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Types of Reinforcement

Types of Reinforcement
So far, we’ve somewhat simplified the discussion of the types of reinforcement, by talking about rewards alone. But, there are other types of reinforcement available to you including punishment for example. And, so I would like for us to talk about these types of reinforcement and their relative effectiveness. Now, the work on the types of reinforcement goes back to the foundational research by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Won a Nobel prize for his work and an American physiologist B.F. Skinner. There are many types of reinforcement available out there, but I would like to briefly introduce the three key forms.
The first one is positive reinforcement, which is when I present you with attractive consequences when you emit desired behaviors. So, for example, you hit your sales numbers, you attain your objectives, I give you bonuses, promotions, extra days of vacation. Now, negative reinforcement is a little trickier because this is where I remove an aversive condition in response to desired behavior. For example your boss keeps nagging you to use a new piece of software instead of a legacy one, and you finally comply just to avoid hearing his or her complaints again. Or, say you’re not nocturnal and you don’t like working night shifts. And so in response to your stellar performance your boss substitutes your night shifts with day shifts.
And the third form of reinforcement is punishment. Which is when you are presented with aversive consequences for undesired behaviors, such as when you commit an ethical transgression, you can be fired, demoted, or your pay can be reduced. I’m going to show you a short clip from a famous film called Glengarry Glen Ross. As you watch this clip analyze the types of reinforcements that are being used. For those of you who are not familiar with the film, action takes places in a sales office of a company that sells land for real estate development. The sales office is not doing well and the headquarters are sending a representative to motivate the team. Take a look.
The rich get richer, that’s the law of the land. Who belongs to the? » It is 7:30. » So who is that?
And where’s Mr. Rum. » Well I’m not a leash, so I don’t know, do I? » Let me have your attention for a moment.
Are you’re talking about White, you’re talking about [INAUDIBLE] about that sale you shot, some son of a [BEEP] who don’t wanna buy land, somebody don’t want what you’re selling, some broad you’re trying to screw, so forth. Let’s talk about something important. Are they all here? » All but one. » I’m going anyway. Let’s talk about something important.
Put that coffee down.
Coffee’s for closers only. You think I’m fucking with you.
I am not fucking up with you. I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Mitch and Murray. And I’m here on a mission of mercy.
Your name’s Levine?
You call yourself a salesman, you son of a [INAUDIBLE]? » I don’t gotta listen to this [BEEP]. » You certainly don’t, pal. Cuz the good news is, you’re fired.
The bad news is, you’ve got, all you’ve got, just one week to regain your jobs starting with tonight. Starting with tonight’s sit.
Oh, have I got your attention now?
Cuz we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anybody want to see second prize?
Second prize, a set of steak knives.
Third prize is you’re fired.
Do you get the picture? Are you laughing now?
You’ve got leads. Mention Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them. You can’t close the leads you’re given. You can’t close shit. You are a shit. Hit the bricks, pal, and beat it because you are going out. » The leads are weak. » The leads are weak. Fucking leads are weak. You’re weak. I’ve been in this business 15 years. » What’s your name? » Fuck you, that’s my name! » [LAUGH] » You know why, mister? Cuz you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That’s my name.
And your name is, You’re Wanting. And you can’t play in the man’s game, you can’t close them, then go home and tell your wife your troubles.
Because only one thing counts in this life. Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me you [INAUDIBLE]?
A, B, C. A always, B be, C closing. Always be closing. Always be closing!
AIDA, Attention, interest, decision, action. Attention, do I have your attention? Interest, are you interested? I know you are cuz it’s fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks. Decision, have you made your decision for Christ? In action. » AIDA, get out there. You got the prospects coming in. You think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy. They’re sitting out there waiting to give you their money, are you gonna take it?
Are you man enough to take it?
Crap. » What’s the problem pal? » You, Morris. You’re such a hero, you’re so rich. How come you’re coming down here waste your time with such a bunch of bums.
You see this watch?
You see this watch? » Yeah. » That watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you made? You see pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing.
Nice guy, I don’t give it a [INAUDIBLE]. Good father, fuck you, go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here, close. You think this is abuse?
You think this is abuse? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don’t like it, leave.
I can go out there tonight, the materials you got, make myself $15,000. Tonight, in two hours, can you?
Can you?
Go and do likewise. AIDA, get mad you son of a, get mad! Do you know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes brass balls to sell real estate.
Go and do likewise, gents. The money’s out there. You pick it up, it’s yours. You don’t, I got no sympathy for you. You wanna go out on those sits tonight and close. Close, it’s yours. Not? You’re gonna be shining my shoes. And you know what you’ll be saying. Bunch of losers sitting around in a bar. Oh yeah, I used to be a salesman. It’s a tough racket.
These are the new leads.
These are the Glengarry leads. And to you, they’re gold and you don’t get them. Why?
Because to give them to you is just throwing them away.
They’re for closers.
I’d wish you good luck but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it.
And to answer you question, pal, why am I here?
I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to. They asked me for a favor, I said the real favor, follow my advice and fire [INAUDIBLE], because a loser is a loser.
There are different types of reinforcement being used here, but let’s look at some of those. You win a car if you’re the top sales person in the office, that’s clearly an example of positive reinforcement. Now the third prize, which is you’re fired when you finished third in the rankings, that’s a clear example of punishment. The second prize is a set of steak knives. And at first glance it might seem as positive reinforcement, but there’s so much inequity associated with winning steak knives when the top sales person wins a car. So I think at least some people can interpret it as a mix of reward and punishment. I’m sure many of you have heard of the computer game, Angry Birds.
It’s one of the most popular computer games ever produced. Since it first hit the market in 2009, it’s been downloaded more than 3 billion times. One of the reasons this game is so successful, is because it’s based almost exclusively on positive reinforcement. This is from the former CEO of Rovio, the developer of the game. Our game doesn’t really punish players, so whenever you do something well in this game, you get cheers and other types of positive reinforcement. And this is very much consistent with research that suggests that the best way, the most effective way to attain continuously high levels of motivation and performance, is to use positive reinforcement.
In contrast, some companies are built around the principle of punishment. I’m gonna use the example of orange theory fitness, which is a fitness studio that emphasizes the importance of staying in the orange cardio zone for your work out, where you’re most likely to burn calories and develop your cardiovascular system. So that orange zone is a particular cardio interval, your heart rate, that you need to maintain throughout the workout.
Every person who is working out at this studio is wearing a heart monitor, and their heart rate is projected on the screen in front of them, where you can see their heart rate, alongside their name.
And the moment you drop out of this orange zone, it becomes immediately obvious not just to you, but to all others, working out alongside you. And so the idea here is to stimulate people in part through a form of punishment. Mild public humiliation, where people recognise that you’re not working out as hard as you could. A manager of a private equity firm, once told me a story where the private equity firm was not doing well, its workforce was demotivated, disengaged, and one of the particular manifestations of the disengagement was that their analyst was spending a lot of time on non-work related websites, such as Facebook or Yahoo. At first the company tried to firewall these websites, with mixed success.
They couldn’t firewall all of them, and analysts were really technically savvy, so they coud crack the firewall. So instead what the company did is they installed a large monitor in a hallway that was most frequented by senior partners of the firm, and onto that monitor, they would project live feeds from the desktops of the associates and analysts, randomly with their name underneath. So at any point in time, the entire company, including senior partners could see what you’re working on on your desktop.
And if you get caught for using non work related web sites, you’ll be reprimanded and fired for repeat offenses. When you use punishment, be very discretional and careful.
It’s the most controversial and the least effective form of reinforcement. Continuous use of punishment can lead to low moral, turnover, and even sabotage. Most importantly, what we find is that behavioral changes as a result of punishment are not always sustainable. I’ll give you two examples of how companies use punishment somewhat effectively. One is companies use punishment to irradicate discrete clearly specified behaviors that are undesirable. So for example, with the threat of punishment I can prevent you from browsing Facebook during work hours. Or I can prevent you from showing up at a construction site while not wearing a hard hat. Note that none of these reinforcements would actually make me want to work harder.
And the second ways companies use punishment is to reinforce the key cultural principles in the company in terms of eliminating undesired behaviors. So the classic example is when an employee gets fired for an ethical transgression. Nobody’s trying to change that employees behavior any more. That employee becomes a proverbial sacrificial lamb, but the idea is to send a very strong reinforce, a very strong message to the rest of the organization, that such behavior is not gonna be tolerated in the future. If you decide to apply punishment, apply it soon after the undesired behaviors and clearly communicate the rational behind it. But in any case, think positive reinforcement first.
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