Theories of Human Learning: Reinforcement and Behaviorism

Reinforcement Schedules

Although we might not notice reinforcement schedules, they are present in our daily lives. For instance, when I was I child, my mother regularly rewarded me for good marks by buying me chocolates, ice-creams, candies, and so on. Therefore, I was doing my best at school because I knew that it made my mother happy and I would receive my reward. This reinforcement was random because I was receiving my chocolates whenever my mother went to the store or when she had some delicacies hidden.

There is one issue about reinforcement schedules – people get used to their rewards or punishments and do not pay much attention to them after a little while. In my opinion, any reinforcement should be unexpected. Hence, it stays in one’s mind for a longer period of time, which lets him or her realize or appreciate the importance of this particular reinforcement (Ferster & Skinner, 2015). I also knew that I was receiving chocolate even if I did not bring any marks because my mother knew that I was trying my best at school. It turns out that my case of reinforcement is considered to be variable ratio example.

My mother gave me a chocolate bar (or any other delicacy), regardless of how many marks I brought, of time of the day, and of any other factors. I never knew when I was going to receive my reward, but I knew that I was not going to receive it under any circumstances if I had a bad mark. This statement makes this reinforcement variable because it was up to my mother’s choice (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2014). It was also a ratio example because I knew that every week I was receiving at least one chocolate or another reward.


Although not every person is able to identify some differences between reinforcement and punishment, they are significant. First things first, punishment is a type of negative reinforcement, but there is also a positive one. Nevertheless, some people identify these two terms as totally different ones (Baum, 2017). The main goal of reinforcement is to encourage a person to do something or to prevent further misbehaviors. The punishment, on the other hand, is a consequence that was caused by misbehavior.

There are also such terms as primary and secondary reinforcers, which are used for each other’s effectiveness. Primary reinforcers refer to the primary needs of an animal or a person – it may be some delicious food, money, physical satisfaction, and other similar rewards (Polavieja, 2015). Secondary reinforcers contribute to the primary ones by different associations, memories, and so on. For instance, a dog will listen to your command if it will receive a primary reinforcer (a bone). But if you use a secondary reinforcer too (pet it), it will listen to your command even if it will not see any food.

Shaping is an effective method that helps to set and achieve goals for a particular student and his behavior. Sometimes reinforcement cannot be done because certain actions were not accomplished. Therefore, shaping motivates a person for doing his chores, homework, and other assignments. For instance, a student does not have any desire to do his or her homework, so there is no chance for parents to reinforce him. Hence, they have to break this goal into small steps, which will let the student get used to it. It might be a list of goals that he or she has to accomplish for a certain period of time. Each step has to get student closer to his or her primary goal in order to have a good result and reinforce one.


Baum, W. M. (2017). Understanding behaviorism: Behavior, culture, and evolution. Chichester, WS: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2014). Applied behavior analysis. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

Ferster, C. B., & Skinner, B. F. (2015). Schedules of reinforcement. Acton, MA: Copley Publishing Group.

Polavieja, G. G. (2015). Faculty of 1000 evaluation for Human-level control through deep reinforcement learning. Nature, 518(30), 533-529.

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PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Theories of Human Learning: Reinforcement and Behaviorism." September 22, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Theories of Human Learning: Reinforcement and Behaviorism." September 22, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Theories of Human Learning: Reinforcement and Behaviorism." September 22, 2023.