Deutsch: Leistungsabhängigkeit / Español: Contingencia de rendimiento / Português: Contingência de desempenho / Français: Contingence de performance / Italiano: Contingenza di performance

Performance contingency is a concept in psychology that refers to the conditions or situations where an individual's outcomes or rewards are directly dependent on their performance. This principle is fundamental in various areas of psychology, emphasizing the direct link between the actions of an individual and the consequences of those actions.


Performance contingency plays a crucial role in understanding motivation, behavior modification, and learning processes. It is closely related to the concept of operant conditioning, a theory which posits that behavior is shaped by its consequences. In this context, performance contingency can be seen as the mechanism through which reinforcement or punishment is applied, based on the individual's behavior.

The principle of performance contingency suggests that when rewards or consequences are directly tied to how well an individual performs a task, it can significantly influence their motivation to perform and improve. For instance, in a work environment, an employee's likelihood of receiving a bonus or promotion may depend on their sales performance or productivity. Similarly, in educational settings, students may earn grades or privileges based on their academic achievements or conduct.

This concept also underpins many behavioral therapy techniques, where desired behaviors are reinforced through positive outcomes, while undesired behaviors are diminished through lack of reinforcement or through negative consequences. The effectiveness of performance contingency relies on clear, consistent, and immediate feedback regarding the individual's performance and the subsequent outcomes.

Application Areas

Performance contingency is applicable in several key areas within psychology and beyond:

  • Behavioral psychology: It is used to understand and modify behaviors, employing reinforcement and punishment as tools for behavior change.
  • Educational psychology: Teachers use performance-based rewards and consequences to motivate students and encourage learning and good behavior.
  • Organizational psychology: Performance contingency is foundational in designing incentive systems that link rewards to performance metrics in the workplace.
  • Clinical psychology: Therapists may use performance-based contingencies as part of behavior modification programs to treat various disorders, including ADHD and substance abuse.

Well-Known Examples

Some well-known applications of performance contingency include:

  • Token economy systems: Used in classrooms or therapeutic settings, where individuals earn tokens for displaying desired behaviors, which can later be exchanged for rewards.
  • Performance-based pay: In corporate settings, where employees receive bonuses or promotions based on their achievement of specific performance targets.
  • Behavior modification programs: For example, programs designed to encourage healthy behaviors or reduce risky behaviors by tying consequences directly to individuals' actions.

Treatment and Risks

While performance contingency can be an effective tool for motivating behavior and learning, it also carries risks if not implemented carefully. Over-reliance on external rewards can diminish intrinsic motivation, leading individuals to perform tasks only for rewards rather than personal satisfaction or interest. Additionally, if the contingencies are not applied consistently or are perceived as unfair, they can lead to decreased motivation and even resentment or anxiety.

Similar Terms or Synonyms

  • Contingent reinforcement
  • Performance-based reinforcement
  • Outcome contingency


Performance contingency is a principle in psychology that describes the direct link between an individual's performance and the outcomes or rewards they receive. This concept is instrumental in understanding and influencing behavior through motivation, learning, and behavior modification across various settings. While powerful as a motivational tool, it must be applied judiciously to avoid undermining intrinsic motivation and to ensure fair and consistent application.


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