The terms ‘rewards’ and ‘reinforcers’ are often used interchangeably and loosely, but behavioral performance management has very precise definitions and usage.
An often-cited circular definition of reinforcement says that it is anything the person finds rewarding.
This definition is of little value because the words reinforcing and rewarding are used interchangeably, but neither one is operationally defined.
A more operational definition can be arrived at by reverting to the laws of behavior. Specifically, reinforcement in behavioral management is defined as anything that both increases the strength and tends to induce repetitions of the behavior that preceded the reinforcement.
A reward, on the other hand, is simply something that the person who presents it deems to be desirable.
Reinforcement is functionally defined. Something is reinforcing only if it strengthens the behavior preceding it and induces repetitions.
For example, a manager may ostensibly reward an employee who found an error in a report by publicly praising the employee.
Yet on examination, it is found that the employee is embarrassed and chided by co-workers, and the error-finding behavior of this employee decreases in the future. In this example, the “reward” of public praise is not reinforcing.