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Effects of Verbal Reinforcement on the Rate and Content of a Conversation

Updated on July 21, 2016


Verbal reinforcement is a characteristic of social reinforcement where language is used to buttress the conduct of either oneself or another. This is usually in the form of praise.

Verbal reinforcement

Effect of Verbal Reinforcement

Verbal reinforcement is one of the most widely used strategies for initiating behavioral change in different individuals (Vallerand et al. 1987). Whether it is at the workplace or in school, people fully utilize this important method of influence. In this respect, the effect of positive verbal reinforcement has been extensively studied. Studies have been conducted with several populations; these include; elementary school children, pre-school children, high school and college students. The studies also entailed simple quantitative tasks requiring minimum learning such as marble dropping tasks and qualitative tasks such as ball rolling.

It is assumed that positive verbal reinforcement given through positive comments or in the form of praise provokes facilitative performance in conversations. However, research evidence does not fully support this popular belief. Indeed, positive verbal reinforcement enhances rate and content of conversations, as compared to no reinforcement on tasks that require little or no learning. In contrast, it does not have any notable effects on tasks that require much learning. The verbal reinforcement of an individual, however subtle, can have profound and uncontrolled effects on the conversation of the subject (Azrin et al. 1973). When an individual restricts himself or herself to statements, smiles, nods, among other types of interaction, the conversation they are trying to sustain may end up being terminated in a matter of minutes. The rate and content of a conversation are enhanced through the application of verbal reinforcement.

Contextual and Environmental Considerations

An important point to take into consideration is that conversations do not occur in a vacuum. Conversations are inextricably connected to the specific context in which they occur; this, in turn, has a big impact on behavior. Clampitt (2006) asserts that context fundamentally acts as the background for the content, more like the canvas for a painting. A particular context can predispose towards possible interpretations above others. Context also has an important role in shaping the response of a conversation. Verbal reinforcement changes according to the context. For instance, a practice educator will most likely behave differently when in a student appraisal meeting compared to how they do it when they are with the student in the environment of an office Christmas dinner (Burke, 1992). Contextual and environmental considerations may include;

Psychological – These entail the perceptual predisposition or stereotypes that have the capacity to impact the manner in which an individual’s verbal reinforcements are interpreted. People respond to stimuli in the environment in varying ways. Every person has a unique means of organizing data. Invariably, these unique ways establish some biases into conversations. Stereotyping is an example of such a unique way. Stereotyping occurs when an individual assumes that the other party in the conversation possesses specific features based on the group that they belong to. This is normally done without taking into consideration if they have these particular characteristics. Verbal reinforcement in the instance of the educator may be perceived as negative by the student (Collins, 1982). This is irrespective of is the educator intended to give a positive verbal reinforcement. This may be because the student is used to viewing the educator as an authority figure. Students are normally inclined towards viewing authority figures as critical individuals who only have the sole intention of putting them down. This conclusion is simply an example of a perceptual prejudice.

Seven Concepts of positive verbal reinforcement

1. Reinforcement ought to be age fitting. An educator cannot expect a college student to alter his or her conversational patterns by giving rewards such as stickers. The student can find this insulting, even with this; this is prone to be futile.

2. Reinforcement has to be delivered immediately. Individuals should know the moment when they should expect reinforcement. The individuals offering verbal reinforcement should not wait to the end of the week to reinforce someone else for doing something like remaining in their seats for the full duration of the classes during the week. The effect of positive verbal reinforcement is normally diluted, if not lost when we take long periods of time to deliver the verbal reinforcements. If giving verbal reinforcement immediately is not possible, it should be given as soon as the circumstances allow it. When delivered this way, the relationship between verbal reinforcement and behavior will be maintained and strengthened.

3. Delivery of verbal reinforcement should be consistent. This should be done while paying attention to a planned schedule. If verbal reinforcement is not consistent, no link will develop the required behavior and the verbal reinforcement. Consequently, the behavior will not change.

4. Verbal reinforcement should be delivered for improvement. It is not advisable to wait until an individual’s behavior is perfect so as to deliver verbal reinforcement. Improvement ought to be recognized, and the individual in question should be made aware that their improvement has been recognized.¬¬¬¬

5. Verbal reinforcement should not be ambiguous. Positive verbal reinforcement should be sincere and lucid. They should identify the particular behavior for which they are being conveyed.

6. If possible, positive verbal reinforcement should be paired with social reinforcement. In case your reinforcement plan is to let an individual know that what they have done has been appreciated, social reinforcement such as allowing them to perform in a preferred activity should also be given. The individual may also be allowed to choose another individual for the activity.

7. Verbal reinforcement should not be given as a result of feeling sympathetic towards the recipient. If an individual does not meet the required criteria for criteria, giving positive verbal reinforcement will teach the individual that reinforcement is always available, irrespective of behavior; this may lead to a worsening of the behavior. In other words, positive verbal reinforcement should dependent on behavior.

Effects of Verbal Reinforcement

Positive verbal reinforcement, like a drug, should be administered cautiously. Positive verbal reinforcement should not be given haphazardly. Positive reinforcement encourages the individual to repeat the positive actions that they have done. Positive verbal reinforcement also helps the students to realize and recognize their strengths (Zirpoli and Melloy, 1993) it can also help in sustaining beneficial conversations. Consequently, it enables them to capitalize on their strengths since they will now know where their strengths lie. Specific positive verbal reinforcement enables a student to comprehend the dos and don’ts in a more engaging manner than listening to a teacher or tutor lecture about it. In as much as it is imperative not to pay no heed to negative actions, consistent reinforcement for positive deeds can have long lasting effects on the recipient. The recipient may open up and enhance the content of conversations with the givers.

Description of Effects and Outcomes

The outcomes of positive verbal reinforcement include affecting the reaction time performance. Reaction time is affected by extended periods of receiving positive verbal reinforcement. The overall result is that the reaction time is improved (Wheat & Darryl, 1969). Positive verbal reinforcement has been found to be more effective than other types of reinforcements such as monetary or material reinforcements. Verbal words, statements, and phrases incorporated within statements have been found to have some subjective incentive values. These values can be quantified using school going children as subjects. Most of the research that have been carried out to investigate the effects of positive reinforcement usually carry the assumption that the individual participating in the study can differentiate between stimuli in a similar manner as the person carrying out the experiment. Because of this, it is imperative to talk about the interaction that differentiation and verbal reinforcement has in the test subject especially concerning enhancing the rate and content of conversations.

Conclusions and Outcomes

Methodological approaches to the investigation of differentiation learning should be particularly properly developed. Research involving studying the learning patterns in children should employ this form of approach. An individual’s action should act as an impulsion for the other individual in question. This is to ensure that the individual who needs positive verbal reinforcement can go an extra mile so as to get the reinforcement. Consequently, the individual is predisposed towards repeating the same effort. The same effort may be done with increased vigor in the next time that it is done. This is the fundamental purpose of positive verbal reinforcement. The reasoning underlying the concept is to recognize a good deed and provide a reward for the action; this is to encourage and emphasize it so that it can be repeated.


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