Sunday, June 19, 2016

Noncontingent Reinforcement and Intrinsic Motivation

             In chapter 7, Powell discusses the various schedules of reinforcement in operant conditioning. One particular schedule of note is noncontingent reinforcement, where the reinforcer is delivered independently of any response. In other words, no response is required to get the reinforcer (2013). Powell highlighted a study that demonstrates the negative effects of noncontingent reinforcement on professional athletes. More specifically, this study found that major league pitchers who had signed long-term contracts showed a decline in the number of innings pitched (O’Brien, Figlerski, Howard, & Caggiano 1981). Since long-term contracts often include large amounts of guaranteed money, perhaps the players in this study no longer felt the need to “prove their worth”.
            To illustrate this point further, I briefly researched a few notable players on . One pitcher that may have encountered this problem was A.J. Burnett. In his 2008 season, he recorded some of the best numbers of his career: 221 innings pitched, 34 games started, and 231 strikeouts. As a result, he was rewarded with a five-year $82.5 million free agency contract from the Yankees the next year. For the rest of his career (seven more years), Burnett’s innings pitched and strikeouts never went above 200 despite hovering around the same number of starts. Clearly, Burnett’s performance declined after his big contract. Although age and injuries are a likely cause for this decline, perhaps it was a result of Burnett’s intrinsic motivation (playing baseball) being met with an extrinsic reinforcer (money), thus decreasing his interest in baseball and desire to improve. 

Link to A.J. Burnett's statistics: 

Powell, R. A., Symbaluk, D. G., & Honey, P. L. (2013). Introduction to learning and behavior. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


  1. I happen to be a Yankees fan and the announcers were talking about this exact situation, although maybe not the exact player (I cannot recall), and the bell rang in my head about this course. He was self motivated and earned his contract, but once he had the contract he fizzled out. There is a chance that he just hit his peak performance and then decline happened at the same time, but more likely he was not motivated since he was ensured of the cash as you stated. Interesting to see who has this effect and who remains intrinsically motivated!I wonder if any statisticians are keeping track of this. Since it is more or less a case study of the individual, but I know for a fact we cannot generalize it to all MLB pitchers as many continue to improve after signing a contract.

  2. The first step towards success motivation is to counteract and do away with negative thoughts and emotions, which can be done through positive self talk. Find more info