Deutsch: Belohnung / Español: Recompensa / Português: Recompensa / Français: Récompense / Italiano: Ricompensa

A reward is anything that produces pleasure or satisfaction; a positive reinforcer. Reward desirable behavioral consequences likely to increase the frequency of occurrence of that behavior.

In psychology, a reward refers to a stimulus or event that increases the likelihood of a particular behavior being repeated. It is a fundamental concept in the study of behavior, motivation, and the neural mechanisms underlying these processes.


Rewards can be tangible, such as money or food, or intangible, such as praise or recognition. In psychological terms, rewards are crucial for learning and conditioning, where they serve as positive reinforcement. This means that when an action leads to a rewarding outcome, the behavior is more likely to occur again in the future. This concept is central to behavioral psychology, particularly within the frameworks of operant conditioning and behaviorism.

Neuroscientific research has explored how rewards activate specific brain pathways, particularly those involving dopamine, a neurotransmitter closely linked to pleasure and motivation. The brain’s reward system plays a key role in the reinforcement of behaviors and in the development of habits.

Application Areas

Understanding and applying the concept of rewards is significant in several psychological fields, including:

  • Educational psychology: Utilizing rewards to motivate students and reinforce positive behaviors in academic settings.
  • Organizational psychology: Designing reward systems in workplaces to enhance productivity and employee satisfaction.
  • Clinical psychology: Using reward-based interventions to modify problematic behaviors and support the treatment of conditions like addiction.

Well-Known Examples

Key studies and theories involving rewards in psychology include:

  • B.F. Skinner’s experiments: Skinner demonstrated the power of rewards in shaping behavior through operant conditioning techniques.
  • The dopamine reward pathway studies: These studies have helped delineate the neural circuits involved in reward processing and their impact on behavior.

Treatment and Risks

While rewards are powerful tools for shaping behavior, their misuse can lead to dependency or reduce intrinsic motivation. This occurs when the reward overshadows the natural satisfaction derived from the activity itself, as seen in overjustification effect cases. In therapeutic settings, carefully balanced reward systems are used to avoid these pitfalls and encourage lasting behavioral change.

Similar Terms

Terms related to reward in psychology include:

  • Reinforcement: Often used interchangeably with reward, though reinforcement can also include negative reinforcement (removing an unpleasant stimulus to increase behavior).
  • Incentive: Typically refers to an external motivator that can influence behavior, similar to a reward but often with a more deliberate implication of being offered in anticipation of a behavior.


In psychology, a reward is a critical element that reinforces behavior through positive outcomes, influencing learning, motivation, and neural activity. Effective use of rewards is essential across various domains of psychological practice and research, aiding in the understanding and modification of human behavior.


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