underpinning teaching, teachers fall back
on procedures that work poorly or not at all, such as:
using aversive techniques (which produce escape and avoidance and undesirable
relying on telling and explaining ("Unfortunately, a student does not learn simply when
he is shown or told." p. 103);
failing to adapt learning tasks to the student's current level;
failing to provide positive reinforcement frequently enough.
Skinner suggests that any age-appropriate skill can be taught. The steps are
Clearly specify the action or performance the student is to learn to do.
Break down the task into small achievable steps, going from simple to complex.
Let the student perform each step, reinforcing correct actions.
Adjust so that the student is always successful until finally the goal is reached.
Transfer to intermittent reinforcement to maintain the student's performance.
According to skinner, reinforcement must immediately follow a response if it is to be effective.
Delayed reinforcement is much less effective in modifying behavior.
Educational practice and current reinforcement principles
Behavior is dominated by aversion,
simulation,i.e student usually learns to
avoids the threat.
Because of improper planning there is
absence of programme of continuous
Great lapse of time between behavior
and its reinforcement
Teacher can use a combination of
positive and negative reinforcements. A
teacher’s job is to persistent and
independent behavior by application of
reinforcement and then withdraw them
gradually. This approach makes the
activity itself a reinforcing factor for
students and develops in them intrinsic
Teacher can use reinforcement
continuously to observe its effect of
behavior and may change it if necessary
for instance to low grade student is
found to do better in nursing practice
once she is appreciated and approved.
She can be continuously approved or
rewarded for her best performance so
that she reaches average level.
It is best to reinforce the desired
behavior immediately and appropriately
e.g:- daily evaluation of the students on
the tast taken at the end of
Infrequency of reinforcement
Teacher cannot schedule reinforcement
in crowded syllabus
Reinforcement is not generalized across
time and setting
month/session. Learning efficiency often
increases if the student received
feedback on the quality of her efforts.
A teacher can use a variety of
reinforcements throughout the learning
process because a simple nod/smile may
have different meaning for different
students. E.g:- a teacher can use verbal
reinforcement along with gestures.
Micro-teaching techniques of studentteachers can prove effective in
improving the skill of reinforcement and
She can plan her teaching process and
can utilize different schedules of
reinforcement process and can modify it
whenever and whatever it is necessary.
A teacher needs to reinforce her
students at the place of work e.g:- she
can improve communication skill of a
preliminary student, while she interacts
with patients and not necessarily while
delivering health talk to a group of
How to Change Behavior through reinforcement
I. Four ways to change behavior
i. Punishment – get something you don’t want (e.g. a verbal reprimand)
ii. Penalty – lose something you do want (freedom to choose how you complete
b. Increase behavior
i. Negative Reinforcement – escape or avoid something you don’t want (e.g.
someone yelling at you)
ii. Positive Reinforcement – get something you want (e.g. praise, recognition,
II. Advantages and disadvantages of punishment and penalty
i. Changes behavior very quickly, especially if the punisher is severe
ii. Could lead to the behavior completely stopping
i. Doesn’t tell people what to do; it just tells them what not to do1
ii. Negative emotional reactions
III. Advantages and disadvantages of negative reinforcement
i. Increase behavior
ii. Provides compliance to minimum standards of performance1
i. Only produces enough to meet minimums (will not provide maximum
behavior). People experiencing negative reinforcement will only work as hard as
they have to in order to avoid the consequences; does not encourage their
ii. Negative emotional reactions
IV. Advantages of positive reinforcement
i. Increase behavior
ii. Maximizes performance
iii. sustains change for a long period of time (if reinforcers continue to occur)
iv. No negative emotional reactions
Too much positive reinforcement can lead to fatigue or praise overload, Perone states, which can
diminish the results. Positive enforcement that is administered haphazardly can
also cause problems
V. Positive reinforcement is the best alternative to changing behavior because it produces the
greatest increase in behavior, it is rewarding to the person and does not produce negative
reactions, and will sustain overtime (assuming that the positive reinforcement continues)
VI. Steps to finding positive reinforcers consequences are defined as positive or negative by the
person receiving them
Try something – smile at someone or say “good job” and see if it increases their
b. Ask them – ask him what would be positively reinforcing, but be careful because
asking might lead him to expect to get whatever he says will reinforce him (like more
money) and it may not be something that is realistic
Observe – watch a person and see what he spends time doing; what he appears to
like, then use that to positively reinforce him
VII. Sources of positive reinforcement
Work-related – reinforced by task alone
Ways to effectively give positive reinforcement
Make sure what you give IS actually reinforcing to that person
b. Give the reinforcer only when the behavior is exhibited
Give the reinforcer immediately after the behavior
d. Give the reinforcer frequently (when the behavior occurs)
Don’t use positive reinforcement as an opportunity to criticize by “sandwiching” (e.g.
“you did great this time, next time I want to see a 10% increase, I know you have it in
Reinforcement for improving the quality of patient care
Reinforcement can prove to be an ideal method for improving and modifying the behavior of
students who are new to the nursing profession.
The quality of the patient care can be improved if the nursing staff are awarded for their
performances. Aggarwal (1972), in a study found that nurses who are rewarded very little for
their outstanding performance were least satisfied which affects the quality of patient care. The
verbal and non verbal behavior of the nursing superintendent can be reinforcing factor in
shaping the behavior of nurses in the wards.
Reinforcement plays an important role in encouraging creative behavior. Teachers being
powerful reinforcing agents can effect creative behavior among nursing students by the demands
they make on student by the expectations they have form them and by their reactions.
It is best method for modifying behavior with respect to independent study methods and if
practice teaching is combined with positive reinforcement it can enhance autonomy and
confidence in decision making in patient care situations through its importance diminishes
somewhat in higher learning situation because successful learning at these levels generates its
N.H. Azrin , M.D. Wesolowski, ‘A reinforcement plus interruption method of eliminating
behavioral stereotypy of profoundly retarded persons’, Behaviour Research and Therapy,
Volume 18, Issue 2, 1980, Pages 113-119
Stereotyped responses have been shown to be eliminated by an overcorrectionreinforcement program. The present study evaluated response-interruption as an
alternative to the overcorrection component with seven profoundly retarded adults.
During the baseline praise condition, stereotypy occurred during 66% of the observations
for the seven profoundly retarded adults but decreased to less than one response per half
hour in a mean of two sessions of individual training. In the subsequent class situation,
stereotypy was reduced to less than 5% on the first day of class, to less than 1% by the
fourth day and less than one stereotypy per hour after the third day. The interruption
method seems preferable to postural overcorrection because of its apparent and relative
Joyce Bruce, Well Marsha. ‘Reinforcement’. Models Of Teaching, Prentice Hall, New Jersy,
Ms.MunjraKachroo.‘Reinforcement as a teaching method in nursing education’.nursing
journal of India, volume 85, 1994, pp:207-209.
Aggarwal, K.C. ‘a Comparative Study Of Levels Of Job Satisfaction Of Nurses In Medical
College Associated Group Of Hospital At Ajmer, Rajasthan’. Unpublished Masters Thesis,
University Of Delhi,1972.
Munley, M.J. ‘Baccalaureate Nursing Students and Decision Making’ Doctoral Thesis,
Columbia University, 1975.
Sharma, R.K. ‘The Place Of Reinforcement, A Paper Presented At National Symposium On
Child Centered Education’, October 10-12, New Delhi; Ncert,1988/Pp 593-610.